The goal of this essay is to contrast the ideas of James Madison, his views on human rights, and those of Margaret Fuller’s. Margaret Fuller’s work described women in the 19th century and it is felt they contrast to a high degree with the work of James Madison. The contrast with regard to the contradictions between the ideal vision of women in American and their everyday reality. James Madison is hailed as the father of the constitution. He is seen as one of the great founders of the American political system and its fundamental beliefs in human rights. Madison is perhaps seen more so than anyone else as the writing of the American constitutions which is celebrated as one of the great documents of human rights in history. While the following quote was credited to Thomas Jefferson it sums up Madison’s view of human rights: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (Rakove). The ideals expressed in the quote and by Madison was that every human being had equal rights. Furthermore, every American should be able to equally pursue their goals and life desires. However, did America live up to this ideal? Margaret Fuller when describing America in the 19th century certainly did not feel it was living up to the ideal that was inscribed by Madison in the constitution.
Fuller describes an American with many different classes of citizens and women being a different class than men. Women did not have the right to vote are participate in politics in any way. Furthermore, they were excluded from all major profession such as doctors and lawyers. In fact, the only real outlet for women outside the home was to become a school teacher. Fuller declares that these imperfections in the American system were inherited from Europe and needed to be taken out (Fuller). Fuller saw women as being viewed as inferior. Their only place was in the home and their job was to support men.
So how do we reconcile these two views of America? On one hand we have Madison that believes that America will be a country where all are treated equal and all have equal opportunity. On the other hand, we have the clear observation that women are second class citizens to men. Furthermore, there are slaves and the treatment of native Americans. It is clear that while American had one philosophic ideal they certainly practiced another. Fuller believed that “the soul of men and women are the same” and should be nourished the same in society. It seems that Madison believed this as well. Perhaps the solution lies in the size of the government. Madison wrote that “A pure democracy is a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person” (Samples). Thus while Madison imagined a government that lived with a philosophy of equal rights for all perhaps the size of the United States simply made this ideal impossible. Perhaps then it was up to people like Fuller to slowly but surely bring these original ideals to all of America. To give the rights to those who were not treated equally. To finally given everyone the right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and the American Ideal.
There is no question that the philosophy that Madison wrote about in his early work that lead to the foundation of the American constitution was not a reality. In the real world women were not equal and they lived the life that Fuller described. That is a life of servitude to men. With time it does seem that America is growing closer and closer to this original ideal. It is hoped that there will be more figures like Fuller to speak for those that don’t have the power to speak.
- Fuller, Margaret. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Greeley & Mcelrath, 1845.
- Rakove, Jack N. The Annotated U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009.
- Samples, John. James Madison and the Future of Limited Government. Washington D.C: Cato Institute, 2002.