A Companion to James Madison and James Monroe

By Mayo-Bobee, Dinah | The Journal of Southern History, May 2014 | Go to article overview

A Companion to James Madison and James Monroe


Mayo-Bobee, Dinah, The Journal of Southern History


A Companion to James Madison and James Monroe. Edited by Stuart Leibiger. Blackwell Companions to American History. (Malden, Mass.: Wiley Blackwell, 2013. Pp. [xx], 585. $195.00, ISBN 978-0-470-65522-1.)

In this new anthology, editor Stuart Leibiger of La Salle University has compiled thirty-two essays that explore the lives and often overlapping careers of Virginians James Madison and James Monroe. Representing the research of several noted historians, including Jack N. Rakove, Michael Zuckert, and J. C. A. Stagg, the essays vary in style and content, but all provide details and informed analyses of the contributions and limitations that shaped these Founders' political and personal choices. Even though the work endeavors to bring Monroe out of the shadows, more than half the essays look at Madison, which is understandable. While the two men often mirrored each other in terms of their accomplishments and political philosophies, Madison attended the Constitutional Convention in 1787, was instrumental in gaining ratification in Virginia, and played an important part in New York's acceptance of the Constitution through writing and publishing twenty-nine of the eighty-five Federalist essays. A Companion to James Madison and James Monroe also provides important information regarding both men's personal lives and their views on slavery, which were complex and are worthy of extensive coverage.

The book attempts an easy transition to Monroe, but because many of Monroe's most notable political accomplishments occurred while he and Madison worked together, the latter also plays an integral part in the remaining essays. As a result, six of the final thirteen essays contain scholarship dealing with interactions between Madison and Monroe, especially the period after Monroe's diplomatic appointment by Thomas Jefferson in 1803 and later as secretary of state and secretary of war during Madison's administration. The studies of Monroe's politics by Arthur Scherr, Daniel Preston, and Robert W. Smith and the research into his personal life provided by Meghan C. Budinger are among the seven essays devoted exclusively to James Monroe. These works provide rare looks into Monroe's military service during the American Revolution as well as his policies while president from 1817 to 1826. Each chapter offers an important consideration of the transition from the early republic to the antebellum years in U.S. politics, a period marked by manifest destiny and deepening sectional hostilities over slavery. The final essay is a historiographical survey of scholarship dealing with both men and is a fitting end to this impressive collection.

In their coverage of Madison, the contributors attempt to reconcile his support for a strong central government in the late 1780s with his states' rights position less than a decade later. For example, Rakove attributes this shift to nuanced aspects of Madison's political philosophy that appear convoluted and unconvincing. On the issue of slavery, Jeff Broadwater exposes Madison's contradictory language and actions. In state and national forums Madison attempted to avoid the slavery question, but he had no problem perpetuating the institution despite any misgivings. His lifelong dependence on slave laborers and his views on race created the same confused outpourings that issued from his friend and mentor Thomas Jefferson. However, when attempting to demonstrate Madison's support for those who attacked slavery, such as his onetime secretary Edward Coles, Broadwater glosses over important information when quoting Madison's suspicions that the "former slaves would be denied the social equality that gives to 'freedom more than half its value'" (p. …

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