- Hardcover: 576 pages
- Publisher: Viking; First Edition edition (May 6, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0670025194
- ISBN-13: 978-0670025190
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.8 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (407 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #226,489 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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James Madison: A Life Reconsidered Hardcover – May 6, 2014
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Praise for James Madison: A Life Reconsidered
by Lynne Cheney
“With this compelling, elegant, original biography, Lynne Cheney brings the great, elusive James Madison back to life. . . .”
—Michael Beschloss, author of The Conquerors and Presidential Courage
“Lucidly written . . . this is probably the best single volume bio of Madison that we now have.”
—Gordon Wood, New York Times Book Review
“Graceful and balanced . . . Cheney makes clear that Madison was a practical politician . . . principled but pragmatic, sincere but complex. His world was complicated. So is ours, and it [could] use more people like him.”
—H. W. Brands, The Washington Post
“A lovingly researched tribute to an often underestimated man. It does not explicitly refer to modern controversies. But present-day politics intrudes.”
“[In this] meticulously researched, richly detailed look at the life and times of Madison, former Second Lady Cheney fleshes out the achievements and struggles of this American founding father. . . . Authoritative, conversational, certainly confident in its analysis.”
“Written with subtlety and grace, [James Madison] is as groundbreaking as it is fresh, as enthralling as it is compulsively readable. It is nothing short of a masterpiece. . . .”
—Jay Wink, author of April 1865 and The Great Upheaval
“A nuanced study on its own and a thoughtful presentation by one of today’s prominent public intellectuals.”
“[Lynne Cheney’s] writing is both fluid and polished; the tone is measured and judicious. Her treatment of Madison . . . is informed by a sophisticated knowledge of politics, without in any way being presentist.”
—David B. Mattern, senior associate editor, Papers of James Madison, University of Virginia
“[Cheney] offers a lucid, well-paced, wonderfully written, and authoritative history. Very well worth your time.”
“This is the James Madison we always should have known about. Thanks to Lynne Cheney’s well-researched book, it’s the James Madison we will now always know.”
—The Washington Times
“The Constitution remains Madison's greatest legacy. Cheney's detailed biography helps renew appreciation for the man behind it.”
—Pittsburgh Tribune Review
“Lynne Cheney has written what may be the most authoritative and comprehensive book ever on the life of Founding Father and President James Madison. It offers a fascinating perspective into how brilliant Madison truly was.”
—Intellectual Conservative — Lynne Cheney
About the Author
Lynne Cheney is the author or coauthor of twelve books, including six bestselling books about American history for children. Her most recent book is We the People: The Story of Our Constitution. The wife of former vice president Dick Cheney, she lives in McLean, Virginia, and Wilson, Wyoming.
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Top Customer Reviews
Another advantage of Cheney’s book is that it provides a strong counterweight to the portrayal of Madison in Chernow’s biography of Hamilton. In that book Madison is quite consistently (after 1790) portrayed negatively because of his hostile relationship to Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury. This book gives you the other side. Cheney explains the issues clearly and fairly. None of the other Founding Fathers lived as long as Madison or went through so many changes in roles, from author of the Bill of Rights and much of the Constitution itself to Congressman to President. Madison’s failures and inconsistencies, from his slave ownership to his problems as President, are here put into context. Cheney nowhere justifies Madison’s weaknesses but lets the reader see the development and historical issues surrounding them, often through Madison’s own words. This is an enlightening book not just about Madison but about life in colonial America. Though I had some concerns prior to reading the book about the author’s own political context, there is absolutely no political bias in this book. If the reader is looking for a book that humanizes one of the greatest minds in early American history, this is it. It is one of the best historical biographies on the market. I highly recommend it.
So many of the lessons taught in schools about the Constitution are white washed. Mrs. Cheney properly put Madison in the political role to navigate the turmoil and back stabbing to get the Constitution written and ratified. The political battles during this time were second to none in our history. Ratification was not a given, Madison and his allies and enemies had to be brought together through compromise and promises. Madison's leadership in Congress, as Secretary of State under Jefferson was needed to move the nation forward. As the book implies, Madison was able to morph to meet the needs in his public life. He would collaborate with Federalists like Jay and Hamilton to get the Constitution the support it needed in the Federalists Papers. He showed that the Constitution could be a living document during his time as Secretary of State.
As President, Mrs. Cheney showed the master politician and leader as able to guide the nation. Warding off New England and Federalist secession and enemies in his own party, Madison led the nation during the War of 1812 in victory. Partly because of his political skills and perhaps largely because of pure luck, Madison finished his second term with a fast growing nation with the elements of the American republic experiment firmly established. Madison could have used force to control opposition but respected fundamental freedoms that the republic was mandated.
I would highly recommend this biography as being very credible. I would recommend it to the academic and the student. A greater understanding of the birth pains of our nation is found in this book.
Cheney examines deeply Madison's health, which affects his performance from boyhood through his old age. It appears to have been epilepsy, as it was deemed when he was alive and as it would be today. She delves into the medical literature of Madison's day and draws out how it affected his personal and political life and probably his religious views and lays out what even educated persons in his time regarded as seizures by the devil. Her research brings her into medical tracts and writings in the hands of his father, friends, and some actors not friendly to him. The material she has exhumed is informative about how his illness affected him---even, apparently being one of the factors that drew him to Thomas Jefferson, who suffered a different form of metal distress. In Jefferson's case it was migraine headaches.
The story she tells bring us through all the events we tried to work our way through in high school and college, and the book serves as a fair survey of the history of the issues of freedom of religion or, as it is sometimes expressed, as freedom of conscience. Was there a need for a Bill of Rights? If so, should the answer be a condition for the States, or the People (that itself was an issue), adopting the Constitution and thereby bringing the United States into being? Madison's key role in resolving that issue was a great success for democracy although he had to shift from insisting such a proclamation of basic rights was not needed to supporting its inclusion in the newly adopted Constitution. (The first amendment he proposed was not the First Amendment we know today--freedom of religion and of speech and the press--but about pay to Congressmen and Senators and did not come into force until 1992, when ratified by Michigan.)
Cheney describes the further shifts in Madison's basic stands from urging a strong central government to insisting on limited powers being granted by states that would reflect what in today's world is regarded as strong, conservative restraints on the federal government. The reader may chortle at times how Madison makes what may be construed as practical decisions in favor of conceding important powers to the federal government. The biggest, and swiftest, change in his position comes when he jumps to exploit the chance given to the United States by Napoleon to buy the Louisiana territory--and thereby double the size of the United States. That cost the United States a few bucks--but a tremendous bargain--but also led Madison to have the United States Government do something for which he felt it had no clear authority to do.
One commendable contribution Cheney makes to the accumulation of biographic accounts of the 100-pound revolutionary in generally neat, black attire was to provide a few words about John Witherspoon. This Scotsman, about whom a number of studies have been written but never circulated in any meaningful quantity, was a product of the Scottish Enlightenment who had a significant influence on the shaping of the efforts made in the American colonies for a break from Britain and the creation of a newly oriented government. He came America to take over the presidency of the College of New Jersey, later to be known as Princeton University. He encouraged Madison as an entrant into this already well established school. Indeed, he reportedly helped Madison get through college in two years instead of the usual four, although with some bad pressure on Madison's vulnerable physical and mental strength. Cheney does not spend a great deal telling us about Witherspoon, not only a significant figure in the Presbyterian Church but the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence. He did have some strong conventional views on theology, but also exercise educational conformity on his subjects. And he had a great opportunity, which he did exploit. As Cheney tells us: one of Witherspoon's students became President of the United States; another Vice President; forty-nine became members of the House of Representatives; twenty-eight, of the Senate; three, Supreme Court Justices. Coincidentally, a new Witherspoon biography by Jeffry H. Morrison has just been published (Notre Dame Press).
While adding some interesting and useful material to what others have written about Madison, and presenting some engaging perspective, Cheney does let slip by the chance to add to her report on Madison's influence on religious freedom in the early years of our country. Over the most recent years, we have had many news reports about pirates attacking American vessels off the Somali coast of Africa, but those news accounts have been universally lacking any recognition that piracy was one of the earliest problems the new United States Government had to deal with. Moreover, as a reporter of the precursor raids, she neglects to look into the mistaken claim heard today about the United States having been born a Christian nation. The new U.S. Government had to send warships to the Mediterranean to fight against the seizure of American merchant vessels by official pirates of the Barbary States, countries along the northern coast of Africa, who captured American sailors and imprisoned them for ransom to be paid by the United States Government. The United States counterattacked and, with some difficulty, forced an end to that piracy. A treaty (along with substantial payments in cash and goods) temporarily ended this warfare. Some of the naval attacks recurred over the next few years, and new negotiations took place. We are all familiar with the U.S. Marines today singing about their campaigns "from the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli." Madison was in the House of Representatives and then was Secretary if State during this period. The first Treaty with the Bey of Tripoli, the head of a Muslim state, contained an article that said, in part: "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion" there should be no pretext based on "religious opinions" to interrupt the harmony between the two Governments. The Senate, in 1797, gave its unanimous consent to the ratification of the treaty. There is no record of any critical remarks from the floor. So here we have a pretty clear official expression to counter today's oft-asserted mistaken claim about the religious nature of our country in its earliest years.
In light of of Madison's great achievement in Virginia and then in the United States Government to ensure freedom of conscience, we do look in Cheney's book for discussion of his own religious beliefs. Cheney finds a passage close to a statement of belief. This is something he wrote in his late years, as the Sage of Montpelier. For most people, he wrote at that time, the most convincing argument about God comes not from an "abstract train of ideas" but from the world around. "Reasoning from the effect to the cause, 'from nature to nature's God,' will be the more universal and more persuasive application." The persistent reader can get a somewhat wider picture of this presentation at page 433 of her book (pagination works even in Kindle edition). On religion, I think he did a better job in writing what we have today as the First Amendment.
Prospective readers are sometimes put off by a book's greater than average length. In this case, a rather large portion of the text in its entirety is taken up by a lot of notes that should be very helpful for those interested in seeing what the author has dug thorough and where they may turn if they want to do more digging on their own. Perhaps in the way of a disclaimer--or perhaps not--she acknowledges the help she obtained in her research from the American Enterprise Institute, not a source often mentioned by other historians. She also acknowledges another feature of growing importance to historians, namely, digital sources that greatly enhance the productivity of researchers.
All in all, a very worthwhile endeavor.
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