Election Day 2013: Thoughts from James Madison


If you haven’t decided whether to vote yet today, consider this. Voter apathy existed even in James Madison’s day, and it was one of the reasons that Madison favored electing the President indirectly through the Electoral College rather than by the direct vote of the people. Madison wrote that the people “will on ordinary occasions and where the Candidates are least known feel too little; yielding too much to the consideration, that in a question depending on Millions of votes, individual ones, are not worth the trouble of giving them.” In a hotly-contested race, “if the election be referred immediately to the people, however they may be liable to an excess of excitement.”

In any case, Madison believed that “we the people” needed to be well-informed for representative government to succeed:  “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both. Knowledge will for ever govern ignorance: and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” On this Election Day, Montpelier encourages our fellow citizens not to yield to the consideration that individual votes “are not worth the trouble of giving them,” but to “arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives” to make well-informed choices.

To learn more about Madison’s political roles, visit Montpelier’s Grills Gallery, where you can view 1809 election ephemera and delve deeper into the complexities of the War of 1812. Among our most recent acquisitions are two rare Herculaneum Pottery jugs that were made to commemorate and celebrate Madison’s 1809 presidential win. These black transfer-print creamware jugs were created in England for the American market as part of Madison’s political ephemera. Rather than design a new pitcher for the Madison administration, the enterprising manufacturer simply continued to use former president Thomas Jefferson’s image and changed the name on the banner to the misspelled “Maddison.” 




Curatorial Department