Common conceptions of the constitutional system is that it works like a machine, transforming our selfish interests into public policy. James Madison—the Father of the Constitution—emphasized this idea in the Federalist Papers, where he argued that the structure of the government was necessary to protect the republic. But it is hardly sufficient. A closer look at Madison’s political theory indicates that a virtuous citizenry is also necessary to sustain self-government, and a review of his career in politics helps identify the sorts of qualities he thought the republican citizen and statesmen should embody.
Jay Cost is a journalist and visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.