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James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights (Pivotal Moments in American History) Hardcover – July 4, 2006


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Product Details

  • Series: Pivotal Moments in American History
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (July 4, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195181050
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195181050
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #634,598 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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 Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

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The book was very well written as well.
Tony Harris
He puts them well into an historical context and writes quite well on the various opinions and politics driving the debate.
Shawn S. Sullivan
James Madison and the Bill of Rights is another great addition to the Pivotal moments in American history series.
Lehigh History Student

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Shawn S. Sullivan on November 16, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights is a wonderfully researched book on a period of American history often neglected in many high school or college courses on the period. Richard Labunski adds a terrific piece to the Oxford Series "Pivotal Moments in American History". There are now numerous entries into this series and, while its title candidly seemed a bit trivial, these editions are all worth reading if one has any interest in any of the "moments" covered.

Labunski details the period from the writing of the Constitution to its ultimate acceptance from a group of states that had yet to feel any real national cohesiveness. As such, when it was sent to the various states for ratification, there was a great deal of concern that too much power would be vested at the national level, leaving the states and all individuals open to potential despotic governance. Specifically a Bill of Rights was envisioned and discussed but ultimately tabled at the Constitutional Convention.

The author methodically walks through the process needed for ratification in Virginia, a key state - from a population, political and economic standpoint. In essence, regardless of the three quarters rule, Virginia's acceptance was needed. James Madison, a Federalist, was up against a formidable opposition with both the Anti-Federalists along with those who favored ratification with a Bill of Rights, as a sine que non. Madison squared off against his long time friend, James Monroe and in what was to be a key election to the First Congress (after losing a Senate election).
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Benjamin T. Dewolfe on June 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover
"James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights" was a very enjoyable read, and one that I would definitely enjoy reading again. It is full of detail, but doesn't lack on readability either. Unlike some of the reviewers, I enjoyed the details of weather conditions and felt that this information was important to telling the struggle for the Bill of Rights as weather was a huge obstacle to travel in that time. I also was able to better picture what it would be like to sit in a hot, sultry, building with no ventilation (as when the windows had to be closed due to the noisy streets) and spend hours discussing how much power the constitution would grant the federal government or if it indeed would greatly infringe on individual liberties.

Lets go out on a limb, and say that James Madison probably wouldn't make it in politics today. He was 5'4", shy, soft spoken, and portrayed by the author as extremely timid when speaking in front of a large group. He also "flip-flopped" on his stance on the Bill of Rights, which at that time seemed to be democracy working (Today he would probably be eaten alive); Madison seems to not only believe passionately about the importance of a strong federal government, but evolves to believe just as passionately about the protection of the people's individual rights (Thus- A Bill of Rights). OK, it could be argued that he had to compromise and promise support of a Bill of Rights to get elected, but the author seems to feel that Madison truly believed in their importance. The story of Madison is very interesting and even for his time he seems to be somewhat of an underdog whose passion, intellect, and love for his country allowed him to prevail over his short-comings.
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24 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Peter Van Lone on September 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I found this book engaging for the most part. I especially appreciated some of the snippets of speeches and the description of the interplay between Madison and Patrick Henry and James Monroe and others.

I was a bit dissapointed that the book did not offer a more rigorous treatment of the author's hypothesis, and that it did not treat more fully the ideas behind the political debate and machinations that are documented. It was a little bit too much a loose "journalism" approach, telling the political story.

Also, as another review suggests, the narrative thread sometimes seems to waver ... many many details that don't serve to advance either the story or the critical hypothesis.

But -- I'm glad I stumbled on it, glad to have spent some time with it. Perhaps after I have read more deeply on these subjects (I am just starting a personal project to learn about American history) I would be less patient with the books deficiencies. For now, for me, it was an interesting re-introduction to some of the characters and questions of the time.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Bill Rhatican on July 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Dr. Labunski captures the emotion, immediacy and intensity of the debate over the Bill of Rights as only a journalist of the day might be expected to write. A truly new perspective on Mr. Madison as "vote counter" and "political strategist."
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Warner Todd Huston on January 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover
First of all, I do want to say that author Richard Labunski did a fine job detailing the trials and travails of the road to the first Congress travelled by James Madison, one of our most indispensable Founders. Labunski reminds us that history was, while in the making, not nearly as foregone as it seems this far removed. Madison could have lost his election to the First session of the House of Representatives after the new government was formed causing the Constitution to perhaps lose the addition of the Bill of Rights and that would have been calamitous, indeed.

I enjoyed the story of Madison's road as told by Labunski. Madison has been one of those founders who's position as a great Founder has been rocky. Up one decade and down another. Sometimes he has been considered a far lesser light than he deserves to be considered. Currently, he seems to be up which is fortunate. I think he should remain there. He is by far one of the most brilliant Founders we had and it is good that Labunski treats Madison with the respect he deserves.

Here is where I feel the book was lacking, though. Why was the Bill of Rights so important? What were the philosophies, the influences, the reasons the amendments were fought over? Labunski does not take much time to delve further under the surface to ferret out those reasons. He briefly mentions things here and there as the book moves along those lines, but I think his book would have been more complete with a bit more of it.

I found myself wondering what all the fuss was over far too much while reading the book and feel Labunski shorted the reader a fuller explanation.

Still, I give the book a pretty good rating. It is a good tale that is not often told (which is why I think he should have gone deeper, by the way).

It come recommended by me, anyway.
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