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

The Making of the Bill of Rights

Fears of Subversion of the Newly Ratified Constitution

The Best Defense is a Good Offense

Madison also took into account those states that had not yet ratified the Constitution. Rhode Island had not even held a ratifying convention, and North Carolina’s convention had rejected the Constitution. Madison wrote to Jefferson: “It appears that a large majority [in North Carolina] has decided against the Constitution as it stands, and, according to the information here received, has made the alterations proposed by Virginia the conditions on which alone that State will unite with the others.” His information may have been an exaggeration, but he had reason to hope that if Congress made a good faith effort to adopt the least controversial of those amendments, it might be sufficient to woo North Carolina into the fold.

Madison had even more pressing concerns. He worried that the Constitution’s enemies were looking for an opportunity to rewrite it altogether, and that they would act if Congress dithered too long. Madison accused some of the most stalwart Antifederalists of clinging to “the insidious hope of throwing all things into confusion, and of subverting the [Constitution], if not the Union itself.” 

The best defense against such enemies would be a good offense. He wanted Congress to propose modest but popular amendments as soon as possible “in order to extinguish opposition to the system, or at least break the force of it, by detaching the deluded opponents from their designing leaders.” Until that was done, Congress could not even embark on other necessary business with confidence. But a successful consummation of their efforts to amend the Constitution would “kill the opposition every where,” and thereby “enable the administration to venture on measures not otherwise safe.”