University of South Carolina

Constitution Day talk to focus on Calhoun-Madison debate

As part of the University of South Carolina’s celebration of Constitution Day Thursday, Sept. 17, the university will feature a public talk by American politics scholar Dr. James H. Read.

Read, the Joseph P. Farry Professor of Public Policy at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University in Minnesota, will speak at 7 p.m. in the School of Law auditorium. A reception will be held afterward, and both events are free.

Titled “What Kind of Constitution? James Madison, John C. Calhoun, and the Problem of Majority Rule,” the talk is based on Read’s book, “Majority Rule versus Consensus: The Political Thought of John C. Calhoun,” which was released earlier this year.

Read will discuss how James Madison, the U.S. Constitution’s chief architect, and South Carolina statesman John C. Calhoun both believed unchecked majority rule was tantamount to majority tyranny but espoused vastly different ideas for legislative rule.

“Madison sought to make majority rule slow and deliberate rather than hasty and passionate; he understood the Constitution as a framework for responsible majority rule,” Read said. “Calhoun wanted stronger medicine. That is, he wanted to permit an outvoted minority to block legislation that threatened its interests. Calhoun re-interpreted the Constitution as requiring near-consensus rather than majority rule.”

Read says the Madison-Calhoun debate is far from over.

“The issues raised in the Madison-Calhoun debate continue to resonate today in controversies over filibuster in the Senate and over states attempting to block federal legislation, inviting us to consider once again what kind of Constitution we have.”

Additional books by Read include “Power versus Liberty: Madison, Hamilton, Wilson, and Jefferson” (2000) and “Doorstep Democracy: Face to Face Politics in the Heartland” (2008).

Read said the work of Dr. Lacy Ford, a 19th-century American-history scholar and chairman of the University of South Carolina’s history department, influenced his research by providing valuable insights on how Calhoun’s national goals and actions were affected by his place in Palmetto State politics.

On Sept. 18, the day after his public talk, Read will address faculty and students in the department of political science, looking at contemporary applications of Calhoun’s idea of a consensus model of government in Ireland, South Africa and the former Yugoslavia.

While at the university, Read plans to visit South Caroliniana Library for his next project, a book on South Carolinian Francis Lieber and how his Lieber Code influenced Geneva Convention articles for the treatment of civilians and prisoners.

The U.S. Constitution was signed on Sept. 17, 1787. In 2004, U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia led an initiative to make Sept. 17 a national holiday. Constitution Day was first celebrated in 2005.

The university’s annual commemoration is sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the College of Arts and Sciences and its department of political science and the School of Law.

For more information, contact Dr. Dan Sabia, chairman of the department of political science, at 803-777-3109.

By Office of Media Relations

Posted: 08/31/09 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 09/08/09 @ 8:31 AM | Permalink

Constitution Day

  • What: National observance commemorating the 1787 signing of the U.S. Constitution
  • When: Sept. 17
  • Where: Dr. James H. Read's public talk to take place 7 p.m. in School of Law auditorium

Related Links



Media Relations

USC Times