In James Madison, Garry Wills attempts to answer the question: how could one of our greatest Founding Fathers turn out to beat best just a decent, average president? Well, we know how that turned out.) His temperament and manner were big factors too. The finest part of Madisons performance as president was his concern for preserving the Constitution.
A short work, it focuses on Madison as a political theorist and politician, most particularly as a two-term chief executive who saw, even led, under the exigencies of the moment, the transformation of Jeffersonian republicanism in the direction of federalist nationalism. There we'd learned about the impressment of 'American' sailors by the British, a causus belli, as a great wrong, not of the actual magnitude of the problem nor of the palliatives that the U.S. government might have enforced (viz.
Let me get this out of the way right here: James Madison was a great man. Ultimately, the country rallied around him because screw England, right!? It definitely seems like Madison was the first time the country realized that the Founding Fathers could be fallible and that maybe we should question their decisions. That's why it is hilarious that Lynne Cheney (yes, that Lynne Cheney) just wrote a biography on Madison which I am to understand defends his Presidency.
Wills analyzed Madison's presidency, the good and the bad. He examined several issues that Cheney glossed over, such as Washington not speaking to Madison again after the Jay Treaty controversy. I loved how he summed up Madsion's life at the end of the book: a life spent trying to accommodate principle to political reality Madisons claim on our admiration does not rest on a perfect consistency any more than it rests on his presidency.
His starting point is the "problem" of Madison - how did someone so brilliant at formulating and promoting our constitution become such a lackluster or even weak president? To provide this answer, he shows how characteristics of Madison's whole career and personality combined to create the less than stellar presidency and reasonably disastrous war of 1812. The finest part of Madison's performance as president was his concern for preserving the Constitution. Know something about Madison before reading this little book, and it will repay attention.
Madison was never counted as one of the great presidents and author Garry Wills acknowledges as such in the opening of the book. Id rather read the long, more paced biographies that give me a complete picture of the person.
It seemed like either Wills was writing with a gun to his head, or that he had originally written a 700 page book and the editors told him to whittle it down to 160.
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. Wills traces Madison's later life during which, like many recent Presidents, he enjoyed greater popularity than while in office. A 'New York Times 'Notable Book The eternal conundrum about James Madison--a key framer of the U.S. Constitution, a formidable political figure, and a man of penetrating analytical intellect and tremendous foresight--is why, when he became chief executive, did he steer the ship of state with such an unsteady hand? For two decades after he left office, he remained tightly bound to the political life of the nation, happily playing the role of popular elder statesman, curiously prefiguring so many of our recent presidents. Yet it was a presidency interesting in itself, for the waging of the first war under the Constitution, and the problem of putting together the genius of political science and the feckless commander in chief is endlessly fascinating.'--Garry Wills on James Madison 'Madison had already composed a brilliant defense of religious liberty, played a pivotal role at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 and made an indispensable contribution to a series of essays ('The Federalist') that served as foundational documents on the United States' constitutional democracy. But it is Madison as the nation's fourth president (1809-17) that is the subject of Garry Wills's short, finely written biography, and his achievements as chief executive are comparatively meager. Bogus, 'The Nation' 'Wills's book is the first volume to appear in the new American Presidents series edited by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. Wills is amazing. Wood, 'The New York Review of Books' 'Historian Garry Wills takes on the seeming paradox of this 'genius of political science and feckless commander in chief' in his concise but solid 'James Madison' . But the reason is more complex and the author is good at laying out that failure.'--Roger Fontaine, 'The Washington Times ' 'Wills is especially adept at laying open Madison, showing his strengths and shortcomings, then showing how those traits provided the framework for the presidency to help this country emerge from the war more united and more prepared to take a place on the world stage . Insightful.'--'The Roanoke Times ' 'Wills's analysis of the Constitutional Convention and the War if 1812 is particularly fresh and incisive.'--'Booklist' (starred review) 'A thoughtful and sympathetic evaluation of the complex character that made Madison a great theoretician of government but a mediocre practitioner of it.'--'Kirkus Reviews' 'Written with flair, this clear and balanced account is based on a sure handling of the material. Highly recommended.'--T.J. Schaeper, St. Bonaventure University, 'Library Journal' '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 distractions.
Schlesinger, Jr. James Madison Jr. was an American statesman and Founding Father who served as the fourth President of the United States from 1809 to 1817. Wills describes James Madison as "an unimpressive little man with libraries in his brain," the "Father of the Constitution", and the nation's fourth president. It showed a wonderful insight to the man who became the fourth President of the United States of America.