Image Courtesy St. Martin's Press.
“In general, Madison was only human, in that he wanted to have been consistent even when he had not been.” Kevin R. C. Gutzman.
In James Madison and the Making of America published by St. Martin’s Press (2012), author and historian Kevin R. C. Gutzman energetically debunks the mythical James Madison. Here, Madison is not the “Father of the Constitution” but a man who felt the Constitution was simply a step above the Articles of the Confederation. He is not the promoter of the Bill of Rights but a man who found them unnecessary. He has less faith in the virtue of men and finds them “brutish.” Indeed, he is not a demi-god but merely a man.
A few important points to note in this book:
· Madison favors a national government over a federal government. Unlike his famous friend, Thomas Jefferson, Madison prefers an “energetic government.” Yet, once the Constitution is ratified, Madison supports the federal government because that is the idea that was "sold" to the People.
· Madison feels the main purpose of having a Bill of Rights is to “allay the fears of moderate men” but he does “not consider a bill of rights desirable in itself.”
· Madison and Alexander Hamilton “jointly” collaborate on The Federalist-that is far from writing them remotely, the two men assist each other in drafting the papers. (Gutzman dissects Federalist No. 9 and Federalist No. 10 specifically to argue his point).
· Madison’s belief in religious freedom is a reflection of his Princeton education where he develops his understanding of human nature and this understanding eventually leads to the creation of the Virginia Statues of Religious Freedom, an important but often overlooked contribution of his political career. (Notably, Gutzman is not saying that Madison feels government is superior to religion but that Madison finds religion so important that he feels it should be kept separate from government (and the “brutes”) to safeguard its significance).
· Overshadowed by Thomas Jefferson, Madison is a prime contributor (if not the creator) to the formation of the Republican Party.* (Gutzman tackles the growing rift between the Federalists and the Republicans, and the Alien and Sedition Laws).
Although not quite a full-fledged biography of our fourth president, the book is essential to understanding Madison’s contributions and accomplishments as a political figure. Gutzman’s expert knowledge and extensive research play an integral part in the book. Those looking for a flowery description of Madison’s presence at his wife’s extravagant Washington soirees or his preference in dress may find James Madison and the Making of America challenging but those interested in a serious study of Madison’s complex character and the creation of our Republic will find much to appreciate in this remarkable book.
Gutzman, Kevin R. C. James Madison and the Making of America. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012.
*Not today’s GOP.