Founding Friendship: George Washington, James Madison, and the Creation of the American Republic

Article excerpt

Founding Friendship: George Washington, James Madison, and the Creation of the American Republic. By Stuart Leibiger. (Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, c. 1999. Pp. xii, 284. $35.00, ISBN 0-81391882-0.)

Long ago and far away, when I toiled on The Harvard Guide to American History (Cambridge, Mass., Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1974; rev. ed., Frank Freidel, ed.), we had a standing joke about monographs that filled "a much-needed gap in the literature." In this deft study of the political friendship and collaboration between Washington and Madison, however, Stuart Leibiger explores and exploits a surprising omission in the dense literature examining the adoption of the Constitution and the origins of the first party system. It is a commonplace of this literature that the two men worked closely on the project of the Constitution, and that Madison subsequently served as the first president's parliamentary chief minister--whatever that means--before the mounting tensions within the administration and the controversies over the domestic and foreign policies favored by Hamilton created a breach that proved too bitter to repair. Yet the relationship has never received the sustained, careful analysis it gets here, and the result is a valuable contribution to our understanding of a key personal facet of American politics during the years from the end of the Revolutionary War to the fallout over the Jay Treaty.

Leibiger's account of the relationship operates at two levels, one more problematic than the other. In his opening chapters he portrays the birth of a genuine personal friendship, invoking a four-stage typology (drawn from the work of one Elizabeth Bott) that begins with "unfamiliar or peripheral" status, as Madison was perceived by Washington, and progresses through "noneffective" and "effective" stages before attaining, by October 1785, the final heights of "intimate" friendship (p. 54). That the relationship must have followed some trajectory of this sort seems undeniable, and it is of course well known that Madison visited Mount Vernon regularly, and occasionally for reasonably extended stays, during the period of their closest political association. …