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James Madison, “Ancient & Modern Confederacies” (Notes on Government), May 1787

To prepare for the Constitutional Convention of 1787, James Madison studied the strengths and weaknesses of ancient and contemporary confederations. Surveying the political systems of ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, the Swiss Confederation, and the Netherlands, Madison sought models to improve upon the Articles of Confederation. His research contributed significantly to a stronger Union under the U.S. Constitution.

Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

James Madison, “Ancient & Modern Confederacies” (Notes on Government), May 1787 James Madison, “Ancient & Modern Confederacies” (Notes on Government), May 1787

Strengthening the Union

The Articles of Confederation united the thirteen original states but lacked centralized authority for foreign diplomacy, commerce, national defense, and arbitration. In 1787, at the Constitutional Convention called to address those weaknesses, James Madison of Virginia argued that a balance of centralized government and states’ rights was essential to a lasting republic. The Convention produced a new agreement of union embodying those principles––the United States Constitution which was ratified by the states.