Happy Birthday James Madison:

Tim Sandefur points out that today is James Madison's birthday, and links to some of Madison's most important works. As a Property professor, I agree with Tim that Madison's "Property" is among his best writings. But my favorite little-known Madison quote is his warning in Federalist 62 that big government undermines democratic control over public policy by making it impossible for citizens to acquire the knowledge they need to monitor what government is doing:

It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?

This is a point that I have focused on in much of my own work on political ignorance (e.g. - here and here). Madison, however, at least partially foresaw that this danger might arise over 200 years ago, when the functions of government were incomparably narrower and simpler than they are today.

UPDATE: When I first wrote this post, I hadn't noticed that co-blogger Randy Barnett had put up his own post on this subject just a few minutes before. Sorry for any confusion.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Shortcomings of Madison's Federalist 10:
  2. Happy Birthday James Madison: