The Bill of Rights, spearheaded by James Madison to protect and educate the people, was the focus of Michael Zuckert during his Constitution Day lecture, “The Consistency of James Madison: The Bill of Rights.”
Through numerous polls over the years, the Bill of Rights has been viewed as “the most admired and valued part of the Constitution,” Zuckert emphasized. Focusing on constitutional studies and political theory, Zuckert has published various books, including Natural Rights and the New Republicanism and Launching Liberalism.
This year’s Constitution Day lecture, sponsored by the American Founding Group and the School of Public and International Affairs, was held virtually in honor of the Sept. 17, 1787, signing of the Constitution and was designated as a Signature Lecture.
Zuckert, the Nancy R. Dreux Professor of Political Science Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, overviewed the struggle among the signing delegates whether to include the Bill of Rights or to take amendment proposals. He explained that many issues were Federalists versus Antifederalists, but the Bill of Rights became Madison’s fight for the people.
While Madison originally opposed the Bill of Rights, he came to view it not only as a protection of liberty, but also as an educational tool for an understanding of inherent protections and freedoms from the government and each other.
During his lecture, Zuckert discussed many of Madison’s letters to Thomas Jefferson, where he stressed the importance of civil protections and noted the power imbalance that was inevitable if the Bill of Rights was excluded, as some delegates were fighting for a stronger government. Zuckert further explained how “the real power lies within the communities.”
The protection of rights, Zuckert said, isn’t due to “clever political structures.” It relies on citizens to not only understand their rights but also to defend the rights of the oppressed.
Zuckert discussed Madison’s change of heart involving a declaration of rights and highlighted the perseverance Madison exhibited for these liberties. Madison exemplifies differing and evolving opinions and further advocating on behalf of the particular cause, Zuckert said.
“We must hold these rights in our minds and hearts. We must assert ourselves in their defense,” he said.