- Biographies & Memoirs
The Founders' quiet hero
Review by Lucas A. Powe, Jr.
James Madison's partnership with Thomas Jefferson has been the subject of several books. In the early 1790s they created an opposition party to the reigning Federalists, and at the end of the decade provided the intellectual opposition to the Federalist's overreach in the Alien and Sedition Acts. When Jefferson won the presidency he gave Madison the State Department, the prime cabinet position. What makes David O. Stewart's new book, Madison's Gift: Five Partnerships that Built America special is his recognition that Madison habitually partnered with someone else with important consequences for the United States.
Madison's first collaboration was with Alexander Hamilton. The two young men met in 1782 in the Continental Congress. Hamilton, with his wartime experience, already believed a new government was necessary. Soon Madison would, too. Both were delegates at the failed Annapolis Convention and they formed an alliance that over the next two years would lead to the creation and ratification of the Constitution. Together they created The Federalist, a propaganda machine to support ratification and the most important political essays in American history.
Few could equal George Washington as a talent spotter and from the mid-1780s through 1790 Washington sought and accepted Madison's sage advice. There is one diary entry where Washington simply wrote: "I remained at home all day with Mr. Madison." In the First Congress Madison sponsored, drafted, or shaped most of the major legislation. The relationship, like that with Hamilton, ended when Washington disagreed on financial issues.
Next Stewart records Madison's long relationship with Jefferson where as Secretary of State he and Jefferson adopted an anti-British foreign policy at some cost to the new nation.
Madison's relationship with the handsome, dashing James Monroe had real bumps. They ran against each other for the First Congress in a district gerrymandered for Madison to lose (but he won), but their friendship endured. Monroe tried to best Madison for the Republican presidential nomination to succeed Jefferson. That was caused in large part by Madison's repudiation of a treaty Monroe negotiated with the British that went against Madison's instructions. The result was that Madison passed over Monroe in forming his (dysfunctional) cabinet. Before the War of 1812 Madison corrected that mistake and the two were at the helm with a war policy that at the end left the status quo intact.
The final relationship was with his wife, Dolley Todd Madison. As "a foe of dullness" she helped bring out the shy Madison and made the couple social fixtures for members of both parties.
David Stewart had an excellent idea-write a biography of Madison through the lens of five partners. Madison's Gift represents a perfect execution of that idea.
"A fond portrait of the mild-mannered Virginian and implacable advocate for the young American government....Historian and novelist Stewart offers a pertinent lesson on Madison's ability to forge working bonds with other founding members of the new American government, even if they did not always see eye to eye....Stewart's lively character sketches employ sprightly prose and impeccable research."-Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
David O. Stewart is the president of the Washington Independent Review of Books and the award-winning author of several histories, including The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution.
About the Reviewer
Lucas A. Powe, Jr., holds the Anne Green Regents Chair at the University of Texas Law School.
Additional Book Details
|Release Date:||February 10, 2015|