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Quietly Revolutionary

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The Weekly Standard

The achievement(s) of James Madison
PATRICK ALLITT

Aug 18, 2014

 

If you’re in your 20s or 30s and still living with Mom and Dad, remind them, next time they nag you about getting your own place, that James Madison wrote the Constitution while still living off his parents. Note, however, that this retort will only be effective if you, too, have created, explained, and made operational a political system durable enough to thrive for more than two centuries and flexible enough to accommodate the shift from agrarian republic to world superpower.

 

Most of the Founding Fathers have enjoyed the monster-biography treatment in recent years, and Lynne Cheney’s new book on Madison adds more weight to the groaning shelf. She claims he’s been underappreciated recently by comparisons with flashier contemporaries like Alexander Hamilton and more romantic figures like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Outside the world of political scientists, that may be true—though there’s little chance of Madison’s name ever falling into obscurity.

 

There wasn’t much excitement in his life, so it is very much to Cheney’s credit that James Madison: A Life Reconsidered is so consistently engrossing. It’s an almost week-by-week account of Madison’s work in the Continental Congress, the Virginia Assembly, the Constitutional Convention, the House of Representatives, the State Department, and the White House, enriched by lengthy letters to and from the most famous Americans of his era. Madison is the ideal subject for any writer who wants to show what happens when big ideas meet practical politics in an era of great upheaval.

 

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