Public opinion and the formation of civic character in Madison's republican theory

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13 Scopus citations


John Adams's complaints notwithstanding, no one of the American Founding generation has been so consistently misunderstood as James Madison. In recent decades a small handful of scholars have made significant strides toward correcting the Madisonian record. In addition to the justly acclaimed study of Madison by Lance Banning, The Sacred Fire of Liberty, the thoughtful work of Alan Gibson stands out in this regard. In particular, Professor Gibson's efforts to parse the contemporary debate over the character of Madison's political thought constitute a distinctive and valuable contribution to the literature on Madison and the Founding. In his most recent essay, Veneration and Vigilance: James Madison and Public Opinion, 1785-1800, Professor Gibson makes three central claims, namely, that Madison never wavered in his commitment to popular sovereignty and deserves to be considered a leading and prescient democratic theorist of the Founding, that Madison's conception of the nature and role of public opinion in the 1790s signifies a substantial revision of the earlier Humean understanding of public opinion he embraced in the 1780s, and that Madison did not seek to foster civic education in the American republic. I agree with the first of these claims, though I would make the case for Madison's democratic credentials even more emphatically than Gibson does. In general, however, Gibson and I share common ground in the recognition of the critical importance of the concept of public opinion in Madisonian theory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)37-48
Number of pages12
JournalReview of Politics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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