In this very human portrait of Madison and his role in the early, problem-fraught years of the new republic, University of Virginia professor Rutland, editor of the Madison Papers, not ony depicts him as a fervent patriot, combining “erudition and common sense,” but recounts his goals and frustrations, victories and defeats, along with frequent incapacitation because of bad health. Most significant were his contributions as chief framer of the Constitution and his defense of it as coauthor with Hamilton of the Federalist Papers. Madison and Jefferson (with whom he shared views on the need for an educated public and the gradual abolition of slavery) founded the Republican Party in opposition to Hamilton’s Anglophile Federalist Party, which favored monied interests. Emerging from early retirement on his Virginia plantation, he helped assure Jefferson’s election to the presidency and subsequently served for two terms as secretary of state. His wife Dolley acted as hostess for the widowed president as she did during her husband’s White House tenure, despite the disruptions of the ineptly conducted War of 1812. Illustrations not seen by PW. Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Why the President Should Read This Book
In order to properly interpret the Constitution one must understand the minds of the men who wrote it, and perhaps nobody had more of a hand in its writing than James Madison. While this book did not impress me in terms of organization and readability (please, David McCullough, please write a biography of James Madison), I came away nonetheless with a greater understanding of Madison, his weaknesses, strengths, and the environment in which the Constitution was created.
One brief part of the book stands out. It is when a young Madison as a resident of the British colonies sees a poor preacher of one faith being harassed by a well-to-do preacher of the state-sanctioned and funded faith. This single passage gave much clarity of understanding as to why the Founders wanted there to be a wall of separation between church and state, and what they meant when they spoke of such a separation. They did not intend that it be illegal to have a copy of the Ten Commandments on public property, but rather that no organized religion have undue power in the government, which necessitated that the government have no undue power over religion.
Other sections are illuminating as well, and our President, if he seeks to understand the Constitution, would do well to read this and any other books on James Madison.