On January 11, 1788, James Madison reflected on the recent meeting of the Constitutional Convention in Federalist 37 also known as Concerning the Difficulties of the Convention in Devising a Proper Form of Government. After relentless debating and attempting to confront firm disagreements between geographical regions, small and large states, mercantilists and farmers the convention was facing frustration and stagnation. The delegates had set out to propose an organized structure that would safeguard "liberty,” and “republican form," while allocating enough energy for a central government to fuel an established nation (Federalist 37). Yet, bias, self-interest, and rivalries continued the unremitting drama revolving around the new Constitution. Madison noted that the difficulties the convention was facing were stemming from an inadequate understanding on how to balance the governmental triad of energy, stability and republican virtue. While energy offers “security,” and “stability is essential to national character,” republican form called for a government that is ultimately controlled and driven by its people (Federalist 37).
Madison himself admitted that the Constitution was far from flawless and should be amended following its ratification. Later, Madison evaluates his opposition but, in turn, reminds his critics of the rickety foundation that was laid by the former Articles of Confederation. However, he accepted its current condition because he recognized that no other civilization had attempted at lacing a government with an intricate balance of energy and stability while standing firm by republican liberty. Furthermore, Madison explains that an adoption of such a system was so vital to the American persona that another arrangement would merely not be attuned to the people. He argues "with the genius of the people of America; with the fundamental principles of the revolution," no other option would be plausible. Under this vision, Madison shaped the characterization of a republican government. All powers would be a derivative of the population’s desires, and those in office would be limited so that the administration would be a constant reflection of public preference (Federalist 39). Thus, when Madison created the republican form he also helped fashion republican virtue. This novel form of government has stood the test of time in the United States despite a fair share of quarrels and trepidations. History has shown that during periods of squalling storms republican merit has anchored Madison’s trinity of energy, stability and most prominently, republicanism.
One hundred and seventy-two years later, the American government was still steered by the Constitution and operating under the system proposed by Madison, but, the character of the American government was facing adversity once again. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Americans were seeing red and the hunt for communism was on. This search to distinguish anything that resembled communism was predominantly intense within the arts and film industry centered in Hollywood. However, there was a renowned communist bounty hunter championing Madison’s Republic form in Hollywood. This man was John Wayne. John Wayne was one of the top three American movie stars from the 1940s to the 1990s (American Film Institute, 2015 para. 2). Nearly half of that time, he was rated number one according to public opinion polling. Never in American film has history had one man able to hold this title for nearly 50 years running. Perceptibly, there was something about this man that brought Americans back to the republican values ingrained in the American Enlightenment and Revolutionary period. The American Enlightenment Value scheme was born during Madison’s time during the 1700s and produced nearly 100 years of thinking that invoked independence, tolerance, intelligence, liberty and promoted the republican form of government. Ideas during this era were also put into words by other leading Americans minds such as Paine, Jefferson, Franklin and Adams.
Thus, Wayne’s image became a living preservation of the works and words of the Founding Fathers and other authors of the era. For example, in the “Young American,” Emerson referred to the western frontiersman as the true embodiment of patriotism, individualism and one who rendered “virtues for ages to come,” (Emerson, 1844, para. 8). Furthermore, De Tocqueville observed, Americans persistently were exceptionally practical in nature moving west, exploring and making headway. These traits made taming a wild wilderness and establishing self-directed governments possible. Therefore he claimed, “the position of the Americans is quite exceptional.” (de Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America (1840), part 2, page 36). This concurred with Madison’s theory of the necessity of a republican form of government to match the natural behavior and distinctiveness of the people. The American legend is built on such merits and characterized by a deep craving to plunge headfirst into the prospects of the future. The character of John Wayne was crafted to fit this image.
However, John Wayne is just as much of an idea as is the poetic words and philosophies of Emerson, de Tocqueville and Madison listed above. However, Wayne was not just capable of winning draws, riding horses, and saving small towns; he was a drama enthusiast, professional and political activist. During the late 1940’s, Wayne‘s popularity was peaking and he felt the time was right to assert his political beliefs and remind Americans that the balance of energy and stability was at risk if liberty or republican virtue was not being sustained. He felt called to make his contribution to the nation by becoming an activist for the national issue that was close to his heart: the fight against communism and the prominence of the republic the delegates of the Constitutional Convention worked to build.
Thus, he used the most powerful tool he had at hand, his Hollywood stardom, and decided to direct the film “The Alamo.” In this film, he co-wrote the script, directed the entire production, and starred as Davy Crockett. America’s favorite frontiersman saddled up to serve his country on his own account. John Wayne used his role as Davy Crockett in the Alamo as an outlet to deliver his political message against Communism and to champion the ideal of the American Republic James Madison defined over a century before him. In order to accomplish his goal, Wayne allowed himself to dismiss exact historical accuracy of the story of the Alamo and Davy Crockett, while he crafted his film to dramatize his intended message. There is undoubtedly a vast theme of American liberty and individualism in the film that counters the socialistic suppressive ideals of communism. However, this is most prevalent during the scene in which John Wayne, portrayed as Davy Crockett, delivers his anecdote on the word “republic,” to the supporting character Travis. Crockett provides the following words to Travis, the Colonel in control of the Texan troops at the Alamo, in a seemingly causal conversation that develops into a deep exchange of ideals.
“Republic. I like the sound of the word. It means people can live free, talk free, go or come, buy or sell, be drunk or sober, however they choose. Some words give you a feeling. Republic is one of those words that makes me tight in the throat; the same tightness a man gets when his baby takes his first step or his first baby shaves and makes his first sound like a man. Some words can give you a feeling that make your heart warm. Republic is one of those words,” (Wayne, The Alamo, film).
These phrases appeal to just about any individual American. They appeal to a wide-audience that encompasses a wide-range of people; therefore, no American is excluded from the message of this speech. Crockett’s locution on republic seems to almost echo the dialect of an American Enlightenment thinker like Madison. This allows the speaker to prove that he is welcoming the minds of all types of citizens and is not judgmental, bias, or in partial to one segment of the people. This invites a large audience to grasp and be persuaded that all Americans should be passionate and stand up for the virtues of a republic. Wayne asserts that in a republic people are allowed to be free and have the liberty to become who they dream to be. Crockett compares his feelings about a republic to watching a son grow into a man; a process that is precious and priceless to most individuals. In this context a republic is personified as having a sentimental temperament that is both relatable and capable of loving. To Wayne, the republic form of government is the only way in which people will be able to pursue joy, success, growth, and love on this Earth. To deny one of the rights granted by a republic would be imprisoning the human spirit and potential.
However, Wayne’s decree on the republic marginally differs from the one put forth by Madison. While republican virtue plays an important part as a guard against corruption and a moral compass, Madison realized that individualism would lead to an influx of energy and inevitable self-interest. The republican form could not solely rely on virtue to secure its existence. This was even noticeable to Madison amongst the delegates at the Constitutional Convention. He noted, “public measures can rarely be investigated with a spirit of moderation,” after watching interest groups bicker on their behalf while they claimed to be present to craft an administration that would truly put the people first (Federalist 37).
Although Madison and other members of the Constitutional Convention recognized that egocentricity would be the demise of ethical perfection, they continued to champion the republican virtue described by Wayne/Crockett in the Alamo. They saw that they would be able to constrain an over-energetic establishment if they combined virtue with a republican structure. Thus, they set out to design the Constitution that would sustain the Republican Form even during times of great opacity, altruism and dispute. The result was a creation of a government that was intended to create internal competition so that that the power would be balanced among multiple bodies and the public will would constantly be attained. Checks and balances, rights, enumerated powers and separation of powers all fulfilled the need to equalize energy with stability. Even the Anti-Federalists agreed with Madison regarding the notion that virtue was crucial to the overall success of the plan the sought to solidify during the convention.
Wayne and Madison faced different barriers, issues and complications during the time of the issuing of their opinions. However, both saw that when an imbalance between energy and stability occur, the government, people and the framework of America enter a time of great apprehension. In Madison’s circumstance, he observed that the chief concerns amongst his peers were an over-energetic government that would suppress liberty or one that allowed too much liberty that would wreck any degree of stability. During the “Red Scare” era that Wayne presided in, communism was viewed as an absolute over-extension of an entirely energetic government that sought to distinguish all liberty and republican virtue. In the communist ideology, a republic is seen as a menace to governmental control and an enemy of order. The effort to rid Hollywood of potential leftist continued throughout the height of Wayne’s career. According to historians and film experts Roberts, Olsen, and Morre, the republicans and capitalist in Washington had a guardian and anti-communist crusader working for them in Hollywood. In a sense, Wayne’s production of the Alamo could also be seen as an echo of Madison’s original argument in the Federalist Papers.
While the speech recited in The Alamo was predominantly a cunning attack against communism, it also serves as a reminder as to why a republic is so vital to people. Madison would agree with Wayne that the world within itself carries enough weight to create “a tightness in the throat,” when speaking about its significance or pondering its value. While producing the Alamo, Wayne felt there was a need to strengthen the republic and re-establish the understanding of its nature at its roots. Comprehending Madison’s proposition on the careful equilibrium of stability, energy, liberty and individualism takes time digest and to understand; therefore, it was not a surprise that Wayne defaulted to virtue while trying to reinforce the authentic, original objectives of the government under the Constitution.
Madison and Wayne nearly 2 centuries later realized that for the republic to exist there had to be some gradation of civic virtue to avoid anarchy or despotism. In either circumstance, an imbalance of republicanism form would result in an overdose of energy or stability. Nevertheless, Madison believed that the American people, more so than any other civilization, was capable of sustaining an adequate amount of republican virtue to hold the nation in place. He explains that there is enough virtue among the people for sovereignty which is a rudimentary “presupposition,” for republican government (Federalist 55). This confidence in the people was novel. The Founding Fathers predicted that the government under the Constitution was not perfect and should be subject to change and that this would cause times of fiery disagreements. Yet, they believed that the system they created would be the ultimate test to see if humans were capable of self-government.
The virtue Madison describes and the type Wayne uses to attack communism in “The Alamo,” was different to former historical understandings of the concept. The republican virtue proposed by the early American minds would have leverage on stability and energy within the administration. Communities would elect leaders that reflected their principals and were a representation of their societies. For example, someone (as Wayne would put it) that values the ability to “live free, talk free, go or come, buy or sell, drunk or sober.” With this understanding, individuals within the nation could pursue liberty daily but unify their self-interests with those around them because they are bound by shared ideals. In this circumstance, Wayne proves that individuals outside the government can contribute to the national unity under Republican form. For instance, in the modern era Hollywood has played a role in the development of American culture and reinforcement of values over time. The United Sates is a country where different departments, governmental and private, collaborate to implement a course of action. Wayne, as a filmmaker, rhetor, and man has proved that a seat in congress or a desk in the oval office is not the only mode to emphasize the ideals set forth by the individuals who crafted the Constitution years ago. Hence, this serves as a relevant piece of evidence that proves the Republic is living and still operating; thanks to the innovative idea of fusing energy and stability with liberty.