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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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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
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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 the Audio CD edition.
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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Whatever simplification a writer may gain by a well focused topic must surely be given up to the complication of the depth of research that is required to successfully bring-off 352 pages - much less to do it always entertainingly. The book is about an intellectual (Madison), his ideas and the legislative and ratification processes necessary to carry out those ideas. It is not adventurous, nor does it need to be; it is illuminating, informative and educational. The Bill of Rights, so precious today, started out as anything but precious; unnecessary, diversion, nuisance, ineffective, are all shown to be, depending on perspectives, the prevailing opinions of the era.
Madison and Patrick Henry battle to the last breath - in Henry's case, literally - over the scope and content of the amendments. Professor Labunski shows us how the amendments morphed from forty to nine, to hundreds to seventeen to twelve and finally to the ten known today as the Bill of Rights. We learn that Madison would have preferred the amendments to be integrated into the text of the VII Articles and that Roger Sherman was one of the first to call for their inclusion, appendix-like, at the end of the formal constitution as we see them today. Fortunately the author and his editors included the original amendments as appendices to the book perfectly illustrating their various forms of evolution beginning with Madison's nine based on the forty from Virginia Convention and ending with the subset of ten ultimately ratified by the eleven States necessary.
If you have interest in the period, or the men of the First Congress, or certainly the Constitution itself, you can not go wrong with this book. I always challenge myself before "gushing" with five stars, but this book has earned all five!
For those who will read it in e-book form, it is very well done containing all of the expected hyper-links to & from table of contents, appendices, notes, and index. It does not contain page numbers (reference to hardcopy page) but uses the digital analog "location". I did find a few typos, but nothing that detracts materially from the read. Some of illustrations do not show well (photos of letters, manuscripts, etc) but this due to the resolution limits of the kindle, not the quality of the material. e-book publication quality, ★★★★☆.
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.
Wouldn't have known before reading this book that one man had been so crucial to the early formation and direction of the US government we take for granted today