67 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Definitive Biography
Kevin Gutzman's James Madison and the Making of America takes what we thought was a familiar story and gives it a fresh and important interpretation that challenges old orthodoxies and helps us better understand important episodes in American history.
For instance, proper credit for the world-historic Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom is at last granted...
Published 21 months ago by Thomas E. Woods Jr.
38 of 48 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Madison's Public Life - Not a Complete Biography
Gutzman has obviously done a tremendous amount of research to put this book together. If what you're looking for is a more textbook telling of James Madison's public life in in-depth detail, this is the book for you. Unfortunately, Madison's public life does not lend itself to a very compelling narrative. Though he was one of the great Founding Fathers, other luminaries...
Published 21 months ago by Justin Lindsay
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67 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Definitive Biography,
For instance, proper credit for the world-historic Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom is at last granted not to its draftsman, Thomas Jefferson - who had his gravestone list the statute along with the Declaration of Independence and the founding of the University of Virginia as his proudest achievements - but to James Madison, who actually managed to get the statute enacted (and who would have nothing inscribed on his gravestone).
More significantly, we are treated to a precise and detailed description of Madison's evolving role vis-a-vis the drafting of the Constitution. At the Philadelphia Convention Madison had championed a much stronger central government, a veto over state laws, and a diminished role and significance of the states. He favored a national rather than a federal government, and one in which the states would be retained insofar as they might be "subordinately useful." His major proposals, including the veto of state laws, a legislature with plenary authority, and basing both legislative houses on population, were all rejected.
Madison may be known as the father of the Constitution, but Gutzman is having none of it. "Far from being the `father of the Constitution,' Madison was an unhappy witness at its C-section birth. Perhaps he might be more appropriately called an attending nurse. He certainly did not think of it as his own offspring."
What emerged from the Philadelphia Convention was a federal government with enumerated powers, not a national government with plenary authority.
At that point there were two ways forward for the nationalists. One way was the approach of figures like Alexander Hamilton and John Marshall, who simply spoke and acted as if the federal Constitution drawn up in Philadelphia had been the nationalist creation with broad powers they favored rather than the limited, federal structure it turned out to be.
Marshall, for instance, would later make much of the fact that the Constitution nowhere said that the federal government possessed only the powers "expressly delegated" to it; the word "expressly" is not used, he said. But Marshall knew better. He was present at the Richmond Ratification Convention, where people were assured that the Constitution they were being urged to ratify would indeed grant the federal government only the powers "expressly delegated" by that instrument.
Madison took a more honest route. Although he preferred a national government, he acknowledged that such a thing was neither what had been drafted in Philadelphia nor what the people ratified in the conventions that followed. So he defended not what he wished had been ratified, but what had actually been ratified.
Already in the early 1790s Madison found himself in opposition to those who acted as if the federal government had been granted powers it surely had not been granted. He spoke out against the incorporation of a national bank and in opposition to Alexander Hamilton's use of the Constitution's "necessary and proper" clause in support of that bill. When Hamilton and his allies tried, in defiance of universal practice both in the United States and elsewhere, to derive powers from the Constitution's preamble, Madison reminded them that preambles merely state the ends of a document and do not assign powers.
Madison likewise opposed John Marshall's seminal decision in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), which echoed the arguments of Alexander Hamilton for broad federal powers. The Supreme Court, warned Madison, had thereby given Congress power "to which no practical limit can be assigned." The Court's reasoning stood in defiance of the understanding by which Virginia had ratified the Constitution in 1788.
Gutzman's important account of Virginia's ratifying convention, heretofore confined to the professional journals, makes its first appearance in a scholarly book. The accepted version of American history holds that the doctrines of nullification and secession were the product of an extreme Antifederalist reading of the American political tradition. Gutzman shows that this rendering has things backward. It was supporters of the Constitution, eminent Federalists themselves, who in seeking to persuade skeptics to ratify, spelled out the limited nature of the federal government and the true meaning of ratification for Virginians. Virginia would be "exonerated" from the imposition of "any supplementary condition" upon them - i.e., the exercise of a federal power Virginia did not grant.
It was this Virginia understanding of the meaning of ratification that Madison defended in the famous Virginia Resolutions of 1798 and the follow-up Report of 1800, where the states as the parties to the federal compact were said to possess the sovereign right in the last resort to prevent the enforcement of an unconstitutional federal law. (Gutzman is unconvinced by Madison's later claims that he had never endorsed any such principle; Madison in retirement simply "mischaracterize[d]" the Principles of '98, Gutzman says.)
Although Gutzman provides some important and useful analysis of the better known entries of The Federalist that were drafted by Madison, he also contends that those articles by Publius (the pseudonym under which Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay wrote their 85 articles in support of the Constitution) have been overemphasized by historians in relation to their actual effect in the ratification struggle. Hardly anyone outside the range of the New York newspapers in which those essays appeared ever heard their arguments. By the time New York's ratification convention met, ten states had already ratified. New York had to decide whether it wanted to join North Carolina and Rhode Island as the only two states remaining outside the Union, and also faced the prospect of a secessionist New York City withdrawing from the rest of the state and ratifying the Constitution on its own. That, and not the arguments of those 85 essays, is what persuaded New York's convention to ratify, by a tiny margin.
Edward Lengel, editor of The Papers of George Washington contends that James Madison and the Making of America, the featured selection of the History Book Club for February 2012, promises to become the standard biography of this important man. Let's hope it does.
32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Premier Biography of James Madison Ever Written,
I've personally been a student of the Founding era for quite a few years now, during which time Madison has been something of an enigma to me. The same James Madison who argued vehemently for Federal veto power of State laws during the Philadelphia Convention and beyond, would later pen the Virginia Resolution which effectively birthed the concept of "nullification" of FEDERAL actions by the STATES. What are we to take from this one example?
History to this point has painted Madison as brilliant while often ambiguous and at times perhaps even duplicitous. Yet, the reader will discern a transformation taking place in Madison, as his story progresses through recorded history, that most other literary offerings fail to detect. I will not give all of the details away here, but suffice to say that Gutzman provides something that American history has lacked for decades with regards to James Madison- a fresh, objective, fair, honest and painstakingly detailed approach to the man, his philosophy and his immense contributions to the "Making of America."
While by no means is this book an attempt at canonizing Madison the man, it allows the reader to digest the plain facts as they are. From his early years, through the Philadelphia convention, to his writings within The Federalist, the Virginia Ratifying Convention and beyond, the author leaves no stones unturned.
I believe that this book will prove to be the quintessential biography on James Madison. It is a must read for all who wish to gain an honest and thorough understanding of this man, Patriot and Founding Father. Five Stars.
30 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Madison; warts and all,
Open disclosure here. I have been a Facebook friend of Dr. Gutzman's for quite some time and have appreciated his insight on issues dealing with the legal history of the United States. I have waited to read this volume on Madison for quite some time and to read an in depth biography of one of the Founding Fathers (of which there were many despite statements from historians to the contrary). In fact, this is the first substantive biography that I have read from that era in America's history.
The biography of James Madison traces his life from his birth in 1751 to his college days at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), through his political career to his demise at Montpelier in 1836. With his death, it brought to an end the life the last of those who attended most of the major events during the time of the War of Independence and shortly thereafter. I shall not try to parrot the words of others that have reviewed the book already. What I shall do now is to make some general comments on the text of the book as I read them.
Madison understood from the teachings of John Witherspoon that men were not to be trusted and were corrupt. Through Whitherspoon, Madison understood and embraced the tenets of the Scottish Enlightenment that men could be entrusted to make political decisions that heretofore would only have been entrusted to aristocrats, hence his admiration of Jeffersonian republicanism. Unlike Witherspoon, Madison thought that government sanction of religion was counterproductive to the health of the state. Madison was of the belief that showing preference to one religion sect would be detrimental to the others. He also believed that the presence of a state church would result in certain corruption of the church. As we have seen in Europe, the impotence of state churches today confirms Madison's foresight on this.
The debates at the Philadelphia Convention were full of struggles and disputes among the delegates and with Madison, it was no different. The major disappointment that he took way from the convention was that his proposal of Congress overriding state laws was not included in the final proposed constitution. Nevertheless, during the ratification process, Madison put forth a herculean effort to get his home state and New York to ratify the Constitution through the writing of various letters known collectively today as The Federalist Papers. Madison sought to calm the fears of opponents such as Patrick Henry by stating that the federal powers of lawmaking would only be contained in certain specifically delegated sections in Article I, Section 8 and that general government would not be too powerful and centralized. from what we have seen today, it was Henry who would have been vindicated on this issue of federal powers and would blast the current government had he been alive today.
Madison during his days in Congress and during the Presidency was inconsistent in his constitutional principles most notably during the chartering of the Bank of the United States and his stands on internal improvements and trade overseas. He was rash in his declaration of war on Britain during the War of 1812, a conflict that our country was unprepared for. The section that I found very informative was his commentaries on various subjects later in life. They included his commentary on the Missouri Compromise (he thought it to be unconstitutional), the decision of McCollouch v. Maryland (he did not like it and said that the decision "betrayed the people") and the nullification crisis in South Carolina in 1832-1833 (he thought that the Palmetto State went too far and that its reasoning for nullification of federal law did not meet the criteria set forth in his Virginia Resolution of 1798).
It was a very informative book and that with the explosion of the size of government, we should heed the wisdom of Madison as stated in Federalist No. 45. I recommend this book. Five stars.
38 of 48 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Madison's Public Life - Not a Complete Biography,
The other strike against this book is Gutzman's presentation. It is 363 pages (without the end notes), yet it is only divided into eight chapters with no additional breaks in the narrative. It is simply page after page of text, which makes for chewy reading. Fischer's Washington's Crossing in contrast (a book of comparable length) is broken up into 19 chapters and includes a wonderful introduction that orients the reader. Additionally, Washington's Crossing includes 19 maps and many dozens of inset portraits and paintings of the relevant personalities and places involved. These not only serve to further inform the reader, but also break up the text to make it more digestible. Gutzman's organization of the material may be logical (in that it is chronological), but it needs to be served in more concise and smaller portions.
Gutzman's chapters are as follows:
1: From Subject to Citizen
2: Winning the Revolution
3: The Philadelphia Convention
4: Ratifying the Constitution, Part One
5: Ratifying the Constitution, Part Two
6: Inaugurating the Constitution
7: Secretary of State, Then President
8: An Active Retirement
If you want a daily account of the Philadelphia Convention, a summary and analysis of each of the Federalist Papers, and a blow-by-blow of every twist and turn the ratification process, then I suggest this book. If you're looking for a page turner, look elsewhere. Though I can't get enough of this era, I found myself skimming large sections of this book knowing that I would never be able to retain its minutiae. It's a shame, because Madison's public life is worthy of study. But perhaps not in this level of detail.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent biography of one of our "founding fathers",
This review is from: James Madison and the Making of America (Kindle Edition)This is an excellent biography of one of our founding fathers. It is at its best when laying out what Madison accomplished in getting the Constitution passed and not as good in describing Madison's years as a president.
Madison role in getting our Constitution passed can not be overstated. His role was crucial and this book provides the inside story on that. And, the passing of the Constitution was a "near thing". It just barely passed at the Virginia convention in 1788 by only 6 or so votes. And, the New York delegation walked out initially from the Constitutional Congress meeting in the summer of 1787. Many of the states were concerned about the power of the federal government and some of the open-ended clauses that we are still struggling with today - for example, the "proper and necessary" clause that provides Congress with the power to pass anything that is proper and necessary. There were other clauses and the book lays out the struggle to pass the Constitution because of these and the lack of a Bill of Rights. Of course, these issues were handled and have been handled by amendments to the Constitution.
Also, the "great compromise" is laid out and how it was arrived at. For anyone who doesn't know what this is - it is the compromise between the power of the small states and large states in the federal government. The large states got their way by having the number of representatives in the House determined by population. While the small states got their way by having the number of representatives in the Senate set as two for each state no matter what population. Although Madison disagreed with this, he compromised, something we sorely need today in Washington, DC.
All in all, this is an excellent book and worthwhile for anyone who is interested in our Constitution and how it got started. I highly recommend this book for all American citizens.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars James Madison and the Making of America,
This review is from: James Madison and the Making of America (Kindle Edition)Easy reading on my adventure through all the presidents beginning with George Washington. This volume reads a little easier than a few of the others because the language used is more modern.
17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Monumental... Erudite and Destined to Be a Classic,
Gutzman deals with his subject, embracing a scholarly ethos, fairness, and needed sympathy and yet reasoned detachment. This is not another hagiography that lionizes Madison to meteoric status to the ignorance of his vacillations, nor is it one of those unneeded muck-racking revisionist works that deprecates an American statesman unreasonably. To be sure, his work is pioneering. It avoids the pretense of Madison being "the Father of the Constitution," a myth analogous to Weem's apocryphal tales of George Washington. The Constitution was truly a product of committee, a concession Madison made in dispelling his merit of such recognition. Yet this myth is so commonplace it characterizes most biographical accounts of Madison.
Some less than charitable accounts, such as Original Intentions: On the Making and Ratification of the United States Constitution* by M.E. Bradford, portrayed Madison as a "classically comic figure," lacking the ability to discern the proper path of the republic, having relied on elder statesmen to mend his errors. Madison was generally voted down at the Philadelphia Convention, and his Virginia Plan--with its negative over the states--had been rejected. Madison's machinations nearly caused the convention to be scuttled and garnered the rebuke of John Dickinson who told him, "You see the consequence of pushing things too far?" Madison's real legacy in 1787 is that of being the chronicler of the proceedings at Philadelphia in his famed Notes, and his efforts to lobby for ratification in the Federalist under the pen name Publius. The fame of Publius came much later as it was not widely disseminated in its time.
Madison did not carry the field, in spite of his ambition with the Virginia Plan. Following the Great Compromise orchestrated by John Dickinson and Roger Sherman, a plan emerged that gave prominence to states' rights, and hinted at the propriety of state interposition and state nullification. As a pamphleteer for ratification in the Federalist Papers, Madison came to laud this arrangement, albeit reluctantly. Madison spoke of the "double security" against federal usurpation in Federalist No. 46, offered by the general government and the states--to check one another.
Many misguided historians fail at recollecting Madison's role at Philadelphia, and give him far too much credit in the shaping of the Constitution as ratified. They simply reiterate aged myths. For instance, Garry Wills went so far as to erroneously pronounce the Virginia Plan as indicative of the Constitution as ratified. Drew McCoy's book simply explains away the unevenness of Madison's thoughts as a "balancing of interests." Lance Banning's The Sacred Fire of Liberty: James Madison and the Founding of the Federal Republic has similar deficiencies. Gutzman does an accurate and rational job at assessing the Madisonian legacy. He does so in a manner that accounts for the earlier insights of M.E. Bradford, though with greater balance, clarity, and discernment as Gutzman documents Madison's motivations with a cogent analysis.
Following ratification, both geography and circumstance put Madison in league with Jefferson and former anti-Federalists. Madison became a skeptic of Hamilton's fiscal plans, and criticized loose construction which struck at the heart of the Constitution's limited delegation of powers. With the heated tensions with France, in 1798, the Federalist program of the Alien and Sedition Acts jeopardized the original federal design for the republic and threatened civil liberties. During this occasion, Madison and Jefferson anonymously penned the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions respectively. It broached the republican remedy given the dire circumstances--which gave credence to the propriety of state nullification of perceived usurpations of the Constitution by the federal government.
Part of this work, builds on the historical analysis touched on by Gutzman's earlier article in the Journal of the Early Republic, "A Troublesome Legacy: James Madison and The Principles of '98" (1995). Here he explained that the incoherence of Madison's thought often presents problems in ascertaining the original character of the Union. As Madison was writing the Federalist, he had conciliated himself to representing the Constitution in a manner he did NOT at the time favor as evident by his parallel private correspondence at the time. Madison, as the author of the Virginia Resolutions and the Report of 1800, would later disavow some of the principles he originally favored therein. This change of heart is evident in his 1832 "Notes on Nullification," his contributions to the North American Review, and his correspondence with Daniel Webster. Seizing upon the ambiguities of the original 1798 resolves, the elder Madison conveniently contracted amnesia in 1832 vis-à-vis his Report of 1800. (The 1800 Report was the interpretative keystone that should have clarified beyond all doubt what the Virginia Resolutions of 1798 meant.) Madison then tried to disingenuously assert he never contemplated nullification incidental to his 1798 remonstrance. After Jefferson had passed away in 1826, he was not available to weigh his beliefs and intentions when Madison spoke on his behalf. But a draft copy of the Kentucky Resolutions surfaced, and it became obvious that Jefferson broached the idea of nullification. Peter Onuf** (like Albert Taylor Bledsoe) observed the elder Madison's solicitude for the Union seemed to outweigh his fealty to states' rights. Apparently in his twilight years, Madison did not want to see his labors for the Union torn asunder, and had the feeling that nullification was a portent of disunion. Gutzman takes seriously the earlier avowals in 1798-1800, and does not give the elder Madison the benefit of the doubt, as many historians simply reinterpret the 1798 resolutions through the 1832 statements. The Report of 1800 should be taken seriously. Gutzman's analysis of Madison's fluctuations is perceptive, reasoned and thoughtful.
To be certain, Gutzman is more detached towards Madison than I am. Madison's schizoaffective political mind and Hegelian dialectical games did much to hopelessly tarnish the political discourse for future generations. In his twilight years, Madison played the role of a manipulative politician taking two positions at once. Madison cut the legs out from under the very same states' rights doctrine he purported to defend a generation earlier. Madison's obfuscation and disingenuousness furnished later-day power politics pragmatists with all the evidence they needed that the framers and ratifiers did not really know what they meant (i.e., argumentum ad vericundiam), therefore it remained the place of moderns to redefine the Constitution altogether. Madison had it right in 1798 and 1800, and simply lost his way.
Other historians have made forays into Madisonian biography appropriating some useful primary sources, but they tend to approach the analysis with considerable ignorance of constitutional history and law. Here Gutzman brings his honesty, expertise as a jurist and historian to bear against the mythology of Madison, and offers a needed reassessment of the Madisonian legacy. He peels off the cobwebs and offers a clearer picture of this emblematic figure. It should prove beneficial to both scholars and laity. Owing to the influence of his mentors Lino Graglia and Peter Onuf, and his own unique insights, Gutzman has become a rising star among historians of the early American republic, and this is a worthy successor to his groundbreaking work Virginia's American Revolution: From Dominion to Republic, 1776-1840. This is a splendid work.
I would emphasize that Gutzman is considerably more charitable and detached towards his subject than I am. I've drawn my own unique conclusions, though I concur significantly with Gutzman.
* M.E. Bradford, Original Intentions: On the Making and Ratification of the United States Constitution (UGA Press, 1993), 6.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Worthy Read,
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thorough biography dense with substance,
The author leaves no stone unturned in helping us piece together and make sense of what seems like a hodge-podge of varying political positions that Madison held throughout his life. As in Gutzman's previous books, his James Madison and the Making of America is dense with substance and references, and is structured beautifully, which helped to logically correct many of my own misconceptions on Madison and on the structure of American government. I recommend this book to anyone, including those of you who say "hmm, James Madison, he was sort of significant in US history, wasn't he?", as you'll be surprised how significant and misunderstood Madison truly is.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insight delight,
This review is from: James Madison and the Making of America (Paperback)This epic biography into James Madison is at times wordy,text bookish, but overall a compelling look into Madison.
After reading and going back to certain sections, I loved this book even more.
Like all of the founding generation we tend to put our favorites on a pedestal and ignore their humanness. Madison a Hamilton ally, then foe aligned with Jefferson, shows at times a republican bulwark and with Hamilton a federalist big government type. His presidency mulling over his intellect or political pragmatism. All the while he was a champion for liberty.
Mr. Gutzman goes to great lengths in this book to show the overall Madison not the one that either side would agree to. This is a book that takes time to get through and digest and like I stated at times wordy but well worth the effort. Looking forward to his next work.
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James Madison and the Making of America by Kevin R. C. Gutzman (Paperback - February 5, 2013)