Defenders of the Constitution: Calhoun Versus Madison, a Bicentennial Cerebration

Symposium, "James Madison: Philosopher and Practitioner of Liberal Democracy," Library of Congress, March 16, 2001.


In 1987, the Center for Judicial Studies, a Conservative think tank in the precincts of the nation’s capital–a think tank, sometimes referred to as by appointment to the Justice Department of Attorney General Edwin Meese III–offered for sale (at $150.00 each) busts of six men denominated as “Defenders of the Constitution.” They were: James Madison, John Marshall, Joseph Storey, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, and Edmund Burke. Burke’s inclusion may seem strange since he was not an American, and died in 1791, having said little or nothing about the Constitution, which was only of very recent date by the time of his death. Burke of course is justly revered for is patronage of the American cause during the dispute over “taxation without representation” with Great Britain, and his speeches on “Conciliation with America” were once known (I first studied them in the eighth grade) by every American schoolboy. But we can also understand Burke’s inclusion when we remember that he is the regarded as spiritual Father of that contemporary Conservatism thought to be among the intellectual progenitors of the Reagan presidency. Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind, published in the early fifties, is often said to be the founding document of present day Conservatism. If so, then it can be said that the mind of Edmund Burke–as understood by Russell Kirk–is, for all practical purposes, the Conservative Mind.

Library of Congress