Synopses & Reviews
In 1941 the historian Irving Brant wrote, and#147;Among all the men who shaped the present government of the United States of America,and#8221; Brant wrote, and#147;the one who did the most is known the least.and#8221; Brant concluded, and#147;When a man rises to greatness in youth, it is with his youth that we should first concern ourselves.and#8221;
Seven decades have passed since Brant wrote those words. Yet, through the historyand#8217;s increasingly dusty lens, Madison has become ever more a stranger. The default impression of Madison remains as remote and severe as the title of a 1994 book: If Men Were Angels: James Madison and the Heartless Empire of Reason. Most Americans, if they know anything about him at all, see him as calculating, intellectual, politically astute, dry, and remote.
This book finally attempts to answer Brantand#8217;s call. Madisonand#8217;s life had two major acts, but like a backward play, the climax occurred after the first. In researching that crucial first act, the research, Signer found, again and again, a surprising pattern. Madison was a fighter. He usually did not want to fight. He took no joy in the public arena and in the confrontation with other men. Indeed, the conflicts often left him so anxious he became physically sick. But he saw the fights as necessary events in the larger purpose of the life he set out for himself at a young age: to push the American state to achieve its potential, no matter what obstacles the country and small-minded men might throw in his way.
Young James Madisonand#8217;s reluctant but firm decision to hurl himself into the ring, again and again, for the common good prove that leadership is possible in a democracy, and that ideas can make a difference. His story shows how much democracy depends on leaders like Madison, and how hollow democracy will be without statesmen.
Signerand#8217;s book takes the reader into a journey of how Madison became Madison. The stunning story of his victories is simply incomprehensible without the passion, charisma, energy, humor, and fierceness of Madison the actual man.
"Michael Signerand#8217;s Becoming Madison
offers a gripping portrait of the emergence and development of the leadership of one of our countryand#8217;s great architects. We are wonderfully reminded of the power of a single personand#8217;s passion, humility, and statesmanship in shaping a nationand#8217;s destiny." and#150;Michael Useem, Professor of Management and Director of the Center for Leadership and Change at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
"Sound and revealing." and#151;Wall Street Journal
"Highly readable and often insightful treatment...a perfect introduction to a deeply private and immensely important man."and#151;Kirkus Reviews
"Intellectual history at its finestand#133;an essential biography of an essential Founder.and#8221;and#151;Richmond Times-Dispatch
"In this engaging new study, Singer wrestles with the early life and career of James Madison and attempts to explain why Madison remains unheralded among the founding generation. ... According to Singer, however, Madisonand#8217;s humble status in American memory is not a function of his failures but rather a product of his successes...Highly recommended."and#151;CHOICE
"James Madison would be called a "flip-flopper" in today's political climate. Thank God he changed his mind and concluded that adding a Bill of Rights to the Constitution was not just good politics but necessary policy. This is just one of the wonderful aspects of James Madison's life that Michael Signer captures so well in this important biography. Our nation owes huge debts to Madison, and today's civic leaders owe a huge debt to Signer for reminding us why."and#151;US Senator Tim Kaine
"Becoming Madison is superb. As a native Virginian who grew up going to steeplechase races at Montpelier, the history is lively and engaging. But Michael Signerand#8217;s greatest contribution is to turn a biography of Madison into a manual on leadership that is as relevant and valuable today as it was 200 years ago.and#8221;and#151;Anne-Marie Slaughter, Director of Policy Planning, U.S. State Department, 2009-2011 and President and CEO, New America Foundation
"For centuries James Madison has been overshadowed by the more striking and charismatic members of Americaand#8217;s founding generation. And Madisonand#8217;s youth has been even less well known than his maturity. Michael Signer goes far toward filling this historical gap with an engaging, insightful account of how the unassuming young Madison became the hero of the Constitution." and#151;H. W. Brands, University of Texas at Austin, author of Andrew Jackson, His Life and Times and The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace
"This engagingly written, carefully researched book is the fullest account we have of the development of Madison's thought and statesmanship through the promotion and drafting of the Constitution to the greatest triumph of his life, the ratification of the Virginia Convention of 1788. Signer shows how there, in face-to-face debate with Patrick Henry, Madison proved what John Marshall termed Madison's unmatched ability to convince could overcome Henry's supreme power to persuade. This capacity characterized Madison's style and career in a way that allowed him to become the master philosopher and practitioner of Lincoln's Union 'conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all ... are created equal.' Signer also shows brilliantly how Madison's studies at Princeton under John Witherspoon began an influential and revealing partnership in public spirited citizenship for good government. Altogether the book brings us closer to understanding how Madison became able to be, all things considered, the father of the Constitution." and#151;Ralph Ketcham, Maxwell Professor Emeritus of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, author of James Madison: A Biography
"Michael Signerand#8217;s Becoming Madison offers a gripping portrait of the emergence and development of the leadership of one of our countryand#8217;s great architects. We are wonderfully reminded of the power of a single personand#8217;s passion, humility, and statesmanship in shaping a nationand#8217;s destiny." and#150;Michael Useem, Professor of Management and Director of the Center for Leadership and Change at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
and#147;One of the great contributions of Michael Signerand#8217;s Becoming Madison is the relevance of Madisonand#8217;s role in the epochal debates surrounding the birth of our nation to the issues we face today, especially Madisonand#8217;s commitment to attacking ideas rather than individuals. The way Signer captures the palpable tension, vitriol, and passion in Madisonand#8217;s war of words and ideas with Henry is masterful.and#8221;and#150;Charles S. Robb, former Virginia governor and United States senator
In a time when America is desperately searching for leadership comes this inspiring story of James Madisonand#8217;s coming of age, providing incisive and original insight into the Founding Father who did the most but is known the least.
Michael Signer takes a fresh look at the life of our fourth president. His focus is on Madison before he turned thirty-six, the years in which he did his most enduring work: battling with Patrick Henryand#151;the most charismatic politician in revolutionary America, whose political philosophy and ruthless tactics eerily foreshadowed those of todayand#8217;s Tea Partyand#151;over religious freedom; introducing his framework for a strong central government; becoming the intellectual godfather of the Constitution; and providing a crucial role at Virginiaand#8217;s convention to ratify the Constitution in 1788, when the nationand#8217;s future hung in the balance.
Signerand#8217;s young James Madison is a role model for the leaders so badly needed today: a man who overcame daunting personal issues (including crippling anxiety attacks) to battle an entrenched and vicious status quo. Michael Signerand#8217;s brilliant analysis of and#147;Madisonand#8217;s Method,and#8221; the means by which Madison systematically destroyed dangerous ideas and left in their stead an enduring and positive vision for the United States, is wholly original and uniquely relevant today.
About the Author
is a political theorist, lawyer, politician and author. He holds a J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law; a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California at Berkeley, where he was a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow; and a B.A. in politics, magna cum laude
, from Princeton University. He is also a lecturer at the department of politics at the University of Virginia, where he teaches an advanced undergraduate seminar titled, "Leadership, Statesmanship, and Democracy" and Visiting Full Professor at Virginia Tech's School of Public and International Affairs. Signer is managing principal of Madison Law and Strategy Group and directs the firm's Charlottesville office, where he practices corporate and regulatory law. In 2009 he was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor of Virginia. He currently chairs the Dominion Project a Virginia political action committee.
Michael Signer's writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The New Republic, The Richmond Times-Dispatch, USA Today, The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, U.S. News and World Report, and Corporate Counsel and he has appeared on MSNBC, Fox News, the BBC, and NPR. Signer lives in Arlington, VA.