Madison week

Madison Week Commemorates Bicentennial of Fourth President's Inauguration

 

Phil Bigler, director of the James Madison Center

Philip B. Bigler
Director of the James Madison Center
Author of "Liberty & Learning: The Essential James Madison"

Hometown—Fairfax
Education –
B.A. in history, Madison College (1974)
M.Ed. in secondary education/history, Madison College (1976)
M.A. in American studies, College of William & Mary (1984)

A James Madison University alumnus, Bigler returned to campus in 2001 to lead the James Madison Center in its mission to honor the legacy of the nation's fourth president and the father of the U.S. Constitution. A 20-plus year classroom teacher before becoming director of the center, Bigler was the National Teacher of the Year in 1998.

In celebration of the 200th anniversary of James Madison's inauguration as president of the United States—on March 4, 1809—the center is publishing "Liberty & Learning: The Essential James Madison," a book written by Bigler. He hopes the volume, written to appeal to young adults, will resonate with JMU students in particular and contribute to their understanding of the man JMU honors and respects.

What do you hope "Liberty & Learning" will contribute to the understanding of James Madison?
I hope that our students will come away with the appreciation of what Madison means to this university and what he means to the country. One of the things that I think is so important is that Madison believed in the freedom of conscience, the freedom of thought. He was a great advocate for religious liberty. And that means that people have the right to believe what they choose. Unfortunately, today in our society there's been too much animosity and political debate and discourse that people forget that people can honestly disagree and fairly disagree. Madison also believed in civic responsibility. It was important for us to be active and involved citizens. I hope our JMU students will accept that as well. And I hope they'll also understand a little bit better about the nature of government and the reality of what the Constitution says. A lot of times people will assume that whatever they believe or whatever they want to do is constitutional, whereas Madison established a government or believed that the government was given specific and limited powers and that those powers were all the government had.

Why does it seem Madison is the forgotten founder?
Madison is always seen in the shadow of Jefferson because the two were such close friends and yet Madison and Jefferson would have seen each other as equals. In fact, Jefferson at one point made the statement that Madison was the greatest man in the world. I think part of the reason that Madison has lost some of his popularity, or at least his recognition, is because of the fact that he was a very academic, scholarly man. He's not as easy to read as Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin or even John Adams. His arguments are nuanced.

"Liberty & Learning" is not a biography of Madison. How do you characterize or describe the book?
There's no way to write a definitive biography of Madison in a short amount of time. Madison's papers now are somewhere in the 30 volumes or so. There's just so much on Madison that we have to go through to write a biography. What I was hoping to do with this book is to write a practical guide for James Madison. The book is thematic and each chapter is designed to be read independent of one another. One of the topics that we looked at was religious liberty, something that Madison was very much a believer in. We also look at education and Madison's belief in the importance of education. We looked at Madison and his belief in constitutional government, the rule of law, the idea that government and power were something that had to be checked. And then we look at his issues on slavery as well, which is actually not a very positive look. Madison was not particularly great when it came to slavery, but we're trying to show the fact that you can be great in some parts of your life and not all parts of your life. He had no answer for slavery and never was able to put his genius to ending that system.

"Liberty & Learning" includes a series of appendixes—a Madison genealogy, facts about James and Dolley Madison and her son from her first marriage, Payne Todd, and quotes by Madison—to help dispel myths about Madison.

What is the essential fact about Madison we should all know?
What makes him so important to us is the fact that Madison understood human nature. He was a much more pragmatic and a much more practical individual than Thomas Jefferson. He realized that people are going to behave in their own self interest and as a result created a government that was designed to allow people to pursue their happiness but at the same time to provide stability and a reasonable set of laws. What I like about Madison and what I respect about Madison was that he provided a workable government, a way that people could live within a society with a maximum amount of freedom but at the same time to have a government that provides stability. I think he also understood the danger of power. It's something that I think we tend to forget today that power is one of the great corrupting influences in government, in the world, in general. And Madison was very aware of that. One of his quotes is something to the effect that all power in the hands of man should be suspected. I think that's very true. The government he provided us has been a remarkable, stable government. It is a republic, not a democracy, and I want our students to understand that. Madison feared democracy as much as he would fear monarchy. The government that we have today is one of shared powers with very important checks and balances to protect us from anybody getting too powerful or become corrupt by power.

Two hundred years to the month after James Madison's inauguration to the presidency of the United States, the university that bears his namesake will celebrate his life and legacy during Madison Week, March 16-20.

The celebration will be highlighted by the release of a new book on Madison's legacy by Phil Bigler ('74, '76M), director of the James Madison Center at JMU, a visit by the C-SPAN Civics Bus, a keynote address by Madison scholar and Cornell University President Emeritus Hunter Rawlings and the eighth annual Madison Cup debate contest.

Two hundred years after his inauguration, at a time when the role of the federal government is in seemingly constant debate, the presidency and life of the man known as "The Father of the Constitution" take on added significance to the nation.

"What makes him so important to us is the fact that Madison understood human nature," said Bigler. "He realized that people are going to behave in their own self interest and as a result created a government that was designed to allow people to pursue their happiness but at the same time to provide stability and a reasonable set of laws."

Bigler's book, "Liberty & Learning: The Essential James Madison," will have its official release Monday after an 11 a.m. wreath laying at the James Madison statue on Bluestone Drive. Proceeds from book sales will support the Donald Robertson Scholarship, offered annually by the James Madison Center in honor of James Madison's first teacher.

Rawlings will deliver the keynote address on Madison's legacy at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 18, at Wilson Hall Auditorium. A native of Madison's hometown of Orange, Va., Rawlings is a recognized scholar of classic and American history and sits on the board of Madison's Montpelier. Read his bio

The Madison Cup Debates will hold preliminary rounds throughout the day Wednesday, culminating in a final round open to the public at 5 p.m. in the Wilson Hall Auditorium. Teams from colleges throughout the country will debate the role of coal-based technologies in meeting the country's future energy needs.

Bigler, who taught history for more than 20 years in secondary schools and was named the 1998 National Teacher of the Year before returning to JMU in 2001, stressed the importance of remembering the contributions of a president who is often overshadowed by some of his fellow founding fathers.

"I hope that our students will come away with the appreciation of what Madison means to this university and what he means to the country," Bigler said. "One of the things that I think is so important is that Madison believed in the freedom of conscience, the freedom of thought."

For more information about the celebration, visit www.jmu.edu/birthday.

 

Calendar of Events

Monday, March 16

    * 11 a.m., Wreath laying at James Madison statue (Bluestone Drive), 1787 Society inductions and birthday cake. Parking: Warsaw Ave. Parking Deck.

    * "Liberty & Learning: The Essential James Madison" release: The book chronicling Madison's presidency was written by Phil Bigler ('74, '76M), director of the James Madison Center. A limited number of books will be distributed free at the wreath laying ceremony. Proceeds from the book will support the Donald Robertson Scholarship, offered annually by the James Madison Center in honor of James Madison's first teacher.

Tuesday, March 17

     * 1-4 p.m., C-SPAN Civics Bus. On the Quad in front of Wilson Hall. More information about the Civics Bus is available at http://www.c-span.org/schoolbus/index.asp. Parking: Warsaw Ave. Parking Deck.

Wednesday, March 18

    * 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., Madison Cup Debate preliminary rounds.

    * 11:15 a.m., JMU Scholarship and Endowment Luncheon. Ticketed event. Shuttle service will be provided from Convo A Lot.

    * 2:30 p.m., James Madison Day speaker Hunter Rawlings. Wilson Hall Auditorium. Parking: Warsaw Ave. Parking Deck.

    * 4 p.m., JMU physics Professor Bill Ingham talks about "Another Side of Little Jemmy: Science, Technology and Exploration in James Madison's World." Room 159, ISAT/CS Building. Parking: D2 and C10 Lots off Carrier Drive.

    * 5 p.m., Madison Cup Debate final. Eighth annual James Madison Day Commemorative Debate and Citizenship Forum. JMU debaters and teams from the nation's top universities will debate the role of coal-based technologies to meet the United States' future energy needs. Wilson Hall Auditorium. Parking: Warsaw Ave. Parking Deck.

    * 10 p.m.-1 a.m., Tune in to WSVA 550 AM to hear radio personality Jim Bohannon interview special guests from James Madison Week including Harrisonburg Mayor Kai Degner ('03, '05M), Phil Bigler of the James Madison Center and JMU physics Professor Bill Ingham.

Friday, March 20

    * 1:30 p.m., State Teachers of Promise Conference featuring Kathy Buckley, "America's First Hearing Impaired Comedienne." Memorial Hall Auditorium. Learn more about the State Teachers of Promise Conference at www.jmu.edu/milken/. Parking: Memorial Hall Parking Lots.

 

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