Col. Maxwell of Marine Corps Base Quantico honors Madison at birthday celebration at Montpelier

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Good afternoon, I am Colonel David Maxwell, commanding officer for Marine Corps Base Quantico, and it is my privilege today on behalf of the President of the United States Barack Obama to lay a wreath in honor of our 4th president, James Madison.

President Madison’s contributions to the independence and development of our country cannot be overstated.

His political involvement began in 1775 at the age of 25 as a delegate to the revolutionary Virginia Convention. He was just 29 years old when he became the youngest member of the Continental Congress, though what he lacked in age he more than made up for by always being well-read and prepared for the day’s issues.

Madison was one of the most impressive and persuasive voices at the Constitutional Convention and, as one of the principal authors of the Federalist Papers, was instrumental in galvanizing support for the Constitution. He was an influential thinking and a passionate man, and his role in the Convention earned him the honored nickname, “Father of the Constitution.”

I was struck recently by something retired Marine General James Mattis said recently when reflecting on what he learned from his storied career in the Marine Corps; that we are “…to think like men of action – and to act like men of thought. To live with intensity – and a passion for excellence.”

These words certainly apply to Madison’s life, as he constantly made sure he was properly educated on the issues of his time and actively pursued what he thought was best for the country.

I wonder if we today, and in particular those who are the same age Madison was when he was so active in the future of our country, are as engaged and attached with our government and the issues we face as Madison.

Who are today’s Madisons, Jeffersons, Franklins, and Adams? Where are they?

Consider the population of the country in Madison’s time – the 1790 Census lists approximately 4 million total people in the United States. The 2010 Census counted the U.S. population at more than 300 million.

That is a much larger and very different society than Madison’s. Today, I think there is a tendency for individuals to wonder if their voice is really heard in so much noise. I believe there is an inherent desire in each of us to be engaged on a personal and intellectual level – but understanding how to be positively involved and make a difference remains unclear. In the absence of this, our personal and intellectual engagement is derived largely from bits and pieces of information – sound bites, short media clips, trending topics on social media – which we passively absorb.

That feeling of detachment at an individual level goes against what Madison fought and worked tirelessly for in establishing this great democracy. Madison himself said it best when he remarked, “knowledge will forever govern ignorance: and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

These weren’t just words Madison spoke once that sound nice as a sound bite – it is evident through his actions he meant to establish a government that would enable its citizens to participate actively, not passively; that citizens would think like men of action and act like men of thought.

Madison is also recognized as the father of the Bill of Rights. He was fully aware that while central authority was necessary for the fledgling country at the time, an individual’s freedoms needed protection so they, too, might think like men of action and act like men of thought – the Bill of Rights ensured citizens could engage in the public square with civil discourse and contribute to the growth of the country.

The Marine Corps has placed a renewed energy and emphasis on the core values and fundamentals instilled during our initial training. As part of this reawakening, our Commandant directed that all Marines read a publication former Commandant General Charles Krulak developed called “Sustaining the Transformation.”

This publication deals with maintaining the momentum gained during initial training and ensuring Marines remain engaged and passionate with our Corps. In “Sustaining the Transformation,” Krulak talks about five phases of transformation, and the fifth one is what Madison sought to develop in his time: Citizenship.

Approximately 20,000 Marines leave the Corps each year and nearly 70 percent are in their first-term – and consequently, generally the same age Madison was when he began his work developing our nation. Krulak himself put it best when he said:

“All Marines are imbued with time-tested values of honor, courage, and commitment that provide the foundation for personal success in any endeavor. These values serve as a moral compass as we return to school or join the workforce, and these values will make us leaders in our universities, workplaces, and communities.”

When Marines, and all veterans, enter society, they are ideally suited to actively engage at the individual, local and national levels and make a difference because of what serving in the armed forces has provided them.

In my experiences, I can tell you the Marine Corps transforms young people into the type of engaged citizens Madison would be proud of today – who think like men of action and act like men of thought.

President Reagan once said, “Some spend their entire lives wondering if they have made a difference in this world. The Marines don’t have that problem.”

Neither did President Madison – and the examples of our founding fathers should challenge each of us to lead lives that will make a difference.

Again, I’d like to express my gratitude to President Obama for the opportunity to be here today, to all of you for coming out for this event.

But my greatest thanks are reserved for President Madison. All of us living today and throughout our nation’s history owe him a great debt for his role in our nation’s founding, and I hope we never forget just how central he has been to our success. Thank you and Semper Fidelis. 

 

Col. David W. Maxwell, Commander Marine Corp Base Quantico