Alger calls for 'return to Madison'
JMU President Jon Alger, second from left, presents a wreath at the tomb of President James Madison in honor of his 262nd birthday.
At the gravesite of James Madison on what would have been his 262nd birthday, JMU president Jonathan R. Alger called for a return to the Madisonian ideal of a civil society and pledged to strengthen the university’s relationship with Montpelier to help bring more attention to the man and his legacy.
“Perhaps more so than any other president or founder, James Madison is responsible for the creation and miraculous endurance of our republic,” Alger said. “The sacred fire of liberty lit by Madison’s ideas burns to this day and draws us here to honor him.”
Madison’s great innovation was to devise a system of government that allows for differing opinions and competing interests, Alger said. Without them, he said, our system eventually would topple.
While Americans today are professing respect for the Constitution, too often public discourse on the important challenges we face degenerates into shouting matches, name-calling and a cry for the elimination of opposing views on political, social, economic and cultural issues, Alger said. “We need a return to Madison,” he said.
"If Madison were here today, I believe he would remind us of his level-headed assessment of our human limitations when we encounter and react to views that differ from our own, and of how we can all benefit from trying to listen to and understand the views of others with civility and respect, even as we hold and espouse our own cherished points of view,” Alger said.
As the university named for James Madison, JMU can best honor his legacy by fostering and modeling civil and respectful discourse on the great issues of our time, Alger said. “If we enlighten ourselves through education and believe that we all are connected — even to those whose ideas, opinions and beliefs we might find repulsive — we honor Madison. I intend for this idea to be a hallmark of my administration at JMU.”
JMU will also seek to partner in new and exciting ways with Montpelier. Some of those ideas are already taking shape, Alger said. For example, the JMU history department and the Adult Degree Program are working with faculty in the Center for the Constitution to create a course about James Madison and his ideas that will include online and in-person instruction as well as visits to Montpelier. The course will be available to JMU students and the general public. JMU will also honor the memory of James Madison’s wife, Dolley, through a new initiative called Women for Madison that will celebrate the vital role women play in leading and cultivating a culture of philanthropy. Finally, in a symbolic gesture, President Alger said he and JMU study-abroad students will take Madison’s spirit with them this summer when they visit the gravesite of Machiavelli — a big influence on Madison’s political thought — at the Basilica di Santa Croce in central Florence.
“Let’s go from this ceremony with a renewed sense of our roles as citizens and the power we have to live the ideals James Madison handed down to us through the ages,” Alger said.
Alger’s speech at Montpelier capped a weeklong celebration of his inauguration as JMU’s sixth president.
# # #
By Jim Heffernan ('96)
March 16, 2013