Washington Fellows 2016: Session Two

The Founders’ Constitution

Date: Monday, February 8, 2016
Guest Discussion Leader: Matthew Spalding, Associate Vice President and Dean of Educational Programs, Hillsdale College

The United States is that rare country whose nationhood is coextensive with her constitutional arrangements. The “philosophy” of the American Constitution is laid out with remarkable learning, penetration, and insight in the Federalist Papers (1787-1788) written by Madison, Hamilton, and Jay. Any thoughtful American conservatism will aim to “conserve” the constitutional heritage bequeathed by our constitutional Founders.

Required Reading:

The Federalist Papers #’s 10, 51, 84

Charles Kesler’s 25 page Introduction to the Signet Classic edition of The Federalist Papers

Recommended Reading:

de Tocqueville, Alexis. “On the Omnipotence of the Majority in the United States and its Effects.” Democracy in America Volume One, Part Two, Chapter 7.

Lawson, Gary. “The Rise and Rise of the Administrative State”; Harvard Law Review, 1994, pp. 1231-1254.

Schwarz, Fred. “Our Subversive Founders.” National Review Online. March 12, 2010.

Session Two Required Reading

Session Two Recommended Reading

Discussion Questions

  1. How is government itself a reflection of human nature? Why does liberal constitutionalism presuppose the non-angelic character of human beings?
  1. What is the Federalist’s solution to the problem of (majority) faction?
  1. What are some of the republican remedies for the “diseases most incident to republican government” described in Federalist #10 and #51?
  1. How did Madison prepare himself for his role as constitution-maker? What lessons did Madison the statesman learn that shaped his later judgments about such matters as a national bank and an adequate national defense?
  1. Why were the Founders skeptical of political parties? What is the connection between free government and a competitive party system?
  1. How is the Founding an on-going responsibility of future Americans and not just of the Founding generation?

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