Perspective: A Room In Montpelier

Jul 15, 2019

A few weeks ago, when I was driving in Northern Virginia visiting Civil War battlefield sites, I happened across a sign for James Madison's home, Montpelier. After thinking about it for a few seconds, I decided to drive the 28 miles to Orange, Virginia to visit the home of the founding father I've read the least about.

During the guided tour, which was well worth the $20, I learned that I both wanted and needed to learn more about the brilliant Mr. Madison. Also, during that tour, I got to see the room where Madison holed up for a few weeks in 1787, while he pored through the many works of philosophy and history in his library, taking notes and creating the outline of what would become the United States Constitution.

I also then got to thinking about the idea of originalism, which is a belief that the constitutional text ought to be given the original public meaning that it would have had at the time that it became law. Now, I'm no constitutional scholar, but I can’t help wonder what the architect of this document would think of originalism.

Strictly interpreted, originalism would still see large swaths of our population legally disenfranchised and legally discriminated against due to gender, race and economic standing. Our freedoms go only as far as those who are charged with interpreting the constitution and determining what's constitutional and what isn't. So we as citizens must be vigilant which interpreters get chosen. It matters for all of us.

I'm Andrew Nelson. And that's my perspective.