JMU President Linwood Rose, SGA President Levar Stoney, Lois (’64) and Bruce Forbes help dedicate the Madison statue, donated by the Forbes family.

Embracing Constitution Day 2002

The spirit and character of James Madison, the man, was palpable on campus Sept. 17, as the JMU community marked Constitution Day with a symposium on the fourth president and two unveilings.

The Cato Institute, a public policy research foundation, unveiled its book of essays, James Madison and the Future of Limited Government, with lectures by contributing writers John Samples and Tom G. Palmer. The collection’s essays were first presented at the Cato Institute’s 2001 celebration of James Madison’s 250th birthday. The institute chose to un-veil its book at JMU because of the university’s visible effort to celebrate and honor James Madison. The scholars’ lectures were followed by a luncheon, panel discussion, book signing and lecture by history professor Chris Arndt.

During the day’s second unveiling, SGA President Levar Stoney said, “I’m proud to be part of an institution that embraces education and community service. We do Mr. Madison’s legacy great justice today.”

On behalf of JMU students, Stoney thanked Bruce and Lois Forbes (’64), their son, Jeff (’90, ’92M), and their daughter-in-law, Stephanie (’92, ’93M), who were on hand for the unveiling of a bronze, life-size statue of James Madison that the family contributed to JMU.

President Linwood H. Rose said, “By their faithful support, the Forbes family has given JMU a place of prominence on this campus. And it is fitting for the university to dedicate a piece of artwork and honor a man who turned 18th-century ideals into the spectacularly successful political artwork of the Constitution.”

Constitution Day speakers applied James Madison’s ideas and vision to issues of the 21st century. John Samples, who directs the Cato Center for Representative Government, addressed President George Bush’s call for a regime change in Iraq. For Madison, however ready to participate in just wars and to defend the nation, war was “something to be skeptical about” and “among the most dangerous of all enemies of liberty … because it increases the power of the executive,” Samples said. Madison would support a war against Iraq if it were pre-emptive of attack or action by Iraq", Samples said.

Madison believed that the American people’s grant of power from the government was limited to the powers enumerated in the Constitution. That was why he initially thought a Bill of Rights superfluous, Samples explained. “Madison felt that politics and government were an unfortunate necessity, ‘because men aren’t angels ...’ He believed that you don’t need government to reach some higher ideal. Higher ideals of life lay elsewhere, outside of politics and government — in economics, religion or family.”
Tom Palmer, Cato University director, discussed multiculturalism and Madison, whom he called “one of the most important political thinkers of all time.” Palmer expressed concern over calls to “improve” on Madison’s system and correct historical imbalances and oppression with “differential rights based on discrete social groups and group voices.”

But Madison’s concept of equality, based on individual rights, doesn’t need improvement, Palmer explained. Madison “embraced pluralism. … He extolled diversity and extended diversity of particularized interests so that no one group or sect can gather enough power to dominate the others.” When there was differentiating to be done, Madison did so between interests and passions on one hand and rights and the public good on the other.

“Our republic secures more liberty and more prosperity for more people than any other throughout human history,” Palmer concluded.
JMU history professor Chris Arndt described the Constitutional Convention as a “work in progress. The Articles of Confederation in 1777 left much power to individual states, but convention member Benjamin Franklin said, ‘We are here to change these venerable old ideals.’”
Constitutional framers argued state versus individual rights, much as today’s politicians argue the 2001 Patriot’s Act, which changes the balance between individual rights and national security. Do the Constitution’s checks and balances go away in times of crisis like Sept. 11?

“The framers used a convention format so a standing legislature would not set its own power and self interests,” Arndt explained. “There are all sorts of checks and balances afforded in the framer’s Constitution. It’s a skeleton that gives muscle and sinew to each new generation. It’s a continuing work in progress.”

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