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James Madison and the Making of America by…
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James Madison and the Making of America

by Kevin R. C. Gutzman

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If you look for James Madison biography - like I was - it is not the one. It rather summarizes Madison's writings and speeches over the years. Philadelphia convention takes especially large space. It does seem somewhat weird: this book is not coherent and complete enough to consider it an academic work on Madison's writings and at the same time it's totally irrelevant as a bio (just pieces of information here and there). I did find some interesting information but overall I don't believe this book achieved its goals - whatever they were. ( )
  everfresh1 | Feb 7, 2014 |
Ask average persons on the street who is the most revered founding father and they'll likely say "Washington" or "Jefferson". Fair enough: Washington for his guiding example of leadership (more for what he could have done but didn't) and Jefferson for his lofty political ideals. But, if you want to appreciate the practical founding architect of our political model you must know Madison. Gutzman's gives us a very close look at Madison's brilliant work toward the establishment of the nation. We have lost our awareness of how improbable was the outcome the constitution sought to create. How unlikely it was that a loose conglomeration of states with their own political cultures, conflicting economic interests and deep suspicion of centralized power could form a unified national government with substantive power to govern. Thanks to Madison's detailed recordings of the constitutional convention's proceedings (and this while he was actively participating in the debates) we get deep insights into how difficult the issues were to resolve. Gutzman gives us the deliberations of the delegates from a nearly daily perspective.

The difficulty of reaching compromise points to the complexity of finding the right balance of power between the states and the national government, between the branches of the national government, between the power of the majority v. protecting minorities and the strugggle to balance the role of the "democracy" v. "republicianism" governed by the elite. We are also reminded through Gutzman's history of the convention and the advocacy for its adoption that followed that the thorny issues were not completely resolved. The relationship between the powers of the national government and the states is still at issue as is the balance between individual liberty and collective power of government. Madison's worry about the destructive impact of "factions" is as pertinent today as it was in the late 1700's -- just turn on the nightly news!

Gutzman's book is well worth the read. It is not a psychological, personality oriented portrait of Madison, but it does provide an invaluable guide to the conceptual framework and deep challenges of forming and sustaining a lasting political compact. ( )
1 vote stevesmits | Feb 17, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312625006, Hardcover)

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 readers 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.  He 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. Madison 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:44:03 -0400)

This is the first full-length biography, in over a decade, of James Madison, our fourth President and icon of the conservative movement. In it, the author, a historian looks beyond Madison's traditional moniker, "The Father of the Constitution", to find a more complex and realistic portrait of this influential Founding Father. Instead of an idealized portrait of Madison, the author treats readers to the story of a man who often performed his founding deeds in spite of himself: Madison's fame rests on hisparticipation in the writing of The Federalist Papers and his role in drafting the Bill of Rights and Constitution. Yet, he thought that the Bill of Rights was unnecessary and insisted that it not be included in the unamended Constitution which, he lamented, was entirely inadequate and, likely, would soon fail. Madison 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. Virtually all of his great accomplishments, such as his contributions to The Federalist Papers, are now misunderstood. 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.… (more)

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