Mission Statement

What conditions are necessary to sustain America's experiment in ordered liberty? What is the proper relationship between government and civil society? What influence, if any, ought religion to have in public life? Are there objective principles of justice or other moral standards by which the decisions of public officials and citizens alike can be evaluated? What structures of government are most conducive to promoting the ideals embodied in the Declaration of Independence? Is there a relationship between economic freedom and civil liberty? What is the proper role of the judiciary in a democratic republic?

The James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions in the Department of Politics at Princeton University promotes teaching and scholarship in constitutional law and political thought. Under the leadership of its director, Robert P. George, and with the guidance and support of an advisory board from the worlds of law, business, philanthropy and the academy, the Madison Program sponsors and guides research and teaching at the undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral levels.

The James Madison Program honors the Princeton graduate (and undergraduate student) who became the principal architect of the Constitution and the fourth President of the United States. The Program builds upon Princeton's traditional strengths in public law and jurisprudence. This celebrated tradition goes back to Woodrow Wilson, the first McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence in Princeton's Department of Politics. This tradition has been carried on by his successors, W. F. Willoughby, Edward S. Corwin, Alpheus T. Mason, Walter F. Murphy, and Robert P. George. These scholars have practiced the rigorous philosophical and social scientific study of constitutional law and related subjects. As a result, Princeton has offered an important alternative to vocational legal studies and the forms of legal scholarship traditionally dominant in American law schools, such as the doctrinal analysis of case law. Among the central concerns of the James Madison Program are: 

  • the nature of free political institutions and the cultural conditions for their establishment and maintenance;  
  • the relationship between political institutions and institutions of civil society, and that between political liberty and civic virtue; 
  • the implications of such doctrines as the rule of law, subsidiarity, and social solidarity for the scope and limits of governmental authority; 
  • federalism; 
  • the moral bases of private property and free enterprise; 
  • the constitutional separation of powers and systems of checks and balances; 
  • executive leadership; 
  • democratic deliberation and accountability; 
  • judicial independence and the scope and limits of judicial power; 
  • America's role in the world and the conduct of her relations with foreign powers; 
  • the place of religion and religiously informed moral judgment in American public life.  
  • In addressing these concerns, students and faculty explore the thought of America's founders and leading statesmen, including Madison, Jefferson, Washington, Adams, Lincoln, and King. They also consider the contributions of thinkers who shaped the understanding that fed the American founding and continue to shape the American civic idea. Among these are Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, More, Erasmus, Adam Smith, Montesquieu, Sidney, and Locke. And not to be neglected are the insights of perceptive foreign commentators on American ideals and institutions, including Tocqueville, Churchill, and Solzhenitsyn.

The Madison Program's goals and activities include enhancing Princeton's undergraduate curriculum in constitutional studies; supporting graduate student and faculty scholarship that advances understanding of American ideals and institutions; sponsoring visiting scholars; and promoting scholarly collaborations.