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Madison's Gift: Five Partnerships That Built America

af David O. Stewart

MedlemmerAnmeldelserPopularitetGennemsnitlig vurderingOmtaler
1805152,941 (4.06)2
"Historian David O. Stewart restores James Madison, sometimes overshadowed by his fellow Founders, to his proper place as the most significant framer of the new nation. Short, plain, balding, neither soldier nor orator, low on charisma and high on intelligence, Madison cared more about achieving results than taking the credit. To reach his lifelong goal of a self-governing constitutional republic, he blended his talents with those of key partners. It was Madison who led the drive for the Constitutional Convention and pressed for an effective new government as his patron George Washington lent the effort legitimacy; Madison who wrote the Federalist Papers with Alexander Hamilton to secure the Constitution's ratification; Madison who corrected the greatest blunder of the Constitution by drafting and securing passage of the Bill of Rights with Washington's support; Madison who joined Thomas Jefferson to found the nation's first political party and move the nation toward broad democratic principles; Madison, with James Monroe, who guided the new nation through its first war in 1812, really its Second War of Independence; and it was Madison who handed the reins of government to the last of the Founders, his old friend and sometime rival Monroe. These were the main characters in his life. But it was his final partnership that allowed Madison to escape his natural shyness and reach the greatest heights. Dolley was the woman he married in middle age and who presided over both him and an enlivened White House. This partnership was a love story, a unique one that sustained Madison through his political rise, his presidency, and a fruitful retirement"--… (mere)
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Summary: A biography of our fourth president, through the lens of five key partnerships he formed that helped establish a new nation.

Of the Founders of the United States, James Madison seems always to be somewhat in the shadows of the more brilliant lights of Ben Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and even Alexander Hamilton. He played pivotal roles in the Continental Congress, the drafting and ratification of the Constitution, the establishment of a government under that Constitution, the formation of the first real political party, and helping the country survive a war with a Great Britain that was vastly more powerful. Yet he was soft-spoken, lacking in the skills to be a battle field leader, or the charisma that naturally commanded followings.

David O. Stewart helps us to see that Madison's gift was his ability to collaborate substantively with personalities often stronger and different than his, bringing his own gifts of political astuteness to those partnerships. Stewart renders the story of Madison's life through five of these partnerships:

1. Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton was far more flamboyant but the collaboration of these two in the Continental Congress, staving off soldier uprisings by coming up with financing means, and later, working together to draft the Constitution. They teamed up to write the Federalist Papers, providing a formidable intellectual defense and explication of the Constitution, that resulted in ratification of the Constitution. These Papers continue to be a primary resource for Constitutional scholars. His understanding of human failings and the systems of checks and balances between branches of government, houses of Congress, and federal and state government was perhaps his most profound contribution.

2. George Washington. As a fellow Virginian, he worked with Washington on everything from Potomac navigation to serving as his adviser while giving leadership in Congress in how to turn the Constitution into a functioning government. He played a pivotal role in the ratification of the Bill of Rights, without which the Constitution may not have survived.

3. Thomas Jefferson. Both men were lovers of books, land- and slave-owners troubled with slavery and making ends meet, and Virginians. As they observed the centralizing tendencies inherent in the policies of Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, they came together to form the Democrat Republican party as a check against these tendancies, and effectively collaborated to elect Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe to presidencies spanning 24 years.

4. James Monroe. This was perhaps one of the most interesting of partnerships because at the start, the two were political rivals. Later, when Madison failed to support a treaty with Great Britain that Monroe negotiated, the two fell out for a couple of years. But when tension with Great Britain were leading up to war, Madison, not nearly as accomplished in diplomatic or military matters, asked Monroe to join as his Secretary of State and Secretary of War. Despite the sacking of Washington, they were able to work together to lead resistance that basically led to a stalemate, and a settlement that unleashed American prosperity.

5. Dolly Madison. She was a beautiful complement to the reserved Madison and presided over a social scene far more congenial than the stiff and formal receptions of previous presidents. She was fun, she dressed colorfully, and marked by her self-command. When the British were coming to sack the White House, she rescued the silver, and Peale's painting of Washington, barely escaping herself. In retirement, Stewart describes them as the "Adam and Eve of Montpelier." They ran footraces on the front porch of Montpelier, hosted numerous guests, and regaled them with stories. They set the pace for presidential retirements. Madison contributed significant defenses of the Constitution against the growing threat of nullification. He succeeded Jefferson as rector of the University of Virginia and participated in the 1829 Virginia constitutional convention. Dolly accompanied him on most of this, and nursed him when his health turned increasingly frail.

Stewart, like many other scholars of this period, writes about the struggle with the question of slavery. For Madison, the issue was personal as well as Constitutional. He recognized that the contradiction between enunciated rights and aspirations, and the compromises of slavery carried the risk of tearing the country apart. Yet he incarnated the difficulty of what he wanted to do on principle, and the economic realities of his situation. He never emancipated his slaves.

Stewart helps us to see that leadership, and presidential, greatness may take different forms. In Madison's case, a combination of intellectual gifts and capacity for collaboration was crucial for the work of crafting a government from scratch. To collaborate with markedly different personalities suggests a great sense of personal security and sense of self. His willingness to contribute his own astute wisdom while letting others claim the limelight resulted in enduring good for the nation. Stewart's focus on Madison's collaborations brings to light his distinctive form of greatness. ( )
  BobonBooks | Mar 14, 2019 |
Review of: Madison’s Gift: Five Partnerships that Built America, by David O. Stewart
by Stan Prager (10-17-18)

One of my favored methods for exploring United States history is through the biographies of American presidents, which often provide a critical lens to their respective eras. I have read books on some eighteen of the forty-four men who have held that office to date, and my personal library contains volumes for all of them. More than once I have entertained the notion of reading them in chronological order, but each attempt stumbled on James Madison, number four on the list. One of the most prominent figures of the early Republic—a celebrated Founder who long before he was Chief Executive was renowned as “Father of the Constitution,” key author of the Federalist Papers, member of Congress, partner to Jefferson in creating the first political party, Secretary of State, and so much more—Madison has largely defied biographers because despite his distinguished achievements his elusive personality has somehow mostly been lost to history. We know so much about him, but so little of him. Thus, most attempts at biography drape enormous scholarship over a somewhat colorless outline of the man, and the final product tends to the dull and uninspiring, hardly doing justice to one of the greatest figures of his day.
Fortunately, David O. Stewart has come along with Madison’s Gift: Five Partnerships that Built America, a fresh and unique approach that relies upon key interactions with those whom Madison worked most closely with to sketch in many otherwise obscure contours of a fascinating if somewhat enigmatic character. Madison was physically tiny, and some have sought to cleverly contrast his diminutive size by casting him as a giant of a statesman, but it might be more accurate to instead emphasize his outsize role in the shadows of more flamboyant figures. That is the tack Stewart takes here by examining what we can learn about James Madison from his critical relationships with four other significant Founders—Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson and Monroe—and with his own wife, Dolley. In the process, Stewart crafts an episodic, well-written narrative that also serves as a kind of standalone history of key events in the early Republic.
Madison’s work with Hamilton as they teamed up as chief authors of the Federalist Papers and framers of the new Constitution—one that deeply alarmed those who jealously guarded state sovereignty—is a familiar story. Also much chronicled has been Madison’s long association with fellow-Virginian Jefferson, one that gained strength as they privately connived to turn “faction”—which was widely disparaged as odious—into a legitimate political party. The product of their collaboration was the (first) Republican Party, which was to supplant the rival Federalists identified with Washington, Adams and Hamilton, and go on to dominate the nation’s political landscape for three decades to come.
Less studied but perhaps no less relevant was the close relationship Madison formed with Washington, as speechwriter, advisor and trusted confidante. Alas, this rapport was not to last, as Madison went off to serve in the nation’s first Congress, and Washington spent much of the first several years of his tenure contending with the bitter rivalry between Hamilton and Jefferson, key cabinet members who represented two competing views of the role the federal government should play in the life of the new Republic. Madison stood on both sides of many of these issues, at least initially, but over time he was to align ever more in lockstep with Jefferson and thus increasingly in enmity with Hamilton, eventually alienating Washington by extension. One cannot help but wonder at alternative outcomes had Madison been part of that first cabinet rather than serving as legislator outside of Washington’s direct orbit.
Madison’s relationship with Monroe, another fellow Virginian and slightly younger contemporary, was in many ways far more complicated. Monroe—proud, ultrasensitive, and less cerebral than Madison or the others—was nevertheless a gifted negotiator and strong leader. Sometime rivals, what turned out to be a long association managed to survive strains and even fractures. It is in their on-again off-again alliance that Madison’s willingness to cede center-stage to those seeking the spotlight while nevertheless quietly and skillfully directing the action behind the scenes is made most evident. It was not that Madison was unambitious—he hardly could have achieved offices like Secretary of State or President if that was the case—but unlike many of his peers he did not wear this ambition as a badge, but was content to sidestep the jockeying for recognition that so obsessed the others, while he brilliantly if unobtrusively maneuvered for influence and power. Stewart’s portrait of Madison ever engaged in partnerships is not simply a narrative device; Madison genuinely thrived in these relationships. It may be that Madison has eluded us for so long largely because his other biographers have overlooked the centrality of this key ingredient.
As Madison’s Gift reveals, his “partnership” with Dolley was no less consequential than with those other notables. Madison was middle-aged when he met and married the much younger and taller winsome widow who was to forever define the role that would later be dubbed “First Lady.” It is only through her that we can better discern the man behind the curtain, who was apparently in the semi-privacy of his extended family quite playful and romantic, given to wine, a wicked sense humor, and even foot races. Stewart shares a delightful anecdote in which “Dolley, who was ‘stronger as well as larger than he,’ sometimes ‘could – and did – seize his hands, draw him upon her back, and go round the room with him.’” Finally, a palpable glimpse of the flesh-and-blood Madison that once walked the earth!
Stewart plainly admires his subject, but this is no hagiography; slaveowner Madison gets no pass from the author in this regard. The scholarly consensus is that by far the greatest flaw of the Founders was their collective failure to address the institution of human chattel slavery, which led directly to the Civil War that was to cost more than six hundred thousand American lives, and Madison was more than complicit in this later catastrophe. The once much-heralded three-fifths compromise that counted enslaved human beings as partial people for the purposes of representation was a cheat that evaded the existential crisis ahead. The Founding generation was evidently deeply disturbed by the contradictions in their own cries for liberty and equality when juxtaposed with what they themselves clearly acknowledged as an immense evil. We have ample evidence of these great men—Patrick Henry, Washington, Jefferson and indeed Madison—decrying slavery while failing to combat it. The striking ambivalence is perhaps best articulated in Jefferson’s famous “wolf by the ear” analogy that sounds more like an excuse than a rationale. For the sake of his own legacy, Washington had the good fortune to die before the eighteenth century expired while manumitting his slaves in his will. Jefferson and Madison lived on with their human property to bob-and-weave intellectually, while toying with African colonization schemes, and ever making excuses against abolition. Indeed, later in life Madison actually went on record blaming abolitionists for spawning crises rather than slaveowners for enabling a morally abhorrent system that hardly shielded them from the ever-looming debt and bankruptcy that the planter aristocracy rode upon.
Madison’s Gift revisits the elderly statesman’s final public role as representative to the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829 that also featured other ancient stand-ins from the early days of the Republic such as John Marshall and Monroe. The revered Madison appeared anachronistically clad in eighteenth-century attire in what turned out to be an epic failure to address slavery, representation, and a more equitable expansion of the franchise. He also lived through the Virginia House of Delegates sessions of 1831-32 that debated abolition, but was not a participant. [Each of these grand missed opportunities is covered in great detail in Susan Dunn’s magnificent Dominion of Memories: Jefferson, Madison & the Decline of Virginia.]
When Madison died in 1836, he had outlived nearly everyone of significance of his era (Aaron Burr passed only a few months later), but this great issue of human bondage lingered. Only twenty-five years later, the Republic was ripped asunder over it. To make matters worse, Jefferson’s cries during the crisis over the Alien & Sedition Acts that a state might resist federal laws—a notion Madison seemed to echo, with a pronounced nuance others overlooked—regained a stubborn currency in the march to secession. With a tragic irony, the great Madison, who had done so much to make and give polish to the new nation, left behind sharp edges for another generation to fashion into weapons wielded to sever and unmake it.
I first encountered the Stewart in his earlier work, Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy, which introduced a brilliant new perspective that unsettled established historiography. This accomplishment is made even more impressive by the fact that the author is not a trained historian, but an attorney! That this achievement was no fluke is powerfully demonstrated in Madison’s Gift, a superb contribution to history and biography that significantly furthers our interpretation of the figures that peopled the early Republic. And, thanks to Stewart, I can check off Madison and resume my chronological challenge: now it’s on to Monroe!

[My review of: Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy, by David O. Stewart, is here: https://regarp.com/2017/02/19/review-of-impeached-the-trial-of-president-andrew-...

[My review of: Dominion of Memories: Jefferson, Madison & the Decline of Virginia by Susan Dunn, is here: https://regarp.com/2015/02/09/review-of-dominion-of-memories-jefferson-madison-t...

Review of: Madison’s Gift: Five Partnerships that Built America, by David O. Stewart https://regarp.com/2018/10/17/review-of-madisons-gift-five-partnerships-that-bui... ( )
  Garp83 | Oct 17, 2018 |
This book can make for tedious reading, as it feels like the story moves only at the most incremental pace. As each relationship is introduced, the story often goes back to the beginning, leaving the reader to feel like the book never really moves forward. This is not quite true and the relationships presented here are interesting and illuminating for those interested in the early years of the American republic. Still, the pacing and narrative could have been better organized and written, as well as the case for the uniqueness of Madison's relationships better articulated. ( )
  wagner.sarah35 | Jun 9, 2017 |
James Madison, one of the major writers of the Constitution and of the Bill of Rights, was not a large man, but he made a huge impact. In Madison's Gift, David O. Stewart brings us back to this pivotal moment in history and show's us how Madison's relationships with five other amazing people (Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and Dolly Madison) shaped him, America, and the world. It provides facts and insights about all of these people, and I recommend it to readers interested in American history. ( )
  DLMorrese | Oct 14, 2016 |
This biography of James Madison is a very readable and thorough portrait of this great Founding Father. Madison doesn't get the attention that other founders receive, but he can be said to be the prime architect of our constitutional government and our nationhood. The book utilizes Madison's relationships with five of his contemporaries to explain his contributions to the nascent nation.

He was a protege of the much older Washington, a close confidant who persuaded the revered hero to come out of retirement to chair the constitutional convention. Madison might be considered the principal intellectual advisor to Washington and correctly realized that Washington's presence was crucial to countering skepticism and outright opposition to a national government. Madison allied with Alexander Hamilton to promote ratification of the constitution through their joint authorship of the Federalist Papers. Later, Madison and Hamilton would split bitterly when factions emerged as political parties.

Madison and Jefferson were close throughout their lives. They shared in common the lives of Virginia planters and formed the core of the Republican party that espoused a political philosophy distinct from the Federalists under Adams and Hamilton. Both men struggled with the matter of slavery and worried presciently about the divisiveness that slavery would bring to the union. Each remained slaveholders throughout their lives and did not find a way out of freeing their slaves during their lives or at their deaths. Madison served as Jefferson's secretary of state and dealt gingerly with the troublesome relationships with England and France.

Madison and James Monroe were allies throughout their political and social lives, except for a period of estrangement that they eventually overcame. Madison and Monroe steered the young nation through its troubled relations with European powers, eventually leading the nation into war with Britain when Monroe for a time served as secretary of state and acting secretary of war.

Madison's closest partnership was with his wife Dolly. Dolly's devotion to her husband and her support while he was president led to defining the role of first lady to the nation. Her sociability and charm were an effective counter balance to his intellectual and reserved demeanor.

Madison's towering intellect and his clear-sighted vision of a national government that bound together disparate sections are certainly key reasons that gave our nation its start and held it together in its shaky early years. ( )
  stevesmits | Feb 25, 2016 |
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"Historian David O. Stewart restores James Madison, sometimes overshadowed by his fellow Founders, to his proper place as the most significant framer of the new nation. Short, plain, balding, neither soldier nor orator, low on charisma and high on intelligence, Madison cared more about achieving results than taking the credit. To reach his lifelong goal of a self-governing constitutional republic, he blended his talents with those of key partners. It was Madison who led the drive for the Constitutional Convention and pressed for an effective new government as his patron George Washington lent the effort legitimacy; Madison who wrote the Federalist Papers with Alexander Hamilton to secure the Constitution's ratification; Madison who corrected the greatest blunder of the Constitution by drafting and securing passage of the Bill of Rights with Washington's support; Madison who joined Thomas Jefferson to found the nation's first political party and move the nation toward broad democratic principles; Madison, with James Monroe, who guided the new nation through its first war in 1812, really its Second War of Independence; and it was Madison who handed the reins of government to the last of the Founders, his old friend and sometime rival Monroe. These were the main characters in his life. But it was his final partnership that allowed Madison to escape his natural shyness and reach the greatest heights. Dolley was the woman he married in middle age and who presided over both him and an enlivened White House. This partnership was a love story, a unique one that sustained Madison through his political rise, his presidency, and a fruitful retirement"--

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