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32 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Madison; warts and all, February 27, 2012
This review is from: James Madison and the Making of America (Hardcover)
This review is from: James Madison and the Making of America (Hardcover)
Open disclosure here. I have been a Facebook friend of Dr. Gutzman's for quite some time and have appreciated his insight on issues dealing with the legal history of the United States. I have waited to read this volume on Madison for quite some time and to read an in depth biography of one of the Founding Fathers (of which there were many despite statements from historians to the contrary). In fact, this is the first substantive biography that I have read from that era in America's history.

The biography of James Madison traces his life from his birth in 1751 to his college days at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), through his political career to his demise at Montpelier in 1836. With his death, it brought to an end the life the last of those who attended most of the major events during the time of the War of Independence and shortly thereafter. I shall not try to parrot the words of others that have reviewed the book already. What I shall do now is to make some general comments on the text of the book as I read them.

Madison understood from the teachings of John Witherspoon that men were not to be trusted and were corrupt. Through Whitherspoon, Madison understood and embraced the tenets of the Scottish Enlightenment that men could be entrusted to make political decisions that heretofore would only have been entrusted to aristocrats, hence his admiration of Jeffersonian republicanism. Unlike Witherspoon, Madison thought that government sanction of religion was counterproductive to the health of the state. Madison was of the belief that showing preference to one religion sect would be detrimental to the others. He also believed that the presence of a state church would result in certain corruption of the church. As we have seen in Europe, the impotence of state churches today confirms Madison's foresight on this.

The debates at the Philadelphia Convention were full of struggles and disputes among the delegates and with Madison, it was no different. The major disappointment that he took way from the convention was that his proposal of Congress overriding state laws was not included in the final proposed constitution. Nevertheless, during the ratification process, Madison put forth a herculean effort to get his home state and New York to ratify the Constitution through the writing of various letters known collectively today as The Federalist Papers. Madison sought to calm the fears of opponents such as Patrick Henry by stating that the federal powers of lawmaking would only be contained in certain specifically delegated sections in Article I, Section 8 and that general government would not be too powerful and centralized. from what we have seen today, it was Henry who would have been vindicated on this issue of federal powers and would blast the current government had he been alive today.

Madison during his days in Congress and during the Presidency was inconsistent in his constitutional principles most notably during the chartering of the Bank of the United States and his stands on internal improvements and trade overseas. He was rash in his declaration of war on Britain during the War of 1812, a conflict that our country was unprepared for. The section that I found very informative was his commentaries on various subjects later in life. They included his commentary on the Missouri Compromise (he thought it to be unconstitutional), the decision of McCollouch v. Maryland (he did not like it and said that the decision "betrayed the people") and the nullification crisis in South Carolina in 1832-1833 (he thought that the Palmetto State went too far and that its reasoning for nullification of federal law did not meet the criteria set forth in his Virginia Resolution of 1798).

It was a very informative book and that with the explosion of the size of government, we should heed the wisdom of Madison as stated in Federalist No. 45. I recommend this book. Five stars.
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