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

4.1 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

It will come as little surprise to learn that Poe is a veteran Broadway performer: in reading Labunski's chronicle of James Madison's efforts to ratify the Constitution and pass the Bill of Rights, his voice echoes with effortless assurance, carrying into the virtual back row of any room. Thankfully, Poe mostly avoids the vocal equivalent of theatrical preening and posing. His reading is careful, unassuming and avoids wholly unnecessary showboating. Labunski's narrative revolves around Madison's struggle with fellow Virginian Patrick Henry over ratification, and Poe does a fine job of conveying the steadily ratcheting tension of their battle. Poe colors Labunski's tale with an appropriate array of significant pauses, emphases and hushed mock-whispers, bringing his book to life without resorting to overworked theatrical tricks. He may be a stage veteran, but Poe's reading is anything but stagy.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (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: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #308,733 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very interesting book on the creation and passing the Bill of Rights. When James Madison was tasked by the Confederation Congress of the pre-US government as we have today, he overstepped his bounds by just a wee bit, some say treasonously so. The pre-1789 government was very loose and there were many issues that were causing a breakdown in commerce, travel and more (each state was, in essence, quasi-independent, so they were imposing tarriffs on good. A merchant in Virginia selling goods in New York had to pay tariffs to Maryland, Pennsylvania and so forth.

Madison, with insights of others, wrote the Constitution and felt it was perfect, with no need to have amendments added. Two sides in favor of no change: first, keep it and have a strong government. Second, many others felt that time was needed to see how the new government would work to see if changes were needed. On the other side, many felt that there was no need for any change. The Confederation was just fine and there was no need for a strong central government, one that would infringe on personal rights. Virginia and New York were very against the Constitution. In Virginia, Patrick Henry, George Mason and others were very against.

2 years in the making, over 40 amendments were offered designed to both protect the rights of citizens and to limit the scope of the government. After committee work, the House, the Senate and the States, 12 amendments were discussed. The first two were removed, leaving the ten as we know them.

Well written, well researched.
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