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James Madison and the Creation of the American Republic

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In this biography, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jack Rakove examines the life and legacy of James Madison, one of the founding fathers of the United States. Paperback, brief, and inexpensive, each of the titles in the Library of American Biography Series focuses on a figure whose actions and ideas significantly influenced the course of American history and national life. In this biography, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jack Rakove examines the life and legacy of James Madison, one of the founding fathers of the United States. Paperback, brief, and inexpensive, each of the titles in the Library of American Biography Series focuses on a figure whose actions and ideas significantly influenced the course of American history and national life. In addition, each biography relates the life of its subject to the broader themes and developments of the times.


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In this biography, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jack Rakove examines the life and legacy of James Madison, one of the founding fathers of the United States. Paperback, brief, and inexpensive, each of the titles in the Library of American Biography Series focuses on a figure whose actions and ideas significantly influenced the course of American history and national life. In this biography, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jack Rakove examines the life and legacy of James Madison, one of the founding fathers of the United States. Paperback, brief, and inexpensive, each of the titles in the Library of American Biography Series focuses on a figure whose actions and ideas significantly influenced the course of American history and national life. In addition, each biography relates the life of its subject to the broader themes and developments of the times.

30 review for James Madison and the Creation of the American Republic

  1. 5 out of 5

    One of my heroes. The last and best explainer of what our contitution contains and means. He helped write it. By the way, a Church-State separater. This is a fair biography of the man.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Regina Lindsey

    Going into this read my knowledge of Madison was limited to his contribution in moving the nation away from the Articles of Confederation toward the Constitution, his relationship wtih Jefferson, his contentious relationship with Hamilton, and the War of 1812. To me Madison is akin to a pendulum. He swings one direction until something happens that forces his thought process to shift to the opposite direction. We see this in issues like states rights and the validity of a national bank. Rakove ex Going into this read my knowledge of Madison was limited to his contribution in moving the nation away from the Articles of Confederation toward the Constitution, his relationship wtih Jefferson, his contentious relationship with Hamilton, and the War of 1812. To me Madison is akin to a pendulum. He swings one direction until something happens that forces his thought process to shift to the opposite direction. We see this in issues like states rights and the validity of a national bank. Rakove explains this by saying Madison was ideological but relied on experience for application. As a young man, Madison lacked ambition and could not formulate a plan for his future. It is issues surrounding religious tolerance that catapults Madison into political life. "The issue that moved Madison was religious liberty...Madison's change won approval; and its adoption laid the intellectual basis for disestablishment. This was Madison's one significant achievement at the Convention." (pg 15) According to Rakove, it is this issue that laid the foundation for the relationship with Jefferson that we read so much of today. One thing I think Rakove does well is taking us through the evolution of views on separation of church and state. Arriving to the Constitutional Convention, Madison fervetnly believed the ills of the nation can be attributed to the "vicious character of the state government." (pg 49) This completely surprises me since his relationship with Jefferson and the belligerent nature of their relationship with Hamilton is well known. At first glance it appears Madison is initially opposed to strong states' rights, but it really looks as though he is against a strong legislature if there are not adequate checks and balances in place. Even with this caveat, Madison did feel that "a national government could protect individual liberty more readily than an individual state." (pg 56) All the same it is easy to see why Hamilton was completely taken aback by Madison's opposition to Hamiltonian precepts. I always felt the bicameral structure was more about the compromise between the small and large states. For Madison, it was part of those checks and balances that he felt was a necessity. He believed "an upper house composed of a small number of members serving long terms of office on fixed salareies-conditions that would leave them independent of both their electors and their colleagues in the lower house. Such a body, in Madison's scheme, was not meant to represent anything, but simply to check the lower house by preventing the adoption of poorly framed laws." (pg.51). Madison's belief basically holds true today. Tension continues to mount between the North and South both over slavery and financial issues. The financial issues appears to be at the heart of the split with Hamilton. Madison vehemently opposed the creation of a national bank and was looked askance at Hamilton's Report on Manufactures resulting in the notion that Hamiltonian economics would greatly favor the North. Further he was "disgusted" by the speculation occuring in public securities. It was fascinating to read the debate over constitutional language regarding the bank and to see how those arguments continue today. It also appears that this is what moved Madison's thinking towards high states' rights views. However, I have not been able to conclude if it is truly a return to his core fear of a too powerful legislature or a need to defend the South (ie Virginia). Madison does argue that interpretation of the Constitution should be done so in light of intent upon adoption This is the third book I've read discussing Madison and Jefferson's ploy to hire John Fenno as a government employee as a means of support to give him the freedom to publish Gazette of the United States a newspaper promoting "republican interest" (and attack Hamilton). Can you imagine the outcry if this was done today? Until this read I always viewed Madison as Jefferson's underling. Jefferson establishing the agenda and Madison scurrying off to do his bidding. I learned that, while stongly tied together, Madison and Jefferson's views often diverged. Madison often appears more practical while Jefferson appears to be the staunch ideologue. Of many examples Rakove offers their differing views over Shay's Rebellion. Another very good example deals with the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions. Jefferson felt the states could "legally prevent the execution of unconstitutional laws" while Madison felt "states should act politically to rouse broad opposition to acts of federal usurption." (pg 151-152). Adams' Alien and Sedition Acts definitely challenged Madison's fear that danger lay in majorities rather than acts of the federal government. It is at this time we see another shift in his views. Rakove notes, "the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and Alexander Hamilton had been killed by former VP Aaron Burr in their famous duel. All this freed the Republicans to air their differences with each other." (pg 169). Factions within the party emerged and Madison did not enjoy complete support from his party. The division created great difficulty for Madison in putting his cabinet together. Relying on his bias towards England, Madison chose to gamble on Napoleon even as suspicion lingered in his mind. Those suspicions came to fruition. England responds with increasing obstinance. On one more gamble Madison hoped England would "back down once it saw Congress acting to prepare the nation for war." (pg 186) Once again, he was wrong. Madion's staunch opposition to having a standing army comes back to haunt him as the nation is completely unprepared for war. After Madison sent his war message to Congress, England backed down. This lost some popular support among citizens for the war effort. Madison held to constitutional principle in preparation for war. Rakove notes, "Madison hoped to demonstrate that a president could lead a republic into war without becoming a dictator. The administration, of course, would make its plans and wishes known to Congress, but ultimately the lawmakers had to decide how to raise and arm men and meet the costs of war." (pg 194) With party divisions this was difficult. Madison put all his hopes on a victory in Canada. It was an abysmal failure. Politics at its worst, we then read a detailed account of the most embarassing part of the War of 1812 when Secretary of War Armstong ignored directives to fortify Washington and the White House burned. Jackson's victory at New Orleans following wins at Ft McHenry and Lake Champlain at least allowed the US to keep the war out of the defeat column. Seeing the merits of the national bank, Madison unsuccessfully attempts to recharter the Bank of the United States. However, it is rechartered at the conclusion of the War 1812 Some of Rakove's insights that struck me: "Perhaps the difference between the nuances and the bold language of the Declaration helps to explain why his (Madison) legacy is more elusive than Jefferson's. Every American knows the key phrases of the Declaration and harbors his or her own interpretation of its promise of equality. Few could confidently quote or explicate Madison's most celebrated passages. In college and even in high school, American might read one or two of Madison's Federalist essays, the Tenth for sure, the Fifty-first if theya re lucky. There they puzzle over the careful distinctions and qualifications that typify his close-grained analysis of the complexities of republican government." (pg 220) "He recognized that people often act out of passion, interest, and uninformed opinion, yet also believed that government must be held accountable to popular control. He worried that individual states would have strong incentives to oppose national measures, yet understood that their autonomy had to be respected. He accepted teh basic premise of majority rule, yet recognized that popular majorities might wield their power to abuse minority and individual rights. He knew, too, taht the existence of chattel slavery in his own native region violated every republican principle he espoused, yet he could not imagine how that society could survivie if slavery were abolished." (pg 221) "Perhaps Madison's deepest legacy for the American constiutional tradition he helped to create lies in his understanding of these two distinct problems of majority power and minority rights...his grasp of what was at stake was both modern and forward-looking...Yet his approach to these problems also had conservative, even reactionary elements" (pg 224) "the commitment to freedom of conscience mattered because it identified one civil right that placed the greatest value on the capacity of ordinary men and women to exercise their sovereign judgment as individuals." (pg 227) Interesting Rakove uses terms typically reserved for economics to describe Madison's belief in the best system to protect religious institutions: "privatized and deregulated; competition among denomination" "And no scheme of taxation could ever be completely fair or neutral. Some interests would always benefit more, others less from whatever plan was adoped, and this disparity would support the suspicion that the rights of property were not being equally protected. In a republic dominated by the poorer classes of citizens, Madison might have worried, what would stop government from shifting the tax burden unfairly to the wealthy?...Here he was not convinced that the people's desires could be trusted. Instead, he thought the rights of the wealthy desereved protection against the jealousy of the multitude." (pg 228) I felt the book provided a good broad view of the Madison. I did, however, feel it was a bit redundant in places, and I was disappointed that more attention was not given to Dolley and to his presidency. I did think Rakove did an excellent job of sharing the foundation of Madison's core belief system and why his views changed at various times. I feel I have a better understanding of Madison's role in the Declaration of Independence and better insight into his relationship with Jefferson.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Grant

    Read for HIUS 221--EXCELLENT. I have so much respect for Madison now. The book also did a very good job of summarizing his legacy in a way that, even though I was unfamiliar with much of the material beforehand, I still had no trouble following. (ok, I just wrote the four page book report in the last three and a half hours so my writing of said review stinks, but I'm fine, it's all good.) Read for HIUS 221--EXCELLENT. I have so much respect for Madison now. The book also did a very good job of summarizing his legacy in a way that, even though I was unfamiliar with much of the material beforehand, I still had no trouble following. (ok, I just wrote the four page book report in the last three and a half hours so my writing of said review stinks, but I'm fine, it's all good.)

  4. 5 out of 5

    Alex Mili

    When I saw how thin this book was, I was skeptical of whether the author could provide a comprehensive reflection of Madison (particularly when I am accustomed to reading historical biographers such as David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin). My skepticism disappeared when I read this passage in the author’s preface: “The biography of a statesman . . .should be a record of his public deeds, not a gossipy tale of ambitions, achievements, disappointments, and revelations.” True to his promise, When I saw how thin this book was, I was skeptical of whether the author could provide a comprehensive reflection of Madison (particularly when I am accustomed to reading historical biographers such as David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin). My skepticism disappeared when I read this passage in the author’s preface: “The biography of a statesman . . .should be a record of his public deeds, not a gossipy tale of ambitions, achievements, disappointments, and revelations.” True to his promise, Rakove delivers a record of Madison’s public deeds that demonstrates why the passage of more than two centuries cannot diminish the relevance of Madison. Each chapter brings a contemporary lesson for today’s statesmen. For example, as I read this book in August of 2010, there is a debate among statesmen and citizens about building a mosque within close proximity to Ground Zero. This debate prompts the same discourse on religious tolerance that Madison reflected upon in Virginia when Presbyterian settlers clashed with the Church of England, with Madison taking a lesson from the tolerance of Quaker settlements in Pennsylvania around the same time. As another example, I finished reading Chapter 2, which chronicles Madison’s sympathy for the Boston Tea Party, on the very day of Glenn Beck’s Tea Party rally in D.C.. As yet another example, I went on to read Chapter 3, which describes Madison’s conflict of loyalties when Maryland refused to ratify the Articles of Confederation until Virginia ceded its right to certain western land that could be used for broader national purposes. Should Madison have appeased only his local Virginian constituents, or was he right to put national interests ahead of his state’s interest? I could not help but think that Senator Ben Nelson should have read this chapter before he sold his vote on universal healthcare for Cornhusker Kickback less than a year ago. This book is a nice supplement to (or perhaps substitution for) reading the Federalist Papers too. Many curious questions about the structure of American government that are obvious today were bewildering in Madison’s time, such as whether to have term limits for the Presidency, whether the executive branch should have exclusive authority to remove its subordinates (even if Senate confirmation was required for their appointment), or whether to charter a national bank (on the latter question, it was interesting to watch the volley between Hamilton and Madison). Rakove presents these questions in a way that will appeal to even those readers who are not history and politics geeks like me.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Scott Cox

    According to author Jack N. Rakove, James Madison's epitaph could have read, "Father of the Constitution, and of the Bill of Rights, and Author of The Federalist." Or he could have been described by what Abigail Adams wrote, "what [Alexander] Pope called the noblest work of God: an honest man." However what both of these epitaphs leave out are the more complex aspects of Madison's achievements. He helped the nation survive the War of 1812 with Great Britain, but it is questionable whether he sho According to author Jack N. Rakove, James Madison's epitaph could have read, "Father of the Constitution, and of the Bill of Rights, and Author of The Federalist." Or he could have been described by what Abigail Adams wrote, "what [Alexander] Pope called the noblest work of God: an honest man." However what both of these epitaphs leave out are the more complex aspects of Madison's achievements. He helped the nation survive the War of 1812 with Great Britain, but it is questionable whether he should have got the country into that war. He championed minority rights, yet he continued to own slaves. He sought constitutional protection against monarchial abuses, yet struggled with the balance of powers between states and the federal government. However Rakove points out that it was Madison's conservative (or strict) adherence to the constitution, whilst pragmatically guiding a young and struggling nation, which shaped his own beliefs, and helped lay the foundations of our nation. The development of his guiding principles were started when he first championed religious freedom as a young man (he studied under Witherspoon at Princeton), but these principles did not reach fruition, according to Rakove, until 1868 when the 14th amendment to the Constitution was ratified. Another thought-provoking book by Rakove is his Pulitzer Prize-winning work, "Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution."

  6. 4 out of 5

    Christi

    This was a great read to understand the Constitution and our governmental structure and the history behind it a bit better. It's not a great biography of Madison--don't read it for that. But it's a good history with him as the main player. Definitely the strongest part is all the analysis of Madison's role and his thinking on the issues of the day. His character, storyline, life, etc. would probably only get two stars, so know what you are getting into. It can be a bit dry and heavy, and I'd rea This was a great read to understand the Constitution and our governmental structure and the history behind it a bit better. It's not a great biography of Madison--don't read it for that. But it's a good history with him as the main player. Definitely the strongest part is all the analysis of Madison's role and his thinking on the issues of the day. His character, storyline, life, etc. would probably only get two stars, so know what you are getting into. It can be a bit dry and heavy, and I'd read it with a pen and maybe some paper to take notes. But it's relatively short and a good way to quickly understand some of the issues that led to the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the things the founders faced afterwards. Also, it covers a lot of the Federalist/Republican party splits. But again, I'd use it as reference or supplemental material.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Jack Rakove writes an intelligent summary of James Madison's entire life in 234 pages. The only drawback of such a concise account is that, somewhere along the way, readability is sacrificed for economy. While I was not willing to slough through Ralph Ketcham's tome, I found this to be a fairly satisfying biography, even if it left a bit to be desired. Only 30 pages are given to Madison's presidency, and Marbury vs. Madison is mentioned only in passing. However, most people who would choose to r Jack Rakove writes an intelligent summary of James Madison's entire life in 234 pages. The only drawback of such a concise account is that, somewhere along the way, readability is sacrificed for economy. While I was not willing to slough through Ralph Ketcham's tome, I found this to be a fairly satisfying biography, even if it left a bit to be desired. Only 30 pages are given to Madison's presidency, and Marbury vs. Madison is mentioned only in passing. However, most people who would choose to read this book probably know a bit about what they're getting into. So I shouldn't complain.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Austin Westerberg

    I was pretty disappointed with this biography of James Madison. It provided a concise overview of Madison's life and political accomplishments, but it contained very little information about his personal life (although, in the author's defense, this is most likely because Madison kept very few records about his personal life and didn't want his personal papers publicized). It was a little too textbook-like for my taste. I was pretty disappointed with this biography of James Madison. It provided a concise overview of Madison's life and political accomplishments, but it contained very little information about his personal life (although, in the author's defense, this is most likely because Madison kept very few records about his personal life and didn't want his personal papers publicized). It was a little too textbook-like for my taste.

  9. 5 out of 5

    S

    If you are looking for a CliffsNotes version biography of James Madison’s adult life, this is it and I would highly recommend it for those unfamiliar with the background of our 4th President. The highlights of his political career are included; concise, but not overwhelming. The Notes of Sources review at the end of the book is much appreciated, even though they only cover the sources relevant to this work.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Neil

    An Engaging synopsis of the political career of one of the most important founders and the uncertain climate it developed, however the book's brevity, though what incites one to pick up the book in the first place leaves one disappointed when they quickly finish it, maybe this is a good thing because I now want to read more about Madison. An Engaging synopsis of the political career of one of the most important founders and the uncertain climate it developed, however the book's brevity, though what incites one to pick up the book in the first place leaves one disappointed when they quickly finish it, maybe this is a good thing because I now want to read more about Madison.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sharron

    this was not nearly so interesting as the biographies of Franklin, Adams,Washington and Jefferson that I have read recently and I can't figure out if that's due to the subject himself or the author. this was not nearly so interesting as the biographies of Franklin, Adams,Washington and Jefferson that I have read recently and I can't figure out if that's due to the subject himself or the author.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Heath

    Maybe I read it too soon after finishing Caro's "The Power Broker," but this brief account of the life of the third president left me craving more. Excited to dig in to Ketcham's more expansive Madison biography. Maybe I read it too soon after finishing Caro's "The Power Broker," but this brief account of the life of the third president left me craving more. Excited to dig in to Ketcham's more expansive Madison biography.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    "Living in Virginia now, I enjoyed this comprehensive, but brief story of Madison "Living in Virginia now, I enjoyed this comprehensive, but brief story of Madison

  14. 5 out of 5

    Bridgett Pride

    A quick read giving the highlights of Madison's role in the creation of American government. A quick read giving the highlights of Madison's role in the creation of American government.

  15. 4 out of 5

    James

    Looking for more detail. Biography is primarily an overview with little real detail. Good quick read

  16. 4 out of 5

    Steve

  17. 4 out of 5

    Will

  18. 5 out of 5

    Eric Stein

  19. 4 out of 5

    Brandon

  20. 5 out of 5

    Trent England

  21. 5 out of 5

    Austin Copeland

  22. 5 out of 5

    Michael Schurch

  23. 5 out of 5

    Maddie

  24. 5 out of 5

    Eddie

  25. 4 out of 5

    Angela

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mark

  27. 5 out of 5

    David Leblond

  28. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

  29. 5 out of 5

    Cambray

  30. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

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