Post by Anna Connole
“If you’re associated with @JMU, you have a special obligation to know something about the Constitution.”
“People who are more knowledgeable about our government, more knowledgeable about our Constitution, probably are going to be better citizens, vote more intelligently and be more engaged in our country.” – David Rubenstein
The Office of the President’s Madison Vision Series kicked off its 2018-2019 series on Constitution Day with patriotic philanthropist David Rubenstein, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Chairman of The Carlyle Group.
On a day celebrating the 231st anniversary of state delegates to the Constitutional Convention approving the founding document, Mr. Rubenstein began by regaling the audience with a short letter written to by “Jame Madison” from the afterlife to his “Friends at James Madison University.” In his letter, Madison said the document has survived so long because so many Americans “have worked so hard to ensure that the citizens of this great country know about the importance of this document to our way of life, our prosperity, our freedom, and our security.” “Madison” also said nothing would please him more than if someone from JMU would write a musical for him.
In his more formal remarks, Mr. Rubenstein expressed his concern for the state of our democracy, but also his amazement at how long the sentiments of his Constitution have lasted. He said the Founding Fathers might have had flaws, but they came up with a pretty good form of governance and JMU students to “at least study history so you aren’t condemned repeat it.”
As an avid supporter of preserving history, Mr. Rubenstein was able to offer in-depth insight into who Madison was. As the fifth Secretary of State, fourth President, contributor to the Louisiana Purchase, presidential advisor, and defender of religious liberties in Virginia, Madison has a long list of reasons to be honored.
However, Mr. Rubenstein also questioned whether Madison deserved the honor to be called “Father of the Constitution.” Mr. Rubenstein pointed to the handful of Constitutional sections that Madison actually opposed. Madison was an avid supporter of a direct election system, a motion that was put to rest with the inclusion of the Electoral College. He also wanted the President to be able to veto anything proposed by the states. Surprisingly, Madison also led the initial fight against including a Bill of Rights.
If so much of the Constitution went against what Madison was fighting for, how can it truly be his “child?” Addressing this point, Rubenstein provided a long list of reasons as to why Madison does, in fact, deserve the title. Firstly, Madison’s initial opposition to a Bill of Rights was made for the sake of the greater good. Madison saw that the Bill of Rights was going to be a huge obstacle for the already tired Constitutional Convention to write and debate. Being the only documented member to attend the Convention everyday of the almost four month session, he was aware that to get the Bill of Rights passed in an efficient way he would need to wait. When the time came, Madison was the one to write the draft Bill of Rights himself. He also studies history and conceptualized a system of balancing and sharing powers between the branches of government. Madison was integral in the ratification process in Virginia, and was the author of the many journals, letters and Federalist papers which explained and advocated for the form of governance now enshrined in the Constitution. Remember that representative democracy was quite radical for its time.
Noting that the Constitution is indeed flawed, especially because it included slavery, it is still honored as the foundation of our nation and idolized by other countries. Why is the Fourth of July the only day when we shoot off fireworks? The Declaration of Independence was surely a great piece of propaganda, but it was the Constitution that began the country we know of, today.
Mr. Rubenstein expressed deep concern that so many Americans don’t understand the Constitution, nor the role of political institutions and processes governing their lives. His philanthropy has focused on preserving history to promote civic education and active, informed citizenship. Mr. Rubenstein also noted that anyone can be a philanthropist. Philanthropy is not defined as giving money. It can be done by anyone of any status and in many different forms: time, skill or donation.
During the question and answer session, Mr. Rubenstein was asked his advice on leadership. He responded that “all of life is persuading people to do what you want or think. Learn how to communicate, learn to write (he said a tweet doesn’t count), lead by example.”
Concluding the event, James Madison University President Jonathan Alger presented Mr. Rubenstein with the first annual James Madison Award for the Public Good. The award is to be presented each year to a recipient on Constitution Day and honors contributions to American civic life, engaged citizenship, promotion of education and freedom along with personifying Madisonian ideals.