From Publishers Weekly
This engaging study views the Bill of Rights as the crowning achievement of America's constitutional architect. Journalism professor Labunski (The First Amendment Under Siege
) recounts Madison's exploits in the critical period from 1787 to 1789, as he battled anti-Federalist Patrick Henry to secure Virginia's ratification of the new Constitution, won a hard-fought election to the House of Representatives and shepherded the Bill of Rights through the fledgling Congress. Madison, the author argues, walked a tightrope between Federalists who dismissed a bill of rights as unnecessary, perhaps dangerous, window dressing, and anti-Federalists who clamored for one as a pretext to call a second constitutional convention to undo the first. Linking these events to Madison's biography, Labunski sometimes loses the narrative thread and analytical perspective in the clutter of Madison's existence, like his recurring bouts of diarrhea. Moreover, Labunski's "indispensable man" historiography downplays Madison's decidedly lukewarm attitude toward a bill of rights until popular pressure and political necessity forced him to embrace it. Still, the author makes it an interesting story, full of sonorous oratory and colorful details of 18th-century politicking. The result is a lively look at the rickety early republic and Madison's great balancing act. 20 b&w illus. (July)
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Had the Constitution of 1787 not been ratified, the U.S. could conceivably have fallen apart. How the state of Virginia gave the ultimate thumbs-up may not, on the surface, make for a barn-burning history, but journalist Labunksi manages affairs so well as to warrant attention from buffs of the early republic. The book quotes substantially from Federalists and anti-Federalists at the rostrum, but as nascent democracy required the cerebral James Madison to campaign for votes, much of Labunski's narrative takes place outside, too. Ensconced in Philadelphia and New York during the years 1787-89, Madison had to travel frequently to Virginia, and the author underscores how bone shaking that journey could be. At home, and against the machinations of patriot Patrick Henry, Madison won election to the ratifying convention, and again to the First Congress under the Constitution. There he legislatively engineered amendments that tradition has venerated as the Bill of Rights. A work interesting within its ambit, and capably carried off by Labunski. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved