James high quality Madison (The American popular Presidents Series) online sale

James high quality Madison (The American popular Presidents Series) online sale

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A bestselling historian examines the life of a Founding Father.

Renowned historian and social commentator Garry Wills takes a fresh look at the life of James Madison, from his rise to prominence in the colonies through his role in the creation of the Articles of Confederation and the first Constitutional Congress.

Madison oversaw the first foreign war under the constitution, and was forced to adjust some expectations he had formed while drafting that document. Not temperamentally suited to be a wartime President, Madison nonetheless confronted issues such as public morale, internal security, relations with Congress, and the independence of the military. Wills traces Madison''s later life during which, like many recent Presidents, he enjoyed greater popularity than while in office.

From Publishers Weekly

It''s tough to write a compelling biography of Madison: though a great politician, he was also a provincial, cerebral and slightly dull man; any account of his life must contain the kinds of dry legislation the Non-Intercourse Act, Macon''s Bill Number 2, for example that have driven generations of history students to distraction. But Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Wills does as good a job as possible in this brief volume, the latest addition to a series on the nation''s presidents edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. With prior studies of Washington, Jefferson and other Framers (including Madison) under his belt, Wills is well acquainted with his subject and balanced in his assessments. Madison, "this unimpressive little man with libraries in his brain," was the "Father of the Constitution" and the nation''s fourth president. But during an extraordinary four-decade public career, Madison also guided Washington and Jefferson in their presidencies; steered the pioneering Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom through that state''s legislature in 1786 and the Bill of Rights through Congress; and helped Jefferson found the Democratic Party. But for all Madison''s greatness, Wills nevertheless (and justifiably) judges him na‹ve, inconsistent, occasionally dishonest, prone to sniff conspiracy in any opposition, and, like so many Southerners of the time, deaf to and finally paralyzed by slavery. Moreover, although he was a first-class committeeman, he lacked executive talent. His presidency was a near disaster and he narrowly averted defeat in the War of 1812. To Madison''s credit, unlike other wartime presidents, he didn''t stretch the Constitution or invade civil liberties. Madison had "the strength of his weaknesses," concludes Wills in this fine, short biography of one of the nation''s greatest public servants.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In this work one of the first in a new series being published under the general editorship of Schlesinger Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Wills (e.g., Lincoln at Gettysburg, 1992) does not attempt to offer a complete biography of Madison. Rather, he sets out to solve a mystery: how could Madison have been such a spectacularly important Founding Father and later just a slightly above average President? Wills provides a thoroughly satisfying answer. He maintains that Madison possessed qualities that served him well early in his career but proved to be a handicap during his Presidency. For example, his superior skills as a legislator were not what he needed to face the crises of his presidential years, when personal charisma, social charms, and a wider vision would have been more useful. Moreover, Madison''s parochialism (reflected in his aversion to traveling outside his beloved Virginia) made him greatly misjudge Britain in the War of 1812. Written with flair, this clear and balanced account is based on a sure handling of the material. It should appeal to general readers as well as specialists. Highly recommended for all libraries. T.J. Schaeper, St. Bonaventure Univ., NY
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* James Madison, a prominent member of the distinguished group we know as the Founding Fathers as well as the country''s fourth president, is the "beneficiary" of prolific historian Wills'' biographical largesse. Called, in ironic tribute, "the unimpressive little man with libraries in his brain," Madison is presented in a particularly methodical--but certainly not dry or dreary--"distillation of character and career." Wills probes the crucial question about this undeniably important man: Why is he considered one of the nation''s greatest founders but not a great president? Wills insists that to answer that question, it is not appropriate to divide Madison''s life into two groupings, with the presidential years in one group and the other years of public service in another. What is appropriate is to isolate the "strands of continuity" between his presidency and his years as a Founding Father, two of the most important of these strands being his provincialism and his naivete. Wills'' analysis of the Constitutional Convention and the War of 1812 is particularly fresh and incisive. Madison a hero? No one would make such a claim. But, then, history is not simply a pageant of heroes but also the story of intelligent, not especially colorful toilers. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Review

"Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Wills does as good a job as possible in this brief volume … Madison had "the strength of his weaknesses," concludes Wills in this fine, short biography of one of the nation''s greatest public servants." - Publishers Weekly

About the Author

Garry Wills is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and cultural critic, and a professor of history at Northwestern University. A recipient of the National Book Award, his many books include Lincoln at Gettysburg, Reagan''s America, Witches and Jesuits, and a biography of Saint Augustine. He lives in Evanston, Illinois.

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., (1917-2007) was the preeminent political historian of our time. For more than half a century, he was a cornerstone figure in the intellectual life of the nation and a fixture on the political scene. He won two Pulitzer prizes for The Age of Jackson (1946) and A Thousand Days (1966), and in 1988 received the National Humanities Medal. He published the first volume of his autobiography, A Life in the Twentieth Century, in 2000.

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ewomack
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
When Washington burned... overshadowed and defined by the War of 1812, Madison''s presidency remains relatively obscure...
Reviewed in the United States on March 24, 2018
One would think that any leader who loses their county''s own capital would forever rank among that country''s worst and most vilified leaders. Somehow, James Madison, the United States'' fourth President, escaped that fate despite the British Army''s burning of the government... See more
One would think that any leader who loses their county''s own capital would forever rank among that country''s worst and most vilified leaders. Somehow, James Madison, the United States'' fourth President, escaped that fate despite the British Army''s burning of the government buildings in the then very young Washington D.C. on his watch. He even had to flee the city. Perhaps it doesn''t really count because the British merely burned the city and left? They didn''t occupy the capital and take over the fledgling nation, after all. Who would want to occupy smoldering ruins anyway? Or perhaps it doesn''t count because the military implications of the fiery act didn''t drastically alter the path of the War of 1812? Or maybe the United States just doesn''t like to talk about times that it faced ignominious defeat, no matter how far in the distant past? Would dragging Madison down into the cesspool of the "worst ever presidents," especially considering his other stellar achievements, attract too much attention to this humiliating event? Not only that, the United States attacked first by burning the capital of Upper Canada, York, to cinders, which certainly doesn''t earn them public relations points. This transforms the burning of Washington into a justified retaliation. Some American histories ignore this inconvenient fact. Many in Canada still refer to this largely forgotten war as "the war against American imperialism." Luckily for them, the United States didn''t even come close to conquering the Great White North. At certain critical moments, it seemed as though the opposite might actually happen.

Madison''s reputation managed to survive the largely botched war, but it shockingly also gave it an enormous boost. As the fourth volume of "The American Presidents" series claims, the War of 1812 didn''t sap the country''s morale at all, it instead left it "itching for another fight" and prepared it "psychologically for the use of power." The small unprepared nation had declared war against the might of Great Britain and, though heavily scathed, did not fall. Some sleight of hand helped. Just as war with France distracted Britain during the American Revolution, the United States found Britain once again heavily distracted, this time by Napoleon''s ongoing imperial ambitions. Despite this seemingly easy opportunity, the 1812 invasion of Canada failed miserably from Fort Detroit and Canada ended up taking the Michigan Territory. Only a collective thirst for revenge and some surprising naval victories, compliments of the highly maneuverable sail-powered Humphreys frigates, secured Madison''s re-election. Much worse would come in his second term.

Madison came to power in 1809 with Jeffersonian Republican ideals, including a distaste for war, which usually implied the "Federalist sins" of debt and taxes. His first two years seemed stalled, especially in his puzzling cabinet selections, which the book considers "as fit for their posts as Benjamin Franklin would have been for the corps de ballet." His secretary of Navy, Paul Hamilton, had a notorious drinking problem, but Madison kept him on regardless. Albert Gallatin split the already fractioned Republicans. Many consider Madison''s retention of General James Wilkinson as his worst mistake. Federalists held the Supreme Court. It did not seem like a particularly auspicious beginning. The costly Yazoo land fraud scandals, the 1811 cancellation of the Bank of the United States'' charter and an 1810 failed Florida land grab via "revolution" also frustrated the new administration. The book considers Madison "suckered" on foreign policy. He had a strange faith in the almost universally condemned Jefferson-era embargo. His careless boasting that Britain had finally capitulated to it led to Britain''s continued impressment of sailors. This hated practice began because the US allowed deserted British sailors on their ships (both countries needed experienced crew members). Madison also thought that Napoleon needed an American alliance, which Britain took as a massive affront. Napoleon, not needing such an alliance, merely played the US and Britain off each other, with Madison as the unknowing and duped intermediary. Following more embarrassing controversy in the cabinet, James Monroe, with his somewhat more hawkish inclinations, came on as Secretary of State in 1811. William Henry Harrison also declared a "self-serving" victory over Tecumseh and "The Prophet" at Tippecanoe in 1811. No one wanted to sag military morale as tensions with Britain rose, so this questionable triumph went unchallenged and gradually transformed into myth. War fever spread and some considered Madison as dragged along helplessly on its inexorable torrent. A declaration of war appeared before Congress on June 1st, 1812. It took two weeks to pass the Senate and no Federalist supported it in the House. The war would change Madison as drastically as it would change the proud nation.

The War of 1812 continued to both overshadow and define Madison''s presidency following the close election of 1812 - a month of vote counting in Pennsylvania decided everything. Cabinet changes, including the ousting of Paul Hamilton and William Eustis, just created new tensions. Tsar Alexander initiated peace negotiations in 1813, but Britain, probably still shocked that the US had initiated the conflict, refused to participate. US military losses piled up. Expediency, along with midtern elections, required a victory, any victory, so Secretary of War John Armstrong, Eustis'' replacement, chose the relatively easy target of York, now Toronto, which fell on April 27, 1813. Henry Dearborn''s troops looted and burned the legislative capital to the ground. Zebulon Pike perished in the assault. Things began to look up, at least a little bit, following Oliver Perry''s naval victory at Lake Erie. "We have met the enemy and they are ours," Perry proclaimed. This proved short lived as defeats in New York and Niagara followed. Madison fell back on his favorite method, an embargo, but this fueled dissent among the New England states, who actually began to consider secession. News of victories in Niagara and Plattsburgh clashed with the startling notice of the burning of Washington D.C. on August 24, 1814. Upon hearing of the unexpected invasion of the capital, Madison rode towards the enemy, the last US President to ever face enemy fire, but the militia deserted leaving only an insufficient force at Bladensburg to face an entire British army. The British marched into Washington largely unopposed. Officials stored important documents out of harm''s way and First Lady Dolley Madison famously cut the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington out of its frame for posterity. Everything then moved to Baltimore, which finally saw the US making adequate preparations for war. The "rockets'' red glare" from British ships never threatened the city itself. Fort McHenry stood firm against the onslaught.

Peace negotiations in Ghent began with British retaliatory calls against the US, but even the Duke of Wellington himself backed down after hearing about losses in Niagara. Both sides appeared to back away slowly from what many now consider an unnecessary war. Andrew Jackson then attained military immortality at New Orleans as he decisively defeated the British in several battles in late 1814 and early 1815. He brought with it a new approach, including imposing martial law and establishing dictatorial powers during the conflict. The book contrasts this with Madison, who did neither. Congress ratified the Ghent peace treaty immediately upon arrival and a mood of joy spread over the country. This seems strange since, as the book points out, the US met none of its war goals. Perhaps the mere fact that it had survived, as the "Star Spangled Banner" suggests, was enough? Nationalism swept the country, with Madison serving as the heroic leader. His cabinet finally came together and the Republican party unified. The election of 1816 would see another Virginia slave owner, James Monroe, rise to the highest office. In the end, the book rates Madison''s Presidency in the average to high-average range. It claims that he suffered from a rather shallow provincialism and naiveté and continually underestimated Britain. Despite everything, history does not consider him a failure. He supported religious toleration and enforced separation of church and state, even vetoing questionable government funding of religious buildings. Many praised the war as providing strength, optimism and "newfound glory" for the growing country. Madison retired to his Montpelier estate, served in the Virginia Constitutional Convention and some claimed that conflicting feelings over slavery, including his own guilty complicity, drove him to despair in his later years.

Madison''s more acclaimed accomplishments also appear in the book''s early sections, including his vital role in framing the Constitution, writing "The Federalist Papers," serving in the House of Representatives, framing the Bill of Rights and the variety of duties he performed in preceding administrations. In the end, the book considers only Washington and Franklin more important founders than Madison, which is quite a claim, though arguably justified. Yet, similar to Adams and Jefferson, his Presidency didn''t really measure up to his Revolutionary activities. The introduction attributes this to three factors: Circumstances (Madison was dealt a bad hand); Temperament (he worked better in conventions); Errors (underestimating Britain and his relatively unworldly outlook from never leaving the US, unlike many of his peers). Not surprisingly, the final analysis declares Madison as "a great founder, but not a great President." More generously, the book concludes that, regardless of his Presidential deficiencies, he "did more than most, and did some things better than any. That is quite enough." Madison lingers on in American historical memory somewhat more obscurely than figures such as Washington, Franklin and Jefferson. "Semi-forgotten," perhaps, but not forgotten.
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Daniel Putman
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A lot of Wills in a Madison biography
Reviewed in the United States on November 19, 2016
The title of chapter six of this book is: Foreign Affairs: Suckered Twice. And in chapter three Wills says: “Madison looked at England and saw only so many thousands of Hamiltons.” These examples give a good clue as to the language Garry Wills often uses to describe... See more
The title of chapter six of this book is: Foreign Affairs: Suckered Twice. And in chapter three Wills says: “Madison looked at England and saw only so many thousands of Hamiltons.” These examples give a good clue as to the language Garry Wills often uses to describe Madison’s actions as President and the type of generalizations he frequently makes. Wills argues that the very factors in Madison’s personality that made him a highly effective legislator and a giant in developing the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were the cause of his failures as a president. This is a strong hypothesis. A highly effective legislator may not make an effective executive. But Wills’ claim often gets lost in emotive language, comparisons with 20th century events, and many generalizations about Madison’s character. Given the length of the books, the American Presidents series makes fleshing out the character and actions of a president a difficult task. But it can be done (see Burns and Dunn’s book on Washington) and it can done without interjecting a generally negative attitude toward the subject. Cheney’s more recent biography of Madison puts Madison’s presidency in a much broader light – both the strengths and weaknesses. The depth of that biography cannot be matched in a book this short. But one would hope for a more objective portrayal of the 4th president and less intrusion by the author into the text. This is not one of the stronger books in the American Presidents series.
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rvrinsea
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A well written essay about Madison''s presidency rather than being a brief biography of Madison
Reviewed in the United States on January 17, 2021
Madison has an enormous impact on the history of the United States, and his impact will be felt for as long as America remains a Republic thanks to his being the primary author of the United States Constitution, the foundational document of our republic. However, this is... See more
Madison has an enormous impact on the history of the United States, and his impact will be felt for as long as America remains a Republic thanks to his being the primary author of the United States Constitution, the foundational document of our republic. However, this is not a great biography of James Madison, rather it is a well written study of Madison’s presidency.

For people trying to read a biography on each U.S. President, here is where the trail starts getting rough. Readers have numerous fascinating and well-written biographies on the first three Presidents (Washington, Adams and Jefferson) from which to choose. Such an option does not exist for James Madison. Perhaps it never will. There are some very-long biographies of Madison, and some substantial criticisms of each as being very biased.

I chose to take the shorter route for Madison. Choosing the Wills biography as a result of author Wills’s Pulitzer prize winning status; the fact that the book was part of “The American Presidents” series that is edited by noted historian, Arthur M. Schlesinger Junior; and, superficially, since it was a hardcover, which the alternatives were not, and would look better on a bookshelf with the other Presidential biographies I have read.

Ultimately, wanting to know more about Madison, I have decided to read Lynne Cheney’s biography of Madison, although her book has received mixed, but largely positive, reviews as well.

Wills openly limits himself to answering the question how could Madison, who, as the primary author of the U.S. Constitution, is perhaps the greatest legislator of all time, be such a weak and ineffective president. Along the way, much is missed.

Unique among all of the U.S. President’s, little is known about Madison’s youth. Some biographers resort to fiction to fill in the gaps, while Wills takes the high road, and simply never mentions it.

Strangely, Wills never explains why Madison ran for President. Based on Wills’ well-written section concerning his very introverted personality, there is no explanation as to why Madison ran, nor is there any explanation for why he received the nomination of his party. The book is only 160 pages long, but still, if the central hypothesis of your book is why was Madison such an ineffective President, the subject of why and how he became president would be worth discussing. Also, given its brevity, Wills must assume that the reader is familiar with early US history.

Wills starts with the consensus view that Madison is one of the great Founding Fathers, but not a great President. He then describes Madison’s early work in the government.

Madison is a mass of contradictions and eccentricities, that he became president, and then was re-elected is never fully explained. Madison worked best in committees and had no executive experience. He was very studious, and extremely well read. He worked well behind the scenes. While a member of the House of Representatives, he wrote Washington’s Inaugural Address; then the House’s response to the address; and finally, Washington’s thank-you to the House for its response.

Wills provides insight into Madison’s character traits. Personally, Madison had a weak constitution, he always thought he was going to die young. Once writing a Princeton classmate when he was 21 that he did not need to make plans for the future. In fact, he managed his health obsessively and lived until he was 85. He never traveled outside of the United States. After he left office, his wife Dolley wanted to travel to Paris. Madison instead went back to his father’s estate in Virginia, and only left once during the remainder of his life, to visit Richmond.

Madison was very-short at 5 feet 4 inches and almost anti-social. Married only at the age of 43 at a time when life expectancy was at best 45 years. He would sit in a chair in the corner of a room, while his very extroverted wife Dolley served as Hostess.

Madison is viewed as the father of the constitution and in a 14-page chapter Wills brilliantly outlines the role Madison played and why he received that title. Wills explains how what we now call the Constitutional Convention was treasonous at the time, and in fact was the anti-constitutional convention, how he convinced Washington to attend, then raced to New York to work on the Federalist Papers with Hamilton, then back to Virginia to get his home state to ratify the new constitution all in a two-year period.

Wills also explains how Madison’s study of all forms of government, for years prior to writing the constitution, has been described as “the most fruitful piece of work ever carried out by an American”.

Wills however, enjoys dropping esoteric phrases into the writing that make it challenging for most readers such as “faute de mieux” [meaning “for lack of something better”] and “mutatis mutandis” [meaning “the necessary changes having been made”] when more accessible phrases perhaps would have been better.

So, having brilliantly husbanded the design of the American republic, Madison is little discussed subsequent to his role in the framing of the Constitution. Neither his role as a legislator before his presidency nor even his presidency are much discussed. Wills explains why this is the case.

In essence, Jefferson and Madison take a turn for the weird. Having largely created and established the Federal government through their respective drafting of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, these two Founders decide since they made the rules, the Federal Government will now perform to their liking. Unfortunately for them, while Jefferson and Madison were circulating in the Virginia Plantation Society, or in Jefferson’s case Europe, Alexander Hamilton was getting schooled in the rough and tumble business world of Manhattan, then, as now, perhaps the toughest business environment in the Country.

Consequently, when Hamilton enters Washington’s administration as Secretary of the Treasury, he begins to masterfully espouse the pro-business, centralized government philosophy that is anathema to Jefferson and Madison who have idealized an agrarian republic. (Also deep inside this debate are the roots of the civil war between the industrialized north and the agrarian south. Amd what is the current divide between the red states and the blue states.) Madison proceeds to spend the next twelve years undermining the government he helped form.

The next chapter of the book deals with Madison’s role in the three presidential administrations preceding his own: Washington’s, Adams’, and Jefferson’s. Once again we encounter an exceptionally well-written chapter. Wills describes how, at the outset, of the first administration, Washington rarely made a move without consulting with Madison as Washington knew that everything he was doing was precedent setting, and no one knew better than Madison as to how the government should function, as Madison had in fact designed it through the constitution.

However, Madison and his mentor, Jefferson, soon began losing political battles to the Federalist point of view espoused by Alexander Hamilton. This grew increasingly frustrating to Madison and Jefferson. As Wills points out, Jefferson was losing arguments in the cabinet and Madison in the legislature. Eventually the two co-conspirators reach the point of delusion such that Hamilton must be a royalist who is attempting to restore the British monarchy. Madison along with Jefferson embark on the course of saving the government by destroying it. Madison and Jefferson, while essentially accusing Hamilton of treason, embark on a course of behavior that could only be described as treasonous. Meanwhile Washington, who watched Hamilton lead the fight against the British at Yorktown, while Jefferson retreated to the Virginia backcountry, was infuriated with Madison’s behavior. Eventually Washington caused Jefferson to resign as Secretary of State and refused to engage in any further manner with Madison. Putting this into historical context, Washington and Madison were from the upper strata of Virginia’s plantation society that stressed hospitality over virtually everything. Short of a duel, there is no greater insult that Washington, considered then, as now, the greatest American hero, could have inflicted upon Madison.

Moving on to the Presidency of John Adams, where Jefferson served as Adams’ Vice-President, Jefferson and Madison once again see treasonous behavior on Adams part, who they again think is a closet royalist. In particular, the Alien and Sedition Act dismayed them, when in fact the Act was an affront to the Constitution. However, Adams was misguidedly attempting to save the republic, not destroy it. The solution put forth by Madison/Jefferson, essentially allowing each state legislature to veto a Federal law within its boundaries, a position contrary to everything Madison fought for at the Constitutional Convention, is so draconian that had it succeeded, it is safe to assume that America, as we know it, would not exist today.

With the start of the Jefferson’s administration, Madison became Secretary of State, an unusual position for a man who never left the United States during his entire life. Wills points out the that the administration was largely run by Jefferson, Madison and Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin. Gallatin was the pragmatist, while Jefferson was, in Wills’ words “otherworldly” and Madison was “provincial.” The three men were collectively known as the Triad.

Wills book assumes you know Madison’s history before you read the book. No where in the six pages focusing upon Jefferson’s presidency does Wills state that Madison was Jefferson’s Secretary of State for the entire eight-year period of Jefferson’s term as president. If I did not know better, Madison appears to have been some type of presidential advisor, not a cabinet officer.

In an extremely creepy and little-known era of American history, Madison mistakenly believed that the best course for America was to stay out of the Napoleonic Wars involving France and England, by refusing to trade with both sides. The U.S. embargoed all trade with its two largest trading partners, which was but a minor inconvenience to either Britain or France, while it devastated the burgeoning U.S. economy with exports falling by 80 percent in 1808 from the last pre-embargo year of 1807. U.S. citizens who violated the embargo were jailed for treason or periodically executed. Enforcing the embargo was so difficult that Jefferson empowered the army to arrest and try U.S. citizens. Indeed, there were so many violators who could have been executed, that Jefferson instructed the army to only execute the most flagrant smugglers as there would have been too many executions for the public to bear. Gallatin realized the embargo would not work, however Madison insisted that all it required was more time and resources. Madison clung to this naïve point of view until the last day of Jefferson’s administration when the embargo was terminated by an act of Congress. This is the only time in U.S. history that the president was empowered to use the army to enforce the law among ordinary citizens. Wills describes Jefferson’s actions as state sponsored terrorism and believes that it was far worse than the Alien and Sedition Acts from the Adams administration, which Jefferson and Madison so vehemently opposed as unconstitutional.

The next section of the book deals with Madison’s first term. As mentioned earlier, Wills provides no explanation as to why after being ostracized by Washington, detested by Adams, and a miserable Secretary of State under Jefferson that (1) the American public would elect Madison to be President, (2) Madison’s own party would even nominate him, and finally (3) why the anti-social and obviously frustrated Madison would want to be president. Some explanation would be appreciated by the reader.

The remainder of the book covers the ineptitude of the early Madison administration and over time his growing competence in running the government during his second term.

Wills documents the challenge an idealist such as Madison faces when forced to deal in a complex reality with many differing agendas, in particular since Madison is incapable of leading and resorts to attempting to work behind the scenes like a legislator, when the role of president requires a considerable degree of high-profile activity. Then, as now, confusion reigns during these circumstances. The Federalist party weakens much to Madison’s approval, however his Republican party splinters into four factions. He has two open Supreme Court seats where the appointment process is downright comical. He rejects one qualified individual’s petition for the post, while appointing someone who refuses to take the post. Another nominee is going blind and recuses himself suggesting a fourth individual to Madison, who flees across the Canadian border as a result of financial improprieties.

A major portion of the book is devoted to the little discussed War of 1812 that Madison blundered into. It is easy to see why this time period of U.S. History and the War of 1812 are glossed over in U.S. History books (ever seen or heard of a War of 1812 Memorial?) Wills concludes this section by pointing out that the War of 1812, for as inconsequential as it appears in US history from our present perspective, and from the fact that so little was accomplished or changed, but that there were three significant impacts of the war. First, that five veterans of the war either heroes, or perceived heroes, in the case of William Henry Harrison, would become U.S. presidents in the future. Second, that the superior performance of the very earliest graduates of West Point, America’s first service academy, legitimized the institution and led to increased funding for it. Third, and most tellingly, rather than dampen the interest in the US public for additional conflict, the War of 1812 created a strong desire in the American public for future military campaigns that would become an almost generational constant down to the present day.

Within the US, the Federalists are kept at bay by the Virginia backed Republicans, who strongly supported a weak federal union and states’ rights. The Virginia Republicans would hold the White House for an unprecedented twenty-four years through the consecutive two-term presidencies of Jefferson, Madison and Monroe – yet the Federal government grows ever stronger under the supervision of all three Republican Presidents, as they struggle to protect and govern the small but growing nation. Another noted Republican from Virginia, John Randolph, stated that the Republican’s had won, but sold their souls in the process.

As Wills later concludes, neither the Federalists nor the Republicans prevailed during Madison’s presidency. Instead, it was the forces of modernism that prevailed. As a result of the practical necessity of governing the growing country, the Republicans were forced from their long held ideal of an agrarian republic. Banks for commerce and a standing navy and army to protect its interests were all becoming necessities to protect life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for the citizens of the United States. Ultimately, as again pointed out by Wills, it is a growing sense of nationalism rather than regionalism or states’ rights, that is the greatest legacy of the Madison presidency.

While this battle for states’ rights continues to the present day, and was in many ways at the forefront of the domestic policies of the Trump Administration (hopefully ending three days after I write this review, on January 20, 2021), it could be stated that the seeds of the coming Civil War, only 45 years from the end of Madison’s presidency, while germinated during the American Revolution, are tragically planted during the Madison Presidency.

On one whimsical note, Wills discusses Madison’s involvement in a large land scandal involving all the territory from Florida to the Mississippi River centering upon the Georgia legislature. It is known as the Yazoo scandal, and Madison and his colleagues are known as the “Yazoo men”. I have always loved this scandal, simply for the name alone, which is perfect for a land swindle gone bad, which is what it was.
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Ricardo Mio
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Madison as flawed politician
Reviewed in the United States on October 26, 2015
When we think of James Madison, we think of “The Father of the Constitution,” a bookish theoretician who successfully navigated the political waters of the early American republic, and our nation’s fourth president. Impressive as Madison’s accomplishments were, if you look... See more
When we think of James Madison, we think of “The Father of the Constitution,” a bookish theoretician who successfully navigated the political waters of the early American republic, and our nation’s fourth president. Impressive as Madison’s accomplishments were, if you look deeper there is more to the story that puts the Virginian in a less-flattering light. Like the other Founding Fathers, including sacrosanct George Washington, Madison was human after all, with human flaws, and a politician in the truest sense of the word, which means he could give and take a punch with the best of them. Garry Wills’ short book (164 pages of text) is part of the American Presidents series of which Arthur Schlesinger is general editor. It’s not a biography but rather an account of Madison’s political life with particular emphasis on his eight years as President of the United States.

Wills traces Madison’s development as a political thinker, beginning with his years as a teen under the tutelage of Donald Robertson, to his years at Princeton under professor John Witherspoon, to his years in the Confederation Congress where he and Alexander Hamilton became fast friends and political allies, to his self-imposed crash course on the deficiencies of confederations, which historian Douglas Adair called “probably the most fruitful piece of scholarly research ever carried out by an American.” Undertaken in the spring of 1787, Madison’s intense research was made in preparation for the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. It was his Virginia Plan that would become the blueprint for the new Constitution, and ratified by the states the following year. In April 1789 the new government took effect. George Washington was sworn in as president and consulted with Madison on almost every aspect of running the nation’s executive branch. A great deal was accomplished by Congress that first summer—the Bill of Rights was passed, the federal judiciary system was created, the federal revenue system was enacted, and the executive departments of state, war and treasury were created.

With Alexander Hamilton appointed as treasury secretary, provision for the massive war debt was the next order of business. That’s when the split between Madison and Hamilton began. Up to this point, the two had been in agreement on funding and assumption as the best way to address the crushing war debt. But in the next session, Madison reversed his position and began working in opposition to both Hamilton and Washington. The reason for Madison’s reversal has been analyzed by a number of historians. Wills puts it down to Madison’s provincialism. Overnight, Madison went from being a nationalist (strong central government, industrialization, a standing army, and navy) to a states rights advocate (small government, agriculture, local militias, no navy). Hamilton, Madison and Jefferson worked out a deal whereby Hamilton’s funding and assumption bill was passed by Congress, in exchange for moving the nation''s Capital south of the Mason-Dixon line, to the banks of the Potomac. Madison and Jefferson soon regretted the deal. When Jefferson became president in 1801, he began dismantling the Hamiltonian Federalist’s programs in what has been called “The Second American Revolution.” Eight years later, when Madison became president, he continued the process, including (when the charter expired) dismantling the Bank of the United States. It might have worked had it not been for the ill-conceived and ruinous shipping blockade, started by Jefferson and continued by Madison. It divided their party, destroyed the New England economy, weakened the national economy, and led to the War of 1812. The nation was woefully ill-prepared for war, and the federal capital, including the White House, was burned to the ground. To reverse a series of military blunders and bring the British to the negotiating table, Madison was forced to resurrect several of Hamilton''s policies, including rechartering the Bank, creating a standing army, and rebuilding the navy. Despite a long series of blunders (illustrated in detail by Wills), in the end Madison managed to right the ship of state, negotiate a peace treaty with England and end the war. With the blockade lifted at long last, the economy recovered quickly and Madison ended his term in office on a high note.

In some ways, this is a painful book to read, because of the damaging mistakes made by both Jefferson and Madison, particularly with enactment of the blockade, mistakes that could have been avoided had the two dispensed with their hatred of Hamilton and England, jettisoned their agrarian society ideals, embraced the future, and been more pragmatic leaders. In the closing chapter, Wills points out that it was not Federalism that Jefferson and Madison opposed, but modernity. And, try as they might, they couldn’t turn back the clock to an Arcadian past. The nation had changed, and the war had everything to do with it. “War is a centralizing force,” Wills writes. “The centralization that took place in 1812-15 was inclusive. It incorporated the energies and informality of the western territories. It made citizens more aware of the different parts of the nation. Psychologically, it shrank America. People huddled together. Tolerance grew. Dogmatism decreased.”

Historian Garry Wills is a thinker; he sees things others do not. “James Madison” is a think piece. It will make you see a number of crucial events in our early nation’s history differently, particularly Madison’s contributions as political theorist and national leader. I recommend the book highly.
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Metallurgist
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Succeeds admirably in its goals
Reviewed in the United States on March 14, 2008
As stated in the Editor''s Note, the American President series, of which this book is a part, aims to ".... present the grand panorama of our chief executive in volumes compact enough for the busy reader, lucid enough for the student, authoritative enough for the scholar."... See more
As stated in the Editor''s Note, the American President series, of which this book is a part, aims to ".... present the grand panorama of our chief executive in volumes compact enough for the busy reader, lucid enough for the student, authoritative enough for the scholar." At 164 pages of text, this book is certainly compact. It is quite lucid and it is surely authoritative. The book is not, however, an analysis of the life of James Madison, or even a comprehensive presentation of his whole life. It discusses the many facets of his life in terms of his contribution to the United States. As the man considered to be the "Father of the Constitution", a co-author of The Federalist (the series of essays that were instrumental in getting the Constitution ratified), as a leader in the first Congress, Secretary of State (under Thomas Jefferson) and then as a two term President, Madison made immense contributions to the founding and early government of the Untied States. All these facets of his career are discussed, but given the compactness of the book they are only discussed briefly.

The primary thing that I came away with was the feeling that Madison was an enigma. I guess that this just shows my ignorance of the finer points of American history, as historians have been trying, largely unsuccessfully, for the last two hundred years to explain the enigma that was James Madison. Indeed, Madison was also vexed with the difficulty of trying to explain his many contradictory actions. In working on the Constitution he unsuccessfully tried to give the federal government the power to veto state laws. Yet he later was secretly the author of the Virginia Resolutions that promulgated the idea that the states had the right to nullify federal law. He opposed Hamilton''s Bank of the US, but then tried to renew the charter and when this failed he supported the formation of the second Bank of the US. He opposed war, yet he led the US into a war with Britain for which it was completely unprepared. Garry Wills tries to come to grips with these, and other contradictions, but I do not think that he was completely successful, but then again neither has anyone else. For me, just realizing that this conundrum exits was worth the price of the book.
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Roger Shreeve
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it is good for someone interested in learning more about the 4th ...
Reviewed in the United States on July 30, 2018
James Madison, the President during the War of 1812, "Father of the U.S. Constitution" is a fascinating individual to study. The issue from the American Presidents Series is worth the purchase for a "more than a glance" review of the man. Its not a... See more
James Madison, the President during the War of 1812, "Father of the U.S. Constitution" is a fascinating individual to study. The issue from the American Presidents Series is worth the purchase for a "more than a glance" review of the man. Its not a definite biography; however, it is good for someone interested in learning more about the 4th POTUS. I recommended it for anyone interested in the man, period, and politics of the time (1780s-1810s).
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Steven PetersonTop Contributor: Baseball
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Well written addition to the series
Reviewed in the United States on May 4, 2008
Garry Wills, eminent author on the American mind, writes a literate and compelling political biography of James Madison, "Jemmy" as he was called earlier in his life. Here was someone whose resume seems made to become president. Yet this man, "the Father of the... See more
Garry Wills, eminent author on the American mind, writes a literate and compelling political biography of James Madison, "Jemmy" as he was called earlier in his life. Here was someone whose resume seems made to become president. Yet this man, "the Father of the Constitution," was not near the success that one might have guessed from his background.

His pedigree includes: key figure in the Constitutional Convention--from getting George Washington to attend (a coup) to helping structure the agenda (from amending the Articles of Confederation to trashing the extant constitution and replacing it with something very different); to serving as a major figure in the early Congress (including helping to produce a Bill of Rights), to organizing the first political party (along with Thomas Jefferson, although it took Martin Van Buren and his circle to perfect the arrangement).

Wills begins by observing that there is consensus that (Page 1) ". . .Madison, though one of the nation''s greatest founders, is not one of its greatest presidents." Wills suggests that one can account for this by (a) bad luck falling Madison''s way (which Wills discounts); (b) his temperament (he had more legislative than executive talent--more apt an explanation in Wills'' view); (c) errors (a very poor reading of the British Empire, leading to foolish foreign policy and the War of 1812).

As with other in "The American Presidents" series, this begins with a brief sketch of the future president''s youth, his early career, and his rise to the presidency (from the Constitutional Convention to Congress to Jefferson''s Secretary of State). Trivia is included: Madison was the shortest American President ever.

This represents a standard, literate Wills'' work. His literary approach is as expected (what a wonderful command of the language!). The work nicely lays out why Madison was not as good a President as one might have guessed--as well as his later life.

All in all, an estimable addition to this valuable series.
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Jon
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Excellent summary
Reviewed in the United States on June 12, 2017
Great job of pointing out what an ineffective President Madison and what great effort he put into cover up his earlier views before he fell totally under Jefferson''s influence. Interesting that he was such a effective legislator and such a weak executive. Surprising we have... See more
Great job of pointing out what an ineffective President Madison and what great effort he put into cover up his earlier views before he fell totally under Jefferson''s influence. Interesting that he was such a effective legislator and such a weak executive. Surprising we have a democratic president every 100 years that he is unprepared for, Madison the war of 1812, Wilson WW 1 and Obama Isis
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Top reviews from other countries

Tnwilk72
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Surprising book
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on March 15, 2019
This book is a reminder that politically ineffective - and unhinged - presidents are not a new thing. As a writer of the Constitution and the Federalist Papers, Madison deserves his place in history, which is just as well because as a President he was not very good. He...See more
This book is a reminder that politically ineffective - and unhinged - presidents are not a new thing. As a writer of the Constitution and the Federalist Papers, Madison deserves his place in history, which is just as well because as a President he was not very good. He seems to have wrong about every major issue that came up during his presidency, while his constant suspicions about conspiracies reminded me of the current occupant of The White House (his fear that Ben Franklin was an English agent was especially entertaining).
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Richard Atkinson
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Good Intro but a bit more detail would have been nice
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 7, 2014
With the presidency of Madison we can start to see the rise of some of the issues that will beset the US until this current day. Madison appears to be rightly recognised as a details man, a man who drafts the rules but is not well suited to being the Man to lead the...See more
With the presidency of Madison we can start to see the rise of some of the issues that will beset the US until this current day. Madison appears to be rightly recognised as a details man, a man who drafts the rules but is not well suited to being the Man to lead the country, more guy that the President before him wanted in the room (right up until they fell out with him) The most fascinating part of his story is the way he was involved in being unconstitutional in order to bring about a better new constitution...as the author calls it an "anti-constitutional convention". I wonder if he was around today just how he would feel about how tied to the new constitution the US now appears to be and if he would be looking to engineer a New Anti Constitutional Convention? The parts dealing with the reasons and outcomes of the 1812 war were also fascinating particularly for a War whose details are certainly not much taught in European schools So a great wee read and if you are looking for an intro before digging deeper would recommend this book.
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michael Billington
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A genius of Constitutional Theory, who struggled in the Presidency
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 24, 2013
A well written, balanced account of the Madison Presidency. Provides a focus on Madison''s two terms in the White House, which was dominated by the War of 1812. Would reccommend for someone who is interested in how Madison struggled to put his theories of Constitutional...See more
A well written, balanced account of the Madison Presidency. Provides a focus on Madison''s two terms in the White House, which was dominated by the War of 1812. Would reccommend for someone who is interested in how Madison struggled to put his theories of Constitutional government into practice when faced with the realities of governing.
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Kindle Customer
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Another classic by Gary Wills
Reviewed in Canada on January 16, 2017
Once again, Gary Wills proves that, in matters of historical interpretation, he is an original thinker. A great little book, well worth serious study.
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