By Jeff Burns
name a founding father. (Yes, I know that’s not a PC term, but anyone who knows
me would agree that PC is one of the last descriptors that anyone would use for
me.) You probably immediately thought of
Washington, Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson for example. And because you are
intelligent and interested enough to follow the Histocrats, you probably
thought of James Madison too. However,
I’d be willing to bet that he wasn’t the first name that crossed your mind. What do you know about “Little Jemmy” as he
was nicknamed? Many people know that he
was the smallest president to date (hence his nickname), standing at 5 ½ feet
or less and barely crossing the 100 pounds threshold. They know he was the fourth president, and
that he led the United States into the War of 1812, becoming the only sitting
President to actively command troops in war during the disastrous British
invasion and occupation of Washington D.C.
They probably also know that his young and vivacious wife, Dolly, was a
social butterfly and society trendsetter who heroically oversaw the rescue of
important objects in the White House.
people, though, may not remember as much about his pre-presidential career, his
leading role at the Constitutional Convention, not only in the writing of the
Constitution, but also in its ratification as advocate and co-writer of The
Federalist essays. In Madison's Gift: Five Partnerships That Built America, historian David O. Stewart seeks to restore Madison to
his proper place in the framer/founder pantheon, as one of the most important,
if not the most important.
As Stewart points out, Madison’s
contemporaries recognized his importance in the founding of the United States;
more cities and counties in the country have been named after Madison than after
any other presidents. However, over the years, the soft-spoken, seemingly
introverted, bookworm has been overshadowed by other figures.
Stewart accomplishes his goal by
exploring Madison’s relationships with 5 important figures, George Washington, Alexander
Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Dolly Madison, and James Monroe, writing about each
relationship separately. He uses letters
and documents (plenty of notes and citations) by and about Madison and each of
the other figures to create an elaborate picture of the relationship and how
that relationship was crucial in shaping the direction of the young
country. According to Stewart,
was the ability to work with each person, in spite of occasional differences
and rivalries, and to make compromises and adjustments on order to reach his
ultimate goal of a self-sustaining constitutional republic.
Madison’s relationships were very
fluid. For example, he worked extremely
closely with Alexander Hamilton in the development of the Constitution and the
ratification struggle, but them found himself a leader of the political party
formed specifically in opposition to Hamiltonian ideas. Through the first years of the Washington
administration, Madison was the chief presidential advisor, but he found himself
pushed aside as Hamilton became closer.
Madison and Monroe were close friends but also intense political rivals
at times. And of course, Dolly brought a
tremendous personal change in the older, stoic Madison, drawing him out of his
Madison’s Gift is a very
interesting book that accomplishes the goal of restoring Madison to his
rightful place, and the reader gains insights into the personalities of all the
characters. Learning about them through
the deep personal and political relationships they shared brings them to life
in a way that other histories and biographies might not.