The First Freedoms
The Privacy Amendments
The 5th Amendment
The 6th Amendment
Civil Trials
The Interpretive Rules

The Making of the Bill of Rights

Madison Warms to a Bill of Rights

Political Motivations

By the time James Madison was running for Congress in 1789, his conversion to the cause of a Bill of Rights was complete. His change of heart may have come about in part because of the persuasions of his good friend, Thomas Jefferson. 

But Madison’s change of heart was also politically motivated. Many voters in the congressional district surrounding his home county of Orange were anxious to see a bill of rights in the new Constitution. Some of his constituency were skeptical that this candidate, who had once expressed doubts about the necessity of a bill of rights, was the right man to get the job done. To them, Madison’s rival, the erstwhile Antifederalist James Monroe, may have seemed like a safer bet. During Madison’s candidacy, he wrote a few carefully worded letters—directed to men who would be sure to leak the information to the proper channels—assuring them that his devotion to a bill of rights was sincere.

In one letter to George Eve, Madison explained that his earlier opposition had primarily been toward “previous alterations;” that is, he objected to a ratification of the Constitution that would be contingent on the adoption of specified amendments. His resistance had lasted only while the ratification was in doubt, but with the adoption of the Constitution, “circumstances are now changed.” If the First Congress and the states were to adopt carefully chosen amendments to the Constitution now, then it “may serve the double purpose of satisfying the minds of well meaning opponents, and of providing additional guards in favour of liberty.”

Madison’s reassuring letters—one of which was published in a Richmond paper less than a week before the election—must have had some effect, for he won the election by a comfortable margin. And Madison remained faithful to his campaign pledges. He crafted his own proposal for a Bill of Rights and then worked tirelessly to push it through the First Congress.