Starting Points Journal: “Madison’s Offering at Clio’s Altar”
By Lynn Uzzell
“James Madison knew that he was living through an important epoch in human history. In November of 1782, he began keeping a congressional diary. He did not attempt to record everything that took place in Congress, but instead jotted down events that he suspected would be of interest to posterity and that he knew would be omitted from the official journal.
The following year, he began collecting first-hand accounts of America’s decision to declare independence. He discovered, to his dismay, that the documentary evidence was sparse. The year after, he began tracking down books that would shed light on ancient and modern confederacies. He believed that any history that would illuminate America’s own situation ‘must render all such lights of consequence.’
Unfortunately, he also found these sources deficient, especially the histories of ancient confederacies. In Federalist 18, Madison suggested that the Achaean League was probably the best confederacy of the ancient world, yet ‘such imperfect monuments remain of this curious political fabric’ that its example was not as useful as it might otherwise be for advancing ‘the science of federal government’…”
Lynn Uzzell teaches American politics and rhetoric at the University of Virginia and Washington and Lee University and is the founding director of the Summer Civics Institute at UVA. She is currently working on two book manuscripts relating to the records of the Constitutional Convention. She 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, the University of Richmond, and Washington and Lee University. 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.
Professor Uzzell is a JMC faculty partner.
Want to help the Jack Miller Center transform higher education? Donate today.