Ben AP History Review1 Essays

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James Madison and Amendments to the
Constitution, 1787-1789: “Parchment Barriers” by Stuart Leibiger from The Journal of Southern History
Volume LIX, No. 3, August 1993

September 3, 2014

Benjamin Goslin

Author Stuart Leibiger focuses his article on James Madison mainly on the two year time span from the 1787 Constitutional Convention until the 1789 passage of the Bill of Rights as the first amendments to the Constitution. Leibiger says James Madison, who he identifies as the Father of the Bill of Rights, was a politician who was wiling to compromise in response to advice and criticism. The author offers that a “careful study of Madison’s approach to a bill of rights illuminates the relationship between thought and action and between theory and reality in American politics.” Leibiger claims “by explaining Madison’s theoretical case for a federal bill of rights and by placing it in the context of his thinking during the months after the Constitutional Convention, this essay clarifies and supplements scholarship on Madison.”

Through the use of chronological development, Leibiger takes us from the 1787 Constitutional Convention to the 1789 passage of the Bill of Rights and shows how he feels Madison has grown and changed during this time.

Leibiger opens his article on James Madison and his impact on the first amendments to the United States Constitution with the statement that “Historians generally interpret the passage of the Bill of Rights as an example of throwing a tub to the whale.” Leibiger goes on to explain that this is a phrase that refers to a practice of sailors who would throw a tub or a barrel into the sea to a lurking whale in the hope that the whale would become so distracted by the tub that it would not damage or demolish their ship. He says that historians view the Bill of Rights as a “tub” that the Federalists threw to the Antifederalists so that they would not be tempted to pursue amendments to the Constitution that would have weakened or even destroyed it. The author says, that historians claim James Madison was motivated to pass the Bill of Rights for three reasons: to stop the Antifederalists from altering the power of the federal government; to win support for the constitution from states which had not ratified it yet; and to fulfill a campaign pledge he had made to win election from a strong Antifederalist district. Leibiger claims that Madison was influenced by these factors, but Madison also had become convinced that the Bill of…