"I hazard an opinion," he told Jefferson, "that the new plan--should it be adopted--will . . . not prevent the local mischiefs which everywhere excite disgust against state governments."
He predicted ratification, however, on the theory that the public will "receive anything that promises stability to the public councils and security to private rights."
The ratification struggle was a grueling one, particularly in the most important states. Favorable votes were 187 to 168 in Massachusetts, 30 to 27 in New York and 89 to 79 in Madison's home state of Virginia.
Madison conceded to the critics that the Constitution did not specifically set forth the rights of citizens. Despite his doubts that "parchment barriers" would stop legislative majorities from ignoring the rights of minorities, he nevertheless returned to Congress as a representative and drew up a set of 10 constitutional amendments, commonly known as the Bill of Rights. They were quickly ratified by the states in 1791. Their guarantees include freedom of speech, religion and the press and the right to a fair trial.
But the most enduring evidence of Madison's genius as a political theorist came in the midst of the ratification struggle in New York. From October, 1787, to March, 1788, Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay dashed off an extraordinary series of 85 essays that appeared in the city's newspapers.
Some of the essays, later called the "Federalist Papers," rebutted critics of the Constitution in the argumentative tone of newspaper letters, which is what they were. Others, particularly the 26 written by Madison alone, ranged widely over political thought and practice, from the ancient world to the 18th Century.
Today they are a staple of college curricula and are cited regularly by historians, lawyers and the Supreme Court to explain the original meaning of the Constitution.
Even in Madison's day, one admiring reader understood their historical significance.
"When the transient circumstances and fugitive performances which attended this crisis shall have disappeared," George Washington wrote in a letter to Hamilton, "that work will merit the notice of posterity, because in it are candidly and ably discussed the principles of freedom and the topics of government, which will be always interesting to mankind so long as they shall be connected in civil society."