Ralph Ketcham is the Maxwell Professor Emeritus of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, as well as a Senior Research Associate at the Campbell Public Affairs Institute. Ketcham is the author of many books, including The Madisons at Montpelier: Reflections on the Founding Couple (University of Virginia Press) and The Idea of Democracy in the Modern Era (University Press of Kansas).
Ketcham writes: “I was born in Berea, Ohio, on October 28, 1927, the second son of Laura Murphy and Sherman Gordon Ketcham, who was a customer service engineer for IBM for forty-one years, working in Cleveland, Ohio for three years, and then in Utica, New York, until he retired in 1963. My mother always proudly described herself as a “housewife” (she never had a so-called career or a paid job), but was very active in church, community, and charitable organizations. Both my parents were earnest, lifelong members of the Methodist Church. Growing up in New Hartford, New York, a suburb of Utica, I went to New Hartford schools for twelve years, graduating in 1944. World War II, of course, dominated my school years and gave me a lifelong interest in, even obsession with, public life, American history, world history, and international affairs—always to be the basis of my studies, teaching, and writing. I remember my junior high and high school social studies teachers as excellent and intent on us learning not only the substance of their courses, but also the way they could help us understand the world in which we lived. I also read the newspaper every day, devoured biography and history books, and listened to the war news on the radio at least twice a day.
“I entered the United States Coast Guard Academy at age seventeen in the summer of 1945, where, though I was too young to be a war veteran, I did experience for two years military discipline, and learned the ideals of service to the country. I then went to Allegheny College from which I graduated in 1949 as a social studies and education major. More and more relishing study, I went on to graduate work at Colgate University, and then Syracuse University, where I earned a Ph.D. in American Studies in 1956. From 1951 on, when I began as a TA to teach Citizenship and Public Affairs courses, I have one way or another, taught such courses at Syracuse University and at dozens of colleges and universities around the world; 2007 will be my 56th year of such teaching at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. I have taught in Japan, England, Netherlands, India, China, Russia, Korea, Hungary, and New Zealand, as well as lecturing in perhaps a dozen other countries.
“My American Studies major at Syracuse, directed by Stuart Gerry Brown, led me, through his enthusiasm, to a lifelong focus on the founding era of American history, especially its intellectual dimensions; my dissertation was on “The Mind of James Madison.” After four years as an editor of the Madison Papers at the University of Chicago, and two years at Yale University as an editor of the Benjamin Franklin Papers, I was prepared to do my own work in that field. I wrote Benjamin Franklin (Yale Univ. Pr); James Madison, A Biography (a National Book Award nominee; republished, 1991, by the University Press of Virginia); From Colony To Country, The Revolution in American Thought, 1750-1820 (Macmillan); Presidents Above Party: The First American Presidency, 1789-1829 (1984) (Univ. North Carolina Pr); Individualism and Public Life: A Modern Dilemma (Wiley & Sons); Framed for Posterity: The Enduring Philosophy of The Constitution (Univ. Pr of Kansas); and The Idea of Democracy in the Modern Era (Univ. Pr of Kansas). I also edited selected writings of Franklin (Macmillan) and of Madison (Hackett), as well as The Anti-Federalist Papers and Constitutional Convention Debates (Signet).
“In recent years, partly as a result of teaching abroad and having many international students at Syracuse, I have become interested in, and taught and written about, comparative political theory and practice, especially in the Confucian cultural regions of East Asia and in the transitional regimes of the former Soviet sphere. I have become especially interested in the ideological foundations of good democratic government, both in the United States (and the defaults in such ideas), and in what we can learn about such foundations by understanding the different ways self-government has developed in other parts of the world because of different cultural circumstances.
“I married Julia Stillwell in 1958, have two children, Benjamin (b. 1966) and Laura Lee (b. 1967), and two grandchildren, Kayleigh Ketcham (b. 2001) and Madison Ruth Yohanan (b. 2006).
“I have toured the White House; my favorite president, of course, is James Madison, and Dolley Madison is my favorite First Lady, and the drafting and ratification of the Federal Constitution in 1787-1788 is to me the most moving and profound event in our history.”