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Jefferson, Madison, and the Making of the Constitution$
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Jeff Broadwater

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781469651019

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469651019.001.0001

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Let Us Secure What We Can

Let Us Secure What We Can


(p.178) Eight Let Us Secure What We Can
Jefferson, Madison, and the Making of the Constitution

Jeff Broadwater

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter focuses primarily on Madison’s role in the adoption of the Bill of Rights. Madison had initially opposed a bill of rights as unnecessary, unenforceable, and likely to disrupt the ratification process. He also argued that some rights would inevitably be omitted, thus creating a presumption that they were not protected. Jefferson strongly disagreed, telling Madison they ought to “secure what we can,” and providing him with a mechanism to enforce a bill of rights: judicial review. Jefferson seemed confident that the courts would refuse to enforce laws that clearly infringed on rights protected by the Constitution. Under pressure from Jefferson and from Virginia’s Baptists, who wanted a guarantee of religious freedom, Madison agreed, in a spirited congressional race against Anti-Federalist James Monroe, to support the adoption of a bill of rights if elected. Madison won the race and, ironically, almost single-handedly pushed a set of amendments, which became the Bill of Rights, through Congress. Madison emerged as an outspoken champion of additional safeguards for civil liberties after the Constitution was ratified in large part because he believed a bill of rights could be used to reconcile moderate Anti-Federalists to the new government.

Keywords:   bill of rights, judicial review, Virginia Baptists, freedom of religion, James Monroe, civil liberties

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