The Truth About Madison and Slavery

Below is my column in the Washington Times responding to the controversy over changes at the home of James Madison. While I have not been to Montpelier since the reported changes, I wanted to respond to the condemnation of Madison as “an enslaver.” He was indeed an enslaver but the truth is far more complex than presented by critics.

Here is the column:

If there is one concept that captured the brilliant vision of President James Madison for government, it was his statement in Federalist 51: “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” The use of checks and balances to prevent the concentration of power was key to the stability of the constitutional system that he created. Indeed, his own home at Montpelier may now be an example of what happens when there is such a concentration of power and no check on its excess.

Recently, billionaire David M. Rubenstein gave $10 million to renovate and repair Montpelier. Mr. Rubenstein has given generously through the years to preserve historical documents and buildings. However, he has been accused of unleashing a newly formed, activist board on the property, which has transformed into what critics view as an ideological mission. It is a trend that we have seen at other historical sites, including the National Archives.

Last May, the National Trust for Historic Preservation reportedly pushed the board to accept a new slate of board members with a new agenda. Board member Mary Alexander, a descendant of Madison’s slave Paul Jennings, objected that the new members set out to transform Montpelier into “a black history and black rights organization that could care less about James Madison and his legacy.”

The exhibits now emphasize Madison “the enslaver,” and visitors have complained that there is little comparative attention to his contributions to political theory and institutions.

Visitors are greeted with a sign saying that the estate “made Madison the philosopher, farmer, statesman, and enslaver that he was.” Other exhibits discuss how every one of the nation’s first 18 presidents benefited from slavery, including anti-slavery figures like John Adams and Abraham Lincoln.

As a Madisonian scholar and devotee, I have long discussed the contradiction of slavery and the views of the founders, including Madison. It is an important element to highlight for visitors to estates like Monticello and Montpelier. However, history is often more complex than simple condemnations and Montpelier is an example of how the true history of Madison and slavery can be lost to serve current political interests.

Some of the information at Montpelier appears to reflect the claims of the highly controversial 1619 Project led by former New York Times Magazine reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, which claimed that racism was the driving force behind the entire American political system. The claim has been challenged by academics and even one of the key fact-checkers at the Times. Historians objected that “matters of verifiable fact” that “cannot be described as interpretation or ‘framing.’” They objected that the work represented “a displacement of historical understanding by ideology.”

While the project has commendable elements, the view that the Revolution was primarily fought to further slavery is revisionist tripe. However, while it does not fit the historical evidence, it fits perfectly with contemporary politics.

Whatever the merits of the criticism over these exhibits may be, it is inaccurate and ahistorical to reduce Madison as just another “enslaver.” The true story is far more nuanced and frankly intriguing.

Madison had slaves, and that is a great stain on his legacy.

However, Madison also opposed slavery and sought its elimination. His views often put him at odds with other Virginians. Even during the Revolution, Madison opposed a proposal to offer recruits free slaves for their service and instead proposed giving slaves their freedom in exchange for their military service as “more consonant to the principles of liberty which ought never to be loss sight of in a contest for liberty.”

While Madison wrote early in his career to Edmund Randolph that he wanted “to depend as little as possible on the labor of slaves,” he never made that break with the infamous use of such labor.

Before the Constitutional Convention, Madison wrote a publication entitled “Vices of the Political System of the United States,” which declared that “where slavery exists the republican Theory becomes still more fallacious.”

Madison, however, would forge a compromise with pro-slave delegates in the infamous provision that set representation in one house be based on the number of free inhabitants in each state plus three-fifths of the number of slaves.

Madison would continue to work with those resisting slavery, including the dispatch of an extraordinary letter in 1810 to the American minister to Great Britain, William Pinkney, supporting the British condemnation of an American slave ship — even suggesting arguments to facilitate such condemnation. As president, he pushed Congress to end the slave trade.

The compromise captures much of the conflicted background of Madison and slavery. He often chose compromise while seeking to nudge the country toward banning slavery. He met in his home with abolitionists and free slaves to discuss ending slavery.

Madison resisted selling slaves and sold off property to support his estate instead. In his will, Madison asked that the slaves not be sold and instead be allowed to remain on the property until their deaths. (Dolley Madison would later sell the property and the slaves due to the towering debt).

The fact is that there were better men when it came to slavery. General Marquis de Lafayette was a better man. The fierce abolitionist visited Madison and viewed him as a kindred spirit, but noted the continued presence of slaves on the property. Madison’s aide, Edward Coles, was a better man. With Madison’s praise, Coles freed his slaves shortly after Madison retired from the presidency and gave each of them some land in Illinois.

Madison did not believe that freed slaves could live and thrive in a country given “the prejudices of the whites, prejudices which … must be considered as permanent and insuperable.” He proposed instead the funding of a colony in Africa for freed slaves.

Madison always viewed slavery as the thing that would tear the country (and his Constitution) apart. He would be proved correct in 1861. However, his efforts to compromise in favor of incremental progress sacrificed principle to politics.

That is a far more interesting and instructive history than the misleading portrayal created at Montpelier. Just as Madison too readily yielded to politics in his life, the new board has done so today in this revisionist account of this great but complicated historical figure.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro professor of public interest law for George Washington University and served as the last lead counsel during a Senate impeachment trial. He testified as a witness expert in the House Judiciary Committee hearing during the impeachment inquiry of former President Donald Trump.

125 thoughts on “The Truth About Madison and Slavery”

  1. What is interestingly omitted from all these false and misleading narratives on slavery is that the very people who started the institution of slavery (with predominantly white slaves at the time) are the ancestors of those pedaling the American slavery grievance industry and profiting from it today. If anyone is to blame for slavery it is the black African tribes who had thousands of years of history kidnapping white Europeans and Jews as well as black members from the weaker African tribes, collecting ransoms or selling them to slave traders for great profit, a practice that continues in Africa to this day. Until those Africans who invented and profited from slavery along with their descendants are condemned and held to account, this entire movement in the US will be seen for what it is…an disingenuous effort carried out solely to “burn down” the United States of America as part of a wider scam to implement worldwide socialism and communism.

  2. The suggestion that the United States was founded, even in part, on racism is to miss the very obvious. The Founding Fathers were, after all, British subjects. There was no nation of the USA; there were thirteen colonies…property of The Crown. Slavery was a function of the British govt. The slave trades originated with Britian! Why do you think the Declaration of Independence was known as the ‘shot heard round the world’? For one of many reasons is the phrase written close to the top that all men are created equal is an inalienable right Granted by God. Of course these very learned men knew what they wrote! They were effectively saying to King George III, ‘slavery is your deal but we want no part of it. We want to establish a nation that will abolish it’.

    James Madison is the primary author of a truly Divinely Inspired document that was clearly written for the establishment of a nation of free people. Indeed, the great Frederick Douglass, after having read the Constitution in full, fell in love with it and declared it to be written with the express purpose of freedom for all men.

  3. Though he was a slave owner, he “enslaved” no one. What, do words have no meaning here?

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  4. Did his compromises really sacrifice principle for politics?

    By allowing representation to include 3/5 of slaves, that counted them to some degree as the people that they were. This was in opposition to the pro-slavery faction who deemed them non human. Almost like unborn fetuses, really. It has been argued that the areas of the nascent country that practiced slavery would never have joined the Union in the first place had Madison and others outright abolished the evil practice. By taking these small steps, Madison was able to pave the way for the United States of America to exist, and for the eventual abolishment of slavery.

    He could have stood on principle, refused to compromise, and then we would still be a British colony today.

    One should consider the Butterfly Effect. We might not agree with many of the decisions of the past, but we evolved to exactly where we are today because that past existed.

    1. Karen S – The problem with your 3/5 example is that is was the northern States that wanted slaves to be counted as “less than human,” not the pro-slavery southern ones. Britannica’s online website notes, “Having failed to secure the abolishment of slavery, some delegates from the Northern states sought to make representation dependent on the size of a state’s free population. Southern delegates, on the other hand, threatened to abandon the convention if enslaved individuals were not counted.

      1. The south wanted Slaves counted as full persons so it would increase their representation in Washington, thus giving the south more political power…not because they saw them as human. From Granting slaveholding states the right to count three-fifths of their population of enslaved individuals when it came to apportioning representatives to Congress meant that those states would thus be perpetually overrepresented in national politics.

        1. “[P]erpetually overrepresented”? So, you in fact believe black folks did NOT deserve any representation? Hmmmm …….

          1. The 3/5 Compromise was SOLELY about how slaves would be counted for the purpose of Congressional representation. It was NOT any sort of statement about their humanity. No matter how they were counted, exactly zero slaves were exercising political agency. The Compromise was over to what extent free men could highjack and exercise the agency of slaves

  5. When all traces of a civilization are wiped out, it is often due to two causes. Either the material was reused due to limited supply, or subsequent rulers or ideologies came to power that swept away all traces of their predecessors. The very archeologists who grieved the destruction of Palmyra adhere to the extremist ideology that would wipe out the important works of the past. Art, music, history, statues, the names of streets and schools. There is an attempt by the hard Left to demolish all traces of the past that formed our nation.

    None of these people will be able to meet the standards of future societies. Perhaps their own works will be swept away, and we will become a society that self-lobotomizes every couple of generations. It’s a pity, as our species builds upon knowledge gained.

  6. I have been to Montpelier recently. The revised message there is highly politicized, almost focused on slavery as much as how the Constitution came to be written and adopted.


    The problem with the true, actual America, under the dominion of its Constitution, is not the preservation of property but the preservation of the Constitution. More important than property is the direction and supervision of the judicial branch and Supreme Court through impeachment and conviction. The judicial branch and supreme court have deliberately and egregiously failed to fulfill their sworn oaths and refused to support the clear words of the Constitution. The judicial branch and Supreme Court have gone rogue – have gone despotic, dictatorial, oppressive and tyrannical, imposing a juristocracy.

    Since 1860, when irrefutably and fully constitutional secession was unconstitutionally denied, America has been “fundamentally transformed” in “progressive” fashion from the dominion of the Constitution to the dominion of the principles of the Communist Manifesto – Lincoln being Karl Marx’s “earnest of the epoch” leading America toward “the RECONSTRUCTION of a social world” (letter of congratulation and commendation from Marx to Lincoln ). America today enjoys central planning (no oil/coal, solar panels, electric cars), control of the means of production (regulation), redistribution of wealth (great society) and social engineering (affirmative action, quotas, forced busing, etc.).

    The singular American failure has been and continues to be the judicial branch with emphasis on the Supreme Court. The failure of the SCOTUS, to declare all acts contrary to the Constitution void, began in 1860 and has not been deterred or impeded ever since. It is long past time to compel the judicial branch and Supreme Court to do their sworn duty to literally support the literal Constitution.The Constitution, the whole Constitution, and nothing but the Constitution. Madison’s colleague, Alexander Hamilton, had it right:

    “…courts…must…declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void.”

    “…men…do…what their powers do not authorize, [and] what they forbid.”

    “[A] limited Constitution … can be preserved in practice no other way than through the medium of courts of justice, whose duty it must be to declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void. Without this, all the reservations of particular rights or privileges would amount to nothing … To deny this would be to affirm … that men acting by virtue of powers may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid.”

    – Alexander Hamilton

    The entire communistic American welfare state is unconstitutional including, but not limited to, matriculation affirmative action, grade-inflation affirmative action, employment affirmative action, quotas, welfare, food stamps, minimum wage, rent control, social services, forced busing, public housing, utility subsidies, WIC, SNAP, TANF, HAMP, HARP, TARP, HHS, HUD, EPA, Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Labor, Energy, Obamacare, Social Security, Social Security Disability, Social Security Supplemental Income, Medicare, Medicaid, “Fair Housing” laws, “Non-Discrimination” laws, etc.

    Article 1, Section 8, provides Congress the power to tax ONLY for “…general Welfare…,” omitting and, thereby, excluding any power to tax for individual welfare, specific welfare, particular welfare, favor or charity. The same article enumerates and provides Congress the power to regulate ONLY money, the “flow” of commerce, and land and naval Forces. Additionally, the 5th Amendment right to private property is not qualified by the Constitution and is, therefore, absolute, allowing Congress no power to claim or exercise dominion over private property, the sole exception being the power to “take” private property for public use. If the right to private property is not absolute, there is no private property, and all property is public.

    Government exists, under the Constitution and Bill of Rights, to provide maximal freedom to individuals while government is severely limited and restricted to merely facilitating that maximal freedom of individuals through the provision of security and infrastructure only.

    1. George, wonderful comment! Oh that it was not the case that the Constitution instead, is being increasingly repudiated.

  8. (OT)

    A jury has found former Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon guilty on two contempt of Congress charges for refusing to testify and provide documents to the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

    And this time, Trump cannot pardon him.

    1. Anonymous,

      It’s interesting that Turley has had nothing to say in defense of Bannon unlike his Fox colleague Mark Levin who delegitimizes his prosecution.

      “Now if you’re an individual and you’re facing a Stalinist enterprise like this, whether your name is Steve Bannon or anything else, it’s irrelevant — that you’re concerned because this committee is also colluding with the United States Department of Justice, so it’s using Stalinist tactics, It’s violating the Constitution.”

      More evidence that NeverTrumper Turley rejects the propaganda emanating from the network which employs him.

      1. He’s not an employee. He is a contributor. He also is a contributor to USA Today.

        1. Wiseoldlawyer says:

          “He’s not an employee. He is a contributor.”

          Be that as it may, Turley is handsomely paid.
          And he does not bite the hand that feeds him. I defy you to cite me one -just one- time Turley has ever criticized the advocacy journalism at Fox or the rage-fueled rants of Mark Levin or Tucker Carlson (apart from the one time he criticized Hannity for appearing on stage with Trump at a rally)

          1. All I know is that Jonathan Turley has shown amazing courage in multiple ways. He has called Biden to account quite a number of times. I’ve quoted him Turley several times, such as, “Constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley exposed how Biden uses the FBI to go after his political enemies.” Some fault Tucker Carlson for not biting the hand that feeds him, but IMO Carlson has compensated in many ways. I think of how Nicodemus did not declare openly for Christ before the cross, but behind the scenes was pulling for Christ in various high level councils and before the Sanhedrin, then after his death came forward boldly and helped the early church. I love that verse, “The Lord knoweth them that are His.”

  9. There is a major problem with this article and that is the use of the word “enslaver” instead of “slave owner.” The definition of “enslave” is to make someone a slave. Madison did not do this. Yes, he owned slaves as did Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and probably most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and many members of the First Congress but none of them made anyone slaves. Their slaves were mostly born into slavery and were slaves from birth. They either inherited them or bought them. Those that weren’t born into slavery were enslaved by African slavers who went into the countryside and captured them. Many slaves, particularly early in American history, were captured in war and were sold into slavery rather than being killed because their captors found out they could make money off of them if they sold them as slaves (they usually kept the women and children and killed the men.) Incidentally, the rule under colonial law was that a child born of a slave father and a non-slave mother was NOT a slave while a slave born of a non-slave father and a slave mother was a slave. The use of “enslaver” instead of “slave owner” is a recent practice cooked up by black activists to make it sound worse. Incidentally, the irony is that those same activists wouldn’t even exist if it hadn’t been for the slavery that brought their ancestors to America. Slavery is part of American history and those of us whose ancestors were here prior to the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment most likely are descended from slave owners since slavery was common throughout the Thirteen Colonies. We just need to live with it as we and our ancestors did before black activists started framing the narrative.

    1. A slave owner who chooses not to free enslaved people is also an enslaver.

      1. In your mind perhaps, but “enslave” means to put someone who is not a slave into a state of slavery — it does not mean to continue a person’s state of slavery.

    2. Actually, the enslavers were Africans! Slave ships sailed to Africa to the slave ports where they bought slaves; I call this acquiring slaves by “African Title”. This slave trade continued in parts of Africa into the 20th century. Most of the European legal systems, The English Common Law, its equivalent in France, the “Ancient Law of France” (abolished by the Revolution–read “The Black Count” about the The Count of Monte Cristo creator’s father); both had this pattern of no native enslavement process. Indeed one of the maxims of The Ancient Law of France was that “there are no slaves in France”. French colonies were another matter, using this “African Title” concept, but a colonial slaveowner brought any slaves to France at his peril.

  10. I note that the Montpellier website responds to the reported changes and claims there are numerous falsehoods and demands a retraction.

  11. Turley says:

    “Madison had slaves, and that is a great stain on his legacy.”

    I confess that I am not a student of Madison. Is there any historical evidence about how hard a slave-driver was he? Was he known to be cruel by virtue of excessive and extreme whippings or rather a “kind and good massa”? Seems to me that his physical treatment of his slaves by the contemporary standards of those days would determine just how large a stain slavery is on his otherwise accomplished legacy.

    1. “ Is there any historical evidence about how hard a slave-driver was he?”

      Does this matter? Some arbitrary rating system determining whether Madison was a good slaveholder or a bad one?

      Were there a coin called Freedom, Madison would be found on both sides. That more or less makes him not only a Founding Father, but a Founding Flip-flopper that sets the stage for every other politician in our history that plays both sides of the coin.

      But like you, I’m not a student of Madison. However, when I read Professor Turkey’s column I walk away with the impression Madison was not conflicted in his moral convictions. He had his ethical beliefs until those beliefs his his pocketbook.

      1. Nav2003 says:

        “He had his ethical beliefs until those beliefs hit his pocketbook.”

        Money always has made men do things they ought not to do. The true measure of a person is his willingness to undergo privation for the consideration of others. From what Turley recounts, Madison was less than a good man in comparison to many of his contemporaries on the issue of slavery. But for his slaves affording him a comfortable living and relieving him of daily chores, Madison may not have had the luxury of devoting himself to his books and contemplation to become a political philosopher. We may owe a great deal to slaves doing the dirty work for these men of “Enlightenment.”

        1. Madison was less than a good man in comparison to many of his contemporaries on the issue of slavery. But for his slaves affording him a comfortable living and relieving him of daily chores,

          You sound like a PETA drone talking about the Amish using horses.

            1. Turley said it not I.

              You admitt you’re a retard and are only capable of the actions of mina bird? Only repeating, but no intellectual capacity for original thought? You also are too stupid to see the quote you snipped was a base line to build on in defense of the Actions of the Author of the greates governing document the world has ever seen.

    2. “is there any historical evidence about how hard a slave-driver was he?” Yes, there is great evidence that Madison was a very compassionate slave owner. When he had to leave for duty in Washington he left instructions with his overseer that slaves were never to be beaten for infractions of the rules, but counseled privately, which was Madison’s own practice. Dolly bought eggs and chickens from one of the slaves who had been set up with his own house and was responsible for care of the crops in a portion of the estate.

  12. How long before the righteously indignant purveyors of black truth make a pronouncement that names such as Madison are no longer appropriate, for naming children, as names of towns across America, school names, and street names? How many decades ago did it begin that black kids were told by their peers and others that doing well in school was being ‘too white.’ Probably it began to get traction in 1950’s post-war America. And here we are in 2022, wondering how and why there is such a strong segregationist movement supported by blacks —

  13. It is rather ironic that the issue of slavery is being emphasized, considering the slow creep towards effective slavery in a digital neo-feudalistic panopticon by WEF corporatists.

    1. Rose says:

      “digital neo-feudalistic panopticon by WEF corporatists.”

      This sounds straight out of Q-Anon, sadly.

      1. Jeff,
        You don’t know what you don’t know. That is the fast track trajectory we are on unless something changes for the better.

        1. Rose,

          What the hell does ““digital neo-feudalistic panopticon by WEF corporatists” even mean?

        1. Rose,

          Then where on God’s green earth did you pick up “digital neo-feudalistic panopticon by WEF corporatists”?

          1. Jeff,
            What else do you call a world of mass, digital surveillance, education that is going, effectively, all digital, where corporations like PepsiCo owns millions of acres of farm ground, same goes for Bill Gates, and World Economic Forum corporatists push their ideas for a brave new world through strategically placed global shapers on all sorts of NGOs and other influential administrative jobs?

              1. Jeff, if you had left out the two last words you would have been left with Capitalism and Freedom which is a great book written by Milton Friedman I think in the 60’s. If you read it today you will note that he predicted certain events would occur with certain policies. It turned out he was right. That should tell a normal person something, but with you it hit a brick wall.

              2. Jeff,
                No, no, not in the least. That is through the looking glass. More like that nasty “police car” Transformer.

                1. I don’t comprehend your reference: “nasty ‘police car’ transformer.”

                    1. You kids have your own language. I guess I’m an ol’ timer. Don’t watch teenage flicks.

                    2. Jeff,
                      It isn’t just some teenage flick. It is full of archetypal elements. Reflects quite a few of the battles in society right now.

              3. Jeff,
                “Capitalism and Freedom of Speech.”

                What do you mean by this?

                  1. Jeff,
                    But capitalism has been twisted in their favor. Looks like corporatism/crony capitalism to me. And, the freedom of speech is twisted by mis-, dis-, and mal-information and loads of propaganda. Caveat emptor, perhaps, but only on a level playing field. This one is badly manipulated.

                    1. Rose,

                      You are sounding like a socialist and someone who disagrees with Turley’s free speech absolutism. What has gotten into you?

                    2. Jeff,
                      I suppose it is, technically, still freedom of speech. But it is the kind that will destroy and undermine our free society. And, isn’t that kind of free speech a bit fraudulant?

                    3. Anonymous,
                      ““our free society”


                      Freedom in the U.S. is an illusion.”

                      There is much that is an illusion, but not everything is. There are some things that are intangible but not illusions.

                    4. MIA:
                      ““our free society”


                      Freedom in the U.S. is an illusion.”

                      Not sure what I am supposed to make of this. It’s supposed to be a ‘case in point’, I think, that freedom in the US is an illusion, for instance–free speech is an illusion, see? since this comment saying as much was deleted.

                      But, how far does one take this? Professor Turley can remove any comment he wants for any reason, not matter how inexplicable, since this is his private forum. The issue gets murky depending on how the platform presents itself, whether they get any special treatment, whether the government is involved in some manner. Hmmm. So many questions.

      2. …or it could be derived from the enlightenment gleaned by reading “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” by Shoshana Zuboff.

    2. That bizarre comparison suggests you haven’t thought about what enslavement actually involves for the enslaved person, haven’t thought about what it means to be raped repeatedly by your enslaver, …

      1. Slavery, in a broad sense, means you are not free, you do not have self-determination, you are “owned” in some way (e.g., debt slavery), you are controlled, you may not govern your own affairs; you are not allowed to participate in the governance of your society; you are constantly watched and you have no privacy because you are not a sovereign person; you serve the interests of someone else. Could be a few of these things, all, or some I have not thought to list. I’m typing this on a component of the growing panopticon.

        1. You are free. You have self-determination. You are a sovereign person. You are allowed to participate in the governance of your society, both through voting and by running for something if you wish.

          No one is forcing you to use social media or any other tech. You are not constantly watched unless you choose to be.

          You are not a slave.

          1. Anonymous,
            Not a slave, maybe, yet.

            “No one is forcing you to use social media or any other tech.”

            The push is in that direction. I have heard of people who chose not to go to a pro baseball game because they were going to be required to pay using an app on their phones rather than with cash. Have you noticed how few cashiers there are in some stores? You gotta use self-checkout practically.

            Digital ID is in the Ukraine and Estonia. Central Bank Digital Currency is being heavily investigated by the Biden administration and there is somehow a shortage of quarters, forcing people towards cards.

            Don’t want kids using data-mining programs or equipment at school? Pretty darn hard to avoid it. Heck, there are some teachers that expect 13-year-olds to use their phones IN CLASS!?!? Parents who try to delay giving their kids technology, just like Jobs and other Silicon Valley execs do, get their arms twisted by tech-enamored schools!

            You had to use Zoom or some other program for any meetings during the stupid shutdown.

            Yeah, it is heading in that direction.

            “You are not constantly watched unless you choose to be.”

            What? So I should wear a mask out in public? Keep bandaids or stickers on all the cameras on my computers and phones (I do try that already)? You used the word constant. It does not have be constant by a person. There is enough digital storage space, though, that it could be recorded constantly, analyzed by AI, and anything “interesting” flagged for human critique.

            “You are a sovereign person.”

            I am. We are supposed to be. Whether we are treated that way is another matter. Patriot Act, NSA survelliance, etc says otherwise.

            “You are allowed to participate in the governance of your society, both through voting and by running for something if you wish.”

            Am I? Maybe at the local level, maybe. Big Money and propaganda with its nudging and steering makes that suspect. Now, with advances in technology, real self-governance is threatened to an even greater degree.

            I don’t want my sovereignty and ability to self-govern to be as illusory as the artificial reality in Zuckerberg’s metaverse. I already recognize that too much is as looking through a mirror darkly.

      2. Where are you on what the Egyptians did?

        Of course, the TV hasn’t told you want to think about that has it?

  14. I share your deep admiration of the essential framer of the US Constitution.
    I also grapple with the troubling facts of Madison’s personal history.
    Madison remains, to me, one of the greatest of American philosophers.
    May God forgive both of us for our sins.

  15. ““a black history and black rights organization that could care less about James Madison and his legacy.”


    ““a black history and black rights organization that could care less about _____________ and his legacy.”

    Insert the name of practically any Founder. I don’t think it matters. They wish to destroy individuals and legacies. Who needs legacy or traditions when that needs to be torn down, too. Golly, it’s all “future-driven” anyway, right?

  16. “[T]ransform Montpelier into ‘a black history and black rights organization that could care less [sic] about James Madison and his legacy.’”

    So they raze the culture’s heroes, and erect statues to its criminals (e.g., George Floyd).

    Unless reversed, such a culture is destined for the dustbin.

  17. I am totally against judging men from the past according to standards of the present. However, even according to the standard of his time, his actions toward slavery were condemnable. He knew slavery was an evil but he only gave lip service to ending it, all the while personally profiting from its exploitation. He didn’t even free his slaves upon his death, but left them to Dolly who sold them off to other enslavers. This from a man who seemed to understand the evil of the institution. I would have more sympathy for him if he was a racist and just thought slavery was the natural state of things. Better to be an unfortunate product of your times than a hypocrite to your honestly held beliefs.

    1. The very best of his beliefs prevailed.

      “Better to be an unfortunate product of your times than a hypocrite to your honestly held beliefs.”

      It is not better to wallow in a low estate. Better to have high ideals and fall short than to not have high ideals at all. At least he could continue striving towards the good.

  18. This what happens when reality runs into hyperbole. All people are complicated and the real world is messy. Ignore all of his history and you miss the man within the legend. Only focus on a part of him that you do not like and you do both history and the legend a disservice.

    What I find ironic is that those that would tear down a founding father over slavery are the very ones missing he placed into the institution the method to end slavery itself.

    Yes he was complicated and lived a paradox. That paradox is a stain and it does not make his accomplishments any less important.

    I wonder if those that would tear down the institution can withstand the scrutiny.

  19. Excellent post, thank you to the good professor, whose words quintessentially express the reality of “revisionist” history and politics.
    Our “Enlightened” friends and their MEDIA counterparts have learned and refined the power of “SELECTIVE facts.” Selective fact and/or news reporting is now the modus operandi. The rest of history (and countervailing facts) be damned.
    –Of course, we know that famous discoverers and explorers, especially from Spain and Italy, were importing Black slaves to the Americas for their own use and future sale. (Cordoba and Ponce de Leon come to mind.). Are there demands for “reparations” in those countries?
    –The insidious, stealthy, and subtle effort to make Whites/Caucasians a minority in America continues to take root. Just turn on your television, or listen to NPR on the radio. Remember that Blacks are 13.7% of the population, far less than Hispanics.
    –Propaganda-driven media continue to stoke, stoke, stoke racial unrest.
    –True academic freedom is stifled in major institutions, which have lost their commendable purpose of promoting cognitive development through inquisitive and open debate. They now serve as propaganda indoctrinators, imposing their agenda of a new World Order. Put up or shut up is the new academic reality.
    –Selective facts are more dangerous than lies.
    –(No, I am neither racist nor anti-Black in sentiment. I am VERY anti-propaganda-driven media and its control of America.)
    –We need more academicians like Turley, who will take no prisoners and let the chips fall where they may.

    1. Lin says:

      “Selective facts are more dangerous than lies.”

      When Trumpists falsely claim there was massive voter fraud which robbed Trump of his election win, is that an example of selective facts or merely a lie?

    2. Lin, I agree with most of this, except that I would not characterise Turley as a “take no prisoners” type. Someone like Thomas Sowell better fits this standard.

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