The Last of the Fathers: James Madison & The Republican Legacy Reprint Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0521407724
ISBN-10: 0521407729
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Even though James Madison disliked and publicly condemned slavery, this slave-owning president and Virginia planter does not get high marks from most modern historians for his stance on that issue; indeed, his support for extending slavery into the Western territories has led some critics to call him a pro-slavery expansionist. To Harvard historian McCoy, "the Sage of Montpelier" was a prisoner of his republican idealism, tragically tied to the conventions of his native soil. This apologetic, revisionist biographical study will stir up controversy among scholars. For the general reader, its focus on Madison's years of retirement (from 1817 until his death in 1836) gives us a prescient sage leery of the "nullifiers" who touted states' inherent right to secede from the union. The mature Madison was haunted by the specter of an industrializing society faced with the prospect of mass unemployment and a poor, propertyless class--problems that plague us today. Illustrations.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

McCoy's excellent and richly detailed work picks up where others leave off, at Madison's retirement in 1817. The focus is on Madison (1751-1836), the exponent of an 18th-century "republican faith" and his "persistent effort to comprehend--and influence--the fate of the Revolutionary vision as he encountered both its failures and the shocks of the new era."Included are Madison's reactions to the Missouri Compromise, the Marshall Court, tariff laws, and the Nullification Crisis of the early 1830s. Though sympathetic, McCoy does not shrink from dealing with Madison's shortcomings. This is especially the case on the issue of slavery, which is exceptionally well handled. Highly recommended for large public and academic libraries.
- Roy H. Tyron, South Carolina Dept. of Archives and History, Columbia
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; Reprint edition (June 28, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521407729
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521407724
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #61,756 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 33 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 23, 1998
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent book for those who wish to understand Madison's view of the purpose of the Constitution and his perception of how it should be used by posterity. Madison insisted that anyone who was responsible for making laws should have a full understanding of the Constitution's content. McCoy, in a straightforward and clear writing style, clearly presents Madison's perspective and his dilemmas'--the issues of a republic vs a democracy and an ideal of the natural rights of man vs the existence of slavery. McCoy examines the philosophical background from which Madison's beliefs evolved as well as how his ideas contrasted with his contemporaries. He also documents in great detail the 'students' of Madison and how they interpreted his legacy. But his discussion of Madison as slaveowner and believer in the natural right of man to liberty and the hardening attitude of the South during his lifetime makes this book excellent.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Khemprof TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 31, 2002
Format: Paperback
When reading the book you get the feeling that James Madison was thinking of how to preserve the actions and thoughts of the new republic founders. Madison lived longer than most of the founding fathers and saw the transition and change of the U.S. government.
The Father of the Constitution out lived both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson by 10 years and saw the new government he had worked hard to preserve, now threatened. Slavery was only one of his worries...Madison sought to stabilize a fragile system of politics that threatened to crack the national unity.
Madison was a shy man, but when the time arose he was a most ardent supporter of the republican faith. People asked Madison on how to fashion their government... he inturn would espouse the need for the study of history. The history of the founding and the ideals that sprung forth to birth a great nation.
This approach moved him away from the mainstream of public attention, all along wanting the public attention to focus on the nation as a whole.
This book is a good study into Madison the man, from his early days as a young Revolutionary to his last years caught in the moral dilemma of abolitionism and proslavery arguments. Later in our history we shall see Madison's thoughts come to life.
We read a lot of Madison's letters on these subjects and others, thereby giving us a good look into Madison the man... character and temperament struggling to resolve these issues.
If one is into reading about the Founding Fathers and their times, thoughts and tribulations; this is a good book to read. I found this book to be interesting with good flowing narative, well documented and useful.
Read it and enjoy... I did
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By greg taylor VINE VOICE on August 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book seems to me to have two main purposes. The first is to present Madison's ideas about constitutional interpretation. The second is to show how Madison applied those ideas to the related issues of nullification and slavery. In order to serve these purposes McCoy choose to focus on the final and private portion of Madison's life and on the subsequent careers of three proteges of Madison's: Nicholas P. Trist, William Cabell Rives and Edward Coles.
The result is an altogether magnificent accomplishment-extremely well written, deeply researched and ultimately quite convincing.
There are many reasons why issues of constitutional interpretation came to the fore after Madison retired from public life. Madison, in his last major act as President vetoed an internal improvements bill on constitutional grounds (pp. 92-95). In the following years, there were many debates about the constitutionality of the Bank of the U.S., Georgia's policies toward the Cherokees, the tariff and the idea of nullification.
Certain principles of Madison's approach emerge from McCoy's exposition of this history.
The Constitution had been ratified by the people of the several states in state conventions. Thus the national government had the same origins and authority as the state constitutions. The people of the several states by that ratification had delegated to the Federal Government certain specified areas of sovereignity. Within those limited areas the national government was supreme(p.135-6). The Supreme Court is the proper
authority for determining the dividing line between the authority of the states and the federal government (p.70 and see Federalist 39).
Madison throughout his life was a strict constructionist or a textualist.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Scott Grau on August 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a fine work of scholarship in the area of intellectual history. McCoy offers a penetrating exposition of the ideas of one of this country's most important intellectuals, and explores Madison's great achievements as well as some of the disturbing contradictions within his thought, especially concerning the question of slavery.
Madison, of course, opposed slavery, but had great fears about the dangers of emancipation, and thus ended up endorsing colonization, a position now long since discredited. McCoy's treatment of this issue is insightful and relevant to any discussion of the later sectional crisis. The contradiction between slavery and the principles of American republicanism were real, as Madison understood very well, and ultimately were more or less resolved in the kind of war that Madison had feared.
Madison's concerns about the importance of public support for education, and the opportunities and dangers of industrialization and unemployment reveal a man both principled and pragmatic in his approach to new developments in the rapidly growing Republic. McCoy shows us an intellectually vigorous Madison who was skeptical about human nature, committed to republican institutions, and alert to the need to accommodate the new realities created by social and economic change. In McCoy's treatment, Madison was a principled thinker, but never an ideologue who might prefer the consistency of a philosophical system over the experience of reality.
McCoy's chapter on Madison's view of the 1832-1833 nullification crisis is also especially informative.
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