The idea for the James Madison statue at the Madison County Government Center makes sense from one perspective: The county is named after our fourth president.
But two other factors make it a bad, bad idea: Madison was a slave owner, and the cost of the 10-foot statue would be as much as $200,000.
Given the simmering controversy across the country over public displays honoring Confederate Civil War heroes and others who supported the institution of slavery, it would be a monumental (excuse the expression) misstep for the local community to put up a statue of Madison now. The political and social environment just isn't conducive — and it might never be again.
The county was established in 1823, jut six years after Madison's two-term presidency ended. Though some Americans opposed slavery on moral and humanitarian grounds at the time, the county was named in Madison's honor long before the abolitionist movement gained steam. It would be 38 years before the onset of the Civil War.
Madison was, to many, a hero of the early 19th century. He advocated for a strong federal government and wrote the initial drafts of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. He oversaw the purchase of the Louisiana Territory and mustered U.S. forces for the War of 1812 against Great Britain.
Those who populated what would become Madison County felt a special bond to Madison. After all, Indiana was admitted to the Union in 1816 under his watch.
All of this is to say that, back in 1823, Hoosiers had good reason to name Madison County after the fourth president.
The city of Madison, down on the Ohio River, as well as 14 townships in Indiana are also named after him. Incidentally, Jackson (48) and Washington (46) are the most used names for Indiana townships. Both names derive from influential American presidents — George Washington and Andrew Jackson — who owned slaves.
Setting aside the slavery issue, another obstacle to the siting of a James Madison statue at the county building remains: the cost.
According to County Administrator Dan Dykes, officials were considering a 10-foot-tall statue at a cost of as much as $200,000, which could be drawn from tax money.
Really? Two-hundred grand?
When we need a new jail? When we need school facility upgrades? When we need downtown and westside revitalization?
Erecting a statue of James Madison at such cost could, in effect, enslave all taxpayers to his legacy. And the time will never be right for that.