Monday, April 22, 2013

James Madison by Richard Brookhiser

James Madison is one of those figures who seem to always be at the edge in discussions about historical characters. Some may know of him as the “Father of the Constitution” or as the fourth President of the United States. Few actually know much about the man himself. In this biography Richard Brookhiser seeks to show us that character.

Madison was a small man, barely five feet tall, leaving him dwarfed by the tall Virginians George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. He was not a powerful speaker, but he was a man with a great mind and an attention for details. He was the driving force behind the creation of the Constitution of the United States. He was the creator of the first political party in the United States. He was a junior partner in a lifelong political coalition with Thomas Jefferson, but he was never Jefferson’s inferior. He was not without his flaws and neither is this book. Brookhiser tends towards imbalance when discussing Madison’s political foes. Madison was a man who saw conspiracy around a lot of corners. Brookhiser gives this too much credence. For example he makes men like Alexander Hamilton and John Adams look like they were trying to subvert Constitution and create a monarchy. This is patently absurd.

The book itself is well written and easy to read. Be sure that if you read this book you balance it out with others about the period. I would also recommend Founding Brothers by Joseph J. Ellis, Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow, John Adams by David McCullough, and Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham.

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