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James Madison and the Making of Americaby Kevin Gutzman
Synopses & Reviews
In James Madison and the Making of America, historian Kevin Gutzman looks beyond the way James Madison is traditionally seen — as "The Father of the Constitution” — to find a more complex and sometimes contradictory portrait of this influential Founding Father and the ways in which he influenced the spirit of today's United States. Instead of an idealized portrait of Madison, Gutzman treats readers to the flesh-and-blood story of a man who often performed his founding deeds in spite of himself: Madisons fame rests on his participation in the writing of The Federalist Papers and his role in drafting the Bill of Rights and Constitution. Today, his contribution to those documents is largely misunderstood. He thought that the Bill of Rights was unnecessary and insisted that it not be included in the Constitution, a document he found entirely inadequate and predicted would soon fail. Madison helped to create the first American political party, the first party to call itself “Republican”, but only after he had argued that political parties, in general, were harmful. Madison served as Secretary of State and then as President during the early years of the United States and the War of 1812; however, the American foreign policy he implemented in 1801-1817 ultimately resulted in the British burning down the Capitol and the White House. In so many ways, the contradictions both in Madisons thinking and in the way he governed foreshadowed the conflicted state of our Union now. His greatest legacy—the disestablishment of Virginias state church and adoption of the libertarian Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom—is often omitted from discussion of his career. Yet, understanding the way in which Madison saw the relationship between the church and state is key to understanding the real man. Kevin Gutzman's James Madison and the Making of America promises to become the standard biography of our fourth President.
"Gutzman's account of the man many consider to be the Father of the Constitution is a meticulously researched work, relying on primary sources — most notably Madison's own extensive writings, including his famous Federalist Papers. However, the book is punishingly dull for the general reader, with an account of the Philadelphia Convention that runs beyond 80 pages, including many lines similar to this one: 'When the convention next met, on Monday, May 28, a rule allowing any member to call for yeas and nays to be recorded on any vote was debated.' Gutzman (coauthor, Who Killed the Constitution?) is unable to edit his play-by-play, as though he was recording it live instead of hundreds of years later. Madison's wife, the controversial Dolley, appears only briefly, but Madison's friendship with Thomas Jefferson gets some attention. Gutzman provides occasional comment on the proceedings — he notes that Alexander Hamilton was 'never one to tire of hearing his own voice' — but by the time one reads that the relatively obscureÂ Marbury vs. Madison was 'perhaps the most famous judicial decision in American history' — an assertion that some might rebuke — it's clear that the author is too close to his subject to bring an editorial eye to either the man or his work. Scholars of the time will greatly appreciate Gutzman's attention to detail and make up the bulk of his readership. B&W photos. (Jan.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Kevin R. C. Gutzman is the author of New York Times bestseller The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution and other titles. He is an associate professor of history at Western Connecticut State University and has appeared on CNN, Fox News and over 100 radio programs. He lives in Bethel, Connecticut.
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