Episode 107: Mary Sarah Bilder, Madison’s Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention


When politicians, lawyers, and historians discuss the Constitutional Convention of 1787, they often rely on two sources: The promotional tracts collectively known as The Federalist Papers and James Madison’s Notes of the Constitutional Convention.

But what do we know about Madison’s Notes?

Did Madison draft them to serve as a definitive account of the Constitutional Convention?

Today, we explore James Madison’s Notes on the Constitutional Convention with award-winning legal historian Mary Sarah Bilder, the Founders Professor of Law at Boston College and author of Madison’s Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention.

About the Show

Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.

It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.

Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.

Episode Summary

mary-sarah-bilderIn this episode, we explore James Madison’s Notes on the Constitutional Convention with award-winning legal historian Mary Sarah Bilder, the Founders Professor of Law at Boston College and author ofMadison’s Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention.

During our investigation, Mary reveals details about the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and James Madison’s views on government; Why Madison took notes of Convention proceedings; And how Madison used his Notes during and after the Convention.

What You’ll Discover

  • The Constitutional Convention of 1787
  • Whether Americans in 1787 understood the significance of the Constitutional Convention as it took place
  • How citizens learned of government actions and debates in the 18th century
  • James Madison’s interest in the Constitutional Convention
  • Why Virginia elected Madison to the Constitutional Convention
  • Why Madison believed the United States needed a stronger central government than the Articles of Confederation provided
  • Legislative journals and Madison’s note-taking practices
  • What Madison’s notes and his handwriting look like
  • The importance of watermarks
  • The significance of Madison having written his Notes at different times
  • Fair copy notes vs. rough notes
  • How Madison might have revised different copies of his Notes
  • Madison’s particular interests in the Constitutional Convention
  • The 3/5ths Clause
  • How Madison used his Notes
  • Madison’s Notes and The Federalist Papers
  • How Thomas Jefferson used Madison’s Notes

Links to People, Places, and Publications

Complementary Episodes

Episode 055: Robb Haberman, John Jay: Forgotten Founder
Episode 057: Max Edling, War, Money, and the American State, 1783-1867
Episode 061: Ed Larson, George Washington in Retirement
Episode 062: Carol Berkin, The Bill of Rights
Episode 084: Zara Anishanslin, How to Historians Read Historical Sources

Time Warp PlainTime Warp Question

In your opinion, what might have happened if Thomas Jefferson had been in the United States during the Constitutional Convention? Would he have served as one of Virginia’s delegates? And if so, how would his presence at the Convention have altered Madison’s Notes?

Questions, Comments, Suggestions

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