Editor’s Note: This post was written by McKenzie Franck.
From Madison’s presidency, there are many lessons that the current president, Trump, can learn. The first lesson that Trump should take into consideration is to not get obsessed with specific pieces of legislation. When Madison was President, he was obsessed over Jefferson’s Embargo Act. When Madison was Secretary of State, he had supported the Embargo Act, which had prohibited American ships from trading with different foreign ports. Even though the Embargo Act was disfavored by many and ultimately removed, Madison still pushed to have it replaced twice, both as Secretary of State and president. If Madison had not obsessed over an act that would limit overseas trade, he would have had a smoother transition within his first years as president. There would have also been a better economy, less polarization between the Republican and Federalist parties, and the War of 1812 may have been avoided. With President Trump and his administration pushing for the new executive order, known as the travel ban, President Trump should assess how important this executive order is and if it could have lasting consequences on his early presidency. Like the Embargo Act, Trump’s executive order has been shown to be not widely accepted by many people in Congress and by constituencies. This executive order may also have negative economic impacts and may hurt international relations with other countries, such as the acts that Jefferson and Madison implemented. Even though this travel ban is something that Trump is passionate about, he needs to assess all revisions in it and be cautious while trying to enact it so he does not make the same mistake as Madison.
The second lesson that Trump should take into account is to always prepare yourself for war. While Madison was against war due to the fact that it would raise taxes and hurt the overall economy, he still prepared for war because of the restrictions and humanitarian violations the British were implementing and committing against American seamen. While assessing the conflict in Syria, Trump should prepare himself, his administration and Congress for war. After allegations of President Assad using a chemical attack on his own people, Trump and his administration took action by having a missile strike against Syria. While Trump has repeatedly said in the past that he does not want to get involved in Syria, after seeing Assad attack his own people and violate their human rights, President Trump may now have to get even more involved than just a missile strike. Like Madison, President Trump wants to put the American people and the economy first and has said, in the past, that striking against Syria would be a “big mistake.” However, like Madison, President Trump has been put in a situation where human rights are being violated. While there’s a chance that the United States will not become involved in the civil war in Syria, Trump and his administration should at least prepare for that option, because it is now realistic and within reach.
The final lesson Trump should take into consideration is not to be overly influenced by his party. When Madison took office, he was influenced by his party and by Jefferson. While Madison wanted insight from his party, it ended up influencing his own opinions too much and led to poor decisions. Jefferson and the Republican Party that had pressured Madison into exonerating Wilkinson, even though he had many scandals against him and caused 816 men to die under his command. Madison was also heavily influenced by the “War Hawks” to start the War of 1812. If Madison had listened to his own judgment, then Wilkinson would not have been exonerated from his scandals and Madison may not have gone to war against the British in 1812. Since Trump has taken office, he has been put under pressure and criticism from Republican Party leaders. Some Republican Party members believe that he is too liberal and some Democratic Party members believe that he is too extreme. While Trump should listen to his party on issues, Trump should make sure he is not overly influenced by party members too much and going against his own moral positions.
Information in this post about President Madison was taken from “James Madison: The American Presidents Series” by Garry Wills.