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MONTESQUIEU AND JAMES MADISON

Have you ever heard a teacher ask a student, not sarcastically but sincerely, “Where did you get that idea?” Sometimes other students need to hear how an idea, or answer came about and what thought process the student went through to arrive at the idea/answer. When James Madison wrote his Virginia Plan for the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, who or what influenced him?

Madison’s ideas for the Virginia Plan were partly based on ideas found in The Spirit of Laws by French philosopher, Montesquieu. His idea for a federal government included three branches, executive, legislative and judicial with a built in system of checks and balances. For example, the executive had a veto over the legislative, which was bicameral, thus checking itself.

RJames Madison

 

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As a second plan was introduced into the Constitutional Convention, Madison also used what he had learned from Montesquieu about the role of compromise when governing. As students compare the two plans to the final draft of the U.S. Constitution have them use the following quotes by Montesquieu to identify his influence: …Liberty is the right of doing whatever the law permit…In order to have this liberty, it is requisite for the government to be so constituted as one man need not be afraid of another…When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or in the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty; because apprehensions may arise, lest the same monarch or senate should enact tyrannical laws, to execute them in a tyrannical manner…Again, there is no liberty, if the judiciary power be not separated from the legislative and executive. Were it joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control; for the judge would be then the legislator. Were it joined to the executive power, the judge might behave with violence and oppression….

IMPEACHMENT – A LEGISLATIVE CHECK ON THE EXECUTIVE

 

FDC Image Stamp Civil Rights Act 1964

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Article I of the Constitution establishes the organization of the legislature branch and describes the “check” on the executive, impeachment. It’s been forty years since President Nixon resigned under fear of impeachment. There are many good resources to teach about the Watergate scandal on the Nixon Presidential Library website, www.nixonlibrary.gov

 

ENVELOPES MAY BE SMALL BUT CARRY HUGE MESSAGES!

 

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