August 4 is the 184th anniversary of Madison’s letter to William T. Barry, with a discussion of the value of education to a free, democratic republic. Parts of the letter are among the most popular of Madison quotations.
A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.
James Madison, letter to William T. Barry, August 4, 1822
Michael Doyle, a reporter with the McClatchy Newspapers, detailed the circumstances of Madison’s letter, and why it is inappropriate to apply this quote to Freedom of Information issues. Madison wrote in support of free public education, and of public libraries.
When I published materials for the U.S. Department of Education, Sec. of Education Bill Bennett often used the quote on the frontispiece of books and pamphlets he personally authored, including a series for model curricula that included and James Madison Elementary and James Madison High School.