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James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights (Pivotal Moments in American History) Paperback – June 20, 2008

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James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights (Pivotal Moments in American History) + Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution + Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (June 20, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195341422
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195341423
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1.1 x 6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #972,868 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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

The book was very well written as well.
Tony Harris
James Madison and the Bill of Rights is another great addition to the Pivotal moments in American history series.
Lehigh History Student
If it weren't for this book being on audio disc I would never have finished it.
Howard Schulman

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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Kevin J. Brogan on September 26, 2009
Format: Paperback
The book is an amazing expose of the struggle to establish our iconic and cherished Bill of Rights. It is amazing for a couple of reasons; to most people it is amazing that Madison was the dominant initiate not only the Constitution but the Bill of rights as well; additonal amazement comes when it is realized that he had such a hard time getting the Bill of rights from Congress out to the People. The author does an excellent job of detailing the discussions, without over using quotations and documents of the time. In so doing he grants to the average American an insight into the sources and principles Madison sought to achieve. Linking the Ratifying Conventions of the Constitution to the document is of paramount importance to a more comprehensive knowledge of the Founding Era, for it was the objections of the Ratifying Conventions to a latitudinous interpretation of the Constitution that inspired the very desire for the Bill of Rights to begin with.

The book motivated me to examine the Preamble of the Bill of Rights that was forwarded to the States which included the following:

THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.

The fear of a misconstruction, or an innacurate interpretation kept some who ratified waiting further assurances, hence the Amendmendments proposed by Madison.
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