In James Madison and the Making of America, historian Kevin Gutzman looks beyond the way James Madison is traditionally seen - as "The Father of the Constitution” - to find a more complex and sometimes contradictory portrait of this influential Founding Father and the ways in which he influenced the spirit of today's United States.
Instead of an idealized portrait of Madison, Gutzman treats listeners to the flesh-and-blood story of a man who often performed his founding deeds in spite of himself: Madison's fame rests on his participation in the writing of The Federalist Papers and his role in drafting the Bill of Rights and Constitution.
Today, his contribution to those documents is largely misunderstood. Madison thought that the Bill of Rights was unnecessary and insisted that it not be included in the Constitution, a document he found entirely inadequate and predicted would soon fail. He helped to create the first American political party, the first party to call itself “Republican”, but only after he had argued that political parties, in general, were harmful. Madison served as Secretary of State and then as President during the early years of the United States and the War of 1812; however, the American foreign policy he implemented in 1801-1817 ultimately resulted in the British burning down the Capitol and the White House.
In so many ways, the contradictions both in Madison's thinking and in the way he governed foreshadowed the conflicted state of our Union now.
His greatest legacy - the disestablishment of Virginia's state church and adoption of the libertarian Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom - is often omitted from discussion of his career. Yet, understanding the way in which Madison saw the relationship between the church and state is key to understanding the real man.
Kevin Gutzman's James Madison and the Making of America promises to become the standard biography of our fourth President.
©2012 Kevin R. C. Gutzman (P)2012 Tantor
"Recaptures the drama and excitement of the new nation's bold experiment in republican self-government." (Peter S. Onuf, Thomas Jefferson Foundation Professor of History, University of Virginia)
I would recommend this book with caveats as parts are quite slow going.
Sure, with careful attention to others' comments about the nature of the book.
James Madison is the only one who stood out.
Yes, for a different perspective on the law-making processes of the time.
With all the detailed accounts of the 'ayes' and 'nays' in the law-making process, it is challenging at times to stay engaged.
First let me say I love biographies and this is one of the first that I can't get through. I'm stuck at 3/4 of the way and don't know if I can make it. Actually, it's not really a biography at all since you won't really end up knowing Madison the man. However, you will have read the entire transcript of the Constitutional Convention and the Virginia ratification deliberations.
For all Madison's mental prowess and philosophical rigor, the sheer weight of the author's obsession with the minutiae of the various Conventions is just plain boring. This reads like a very good doctoral dissertation expanded into a not so good book. I will probably finish it just because I got this far, and just to see if Gutzman even mentions James meeting Dolly. But if you download this book, be prepared for a long slog.
OHHH, and the most annoying thing is the pretentious affect of the narrator who (nearly) always pronounces the many, many days and dates as, "...from January first, seventeen hundred seventy-one to January second, seventeen hundred seventy-one the delegates discussed Article III..." However, sometimes he slips and resorts to the normal, "January first, seventeen seventy-one". After a while I became fixated not on the action (or lack thereof) but on whether he would use the archaic long form or slip and use the contemporary short form.
I'm currently searching for a another biography that will let me get to know this likely very amazing man and politician.
The fact that there is very little in this book about James Madison. It's more a telling of the constitution from the Madisonian perspective. This book could have just as easily been a summary of Madison's policy perspectives in bullet form. The entire story of Madison's upbringing is basically one line: "Madison grew up in a wealthy family." That's it.
I don't know a thing about James Madison the man from reading this, and I'll have to find another source if I want to get any insight into the basis for his decision making.
I wouldn't have signed this book at all - or if I did, I would have changed the title to deemphasize the book's focus on Madison.
Absolutely painful to get through - I have two political science degrees and the Leviticus like nature of describing policy actions nearly caused me to fall asleep while driving down the road on at least a few occasions.
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