Lynn Uzzell, a 2008-09 JMC Postdoctoral Fellow, argues in the Library of Law and Liberty that the new scans of Madison’s Notes of the Constitutional Convention help vindicate the sincerity of the Founders’ political convictions.
Madison’s Notes: At Last, a New and Improved Look
By Lynn Uzzell
From Library of Law and Liberty
The Library of Congress last week released new digital scans of James Madison’s Notes of the Constitutional Convention, and they are exquisite. Researchers now have an invaluable resource for discovering the true worth of Madison’s Notes, which he revised throughout his life, and which were not published until 1840, four years after his death. Famously, he wanted them to be made public only after those who framed the Constitution had died. Sensing that his semi-official record of the deliberations in Philadelphia in 1787 would be a political football, he hoped that the passage of time might diminish this effect.
Of course, even so, the Notes were controversial as soon as they entered the public realm. Alexander Hamilton’s son tried to discredit them, starting in 1840. He has had many successors, but Madison’s Hand, the 2015 book by Boston College law professor Mary Sarah Bilder, has been the most systematic and the most successful attempt thus far to cast suspicion on the Notes. According to Bilder’s book, the Notes Madison kept during the proceedings were not originally intended as an objective record but were a subjective diary. Bilder also alleged that he frequently omitted material that he wished to keep hidden—sometimes replacing whole sheets merely to redact material—and that he invented speeches that had never been spoken. Supposedly it was all done (as Gordon Lloyd outlined in his review of this book for Law and Liberty) in service of the Madisonian and Jeffersonian struggle against the Federalists during the 1790s.
Lynn Uzzell received her B.A. in speech communications at Black Hills State University and her M.A. and Ph.D. in politics at the University of Dallas. She has taught extensively on political philosophy, rhetoric, the United States Constitution, and American political thought at Baylor University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Richmond. She specializes in the Constitutional Convention of 1787. For four years she was also the scholar in residence at the Center for the Constitution at James Madison’s Montpelier. She is currently teaching a course in the American Political Tradition at the University of Virginia and working on the first complete and impartial appraisal of James Madison’s Notes of the Constitutional Convention.
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