James Madison: A Son of Virginia & a Founder of the Nation

James Madison: A Son of Virginia & a Founder of the Nation

James Madison: A Son of Virginia & a Founder of the Nation

James Madison: A Son of Virginia & a Founder of the Nation

Synopsis

From Broadwater's view, no single figure can tell us more about the origins of the American republic than our fourth president. Madison was remarkably resilient and survived repeated setbacks in the War of 1812. Yet, Madison never fully grappled with American slavery.

Excerpt

If, save only for George Washington, he was the most indispensable of the founders, there was nothing flamboyant about James Madison. Reserved, soft spoken, and slightly built, he seemed incapable of fiery oratory. Guarded about a private life that was unremarkable except for a fortuitous marriage to the effervescent Dolley Payne Todd, he left behind no scandals waiting to be exposed. Irving Brant, who wrote a six-volume biography of Madison, once complained that nineteenth-century editors of Madison’s papers had so sanitized his letters as to make him appear to be nothing more than “a disembodied brain.” To many historians, the intellectual creativity Madison demonstrated in helping to write the U.S. Constitution and The Federalist far overshadowed the rest of his career, including his two terms as a supposedly mediocre president.

Yet Madison enjoyed rare success as a practicing politician, winning election after election and holding a series of public offices. “My life,” he wrote an earlier biographer, “has been so much of a public one that any review of it must mainly consist, of the agency which was my lot in public transactions.” How did James Madison, an unimposing speaker and an often indifferent prose stylist, with no military honors and no personal magnetism—at least in large groups or formal settings—make a career in politics?

He often worked quietly, sometimes obscuring his own accomplishments. “He is,” the French diplomat Louis Otto wrote, “a man one must study for a long time in order to make a fair appraisal of him.” His victories came through the familiar combination of dedication, talent, and connections, with no secret weapons or magic formulas. He worked hard, and he did his homework. He learned to accommodate himself to disappointments, and he persisted in the craft of politics when public service offered few pecuniary rewards. He brought a keen intelligence to his duties, although his mental gifts were more conceptual than pragmatic. He had a better sense of humor than did his best friend, the more charismatic Thomas Jefferson. A penchant for off-color jokes notwithstanding, Madison avoided any hint of impropriety and rarely allowed his own conduct to become an issue. He and Jefferson shared a similar commitment to the separation of church and state, but Madison never faced the charges of religious infidelity that Jeffer-

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