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Customer Review

40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A perfectly titled and well written piece of U.S. history, November 16, 2006
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This review is from: James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights (Pivotal Moments in American History) (Hardcover)
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). Two future Presidents going toe to toe on the issue of the day, the need, or lack therof, for a Bill of Rights which could muddy the waters of other states accepting and ratifying this unifying document that could alter history. It is hard to comprehend in today's world that two men of their standing would run against one another for a "simple" House seat. But it was critical and they both accepted the burden.

Madison wrote (in a spirit that today's politicians should have to read) "It was my misfortune to be thrown into a contest with our friend, Col Monroe . . . Between ourselves, I have no reason to doubt that the distinction was duly kept in the mind between political and personal views, and that it has saved our friendship from the smallest diminution". Madison was in favor of ratification and, over time, became convinced that a Bill of Rights should be incorporated into the document. Monroe, on the other hand, had strong reservations about a Constitution (even though the Articles of Confederation were largely failing) but certainly only would vote for its acceptance with the rights written in from its inception.

Labunski writes and wonders how different things would have been had Madison not been able to hold together the First Congress in debate of the Bill of Rights. He puts them well into an historical context and writes quite well on the various opinions and politics driving the debate. There is very little to not enjoy about this book. It is a fascinating read about a truly remarkable time in our history. One can only imagine what our nation would be like if the Framers hadn't intimately written the first ten amendments that are, too often, taken for granted today.
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