James Madison: A Life Reconsidered

Viking. May 2014. 576p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780670025190. $36. HIST
Cheney (We the People: The Story of Our Constitution), an American Enterprise Institute senior fellow and former second lady of the United States, looks anew at a foundational figure of the early American republic in an analysis of James Madison's life, beliefs, character, and influences. Although notable biographies of Madison (1751–1836) appeared in 2013 (Kevin R.C. Gutzman's James Madison and the Making of America; Jeff Broadwater's James Madison: A Son of Virginia and a Founder of the Nation), Cheney, in a primary-sourced, sprightly, and innovative study, emphasizes how this theorist and practical politician successfully utilized what might have been impediments in other statesmen. Madison's relative reserve allowed him to work with varying personality types; his occasional indispositions, identified here as consistent with epilepsy, fostered his understanding of others. Despite his ideological rivalry with Alexander Hamilton regarding the proper role of federal government, the nonconfrontational Madison was deftly able to advise George Washington, who often supported Hamilton's positions. While he has a reputation as the Constitution's primary author, Madison helped to establish the party system, an entity not described in the founding documents. In this balanced account, Cheney portrays the man's interaction with his advisor and wife, Dolley, as well as with other political actors.
VERDICT A nuanced study on its own and a thoughtful presentation by one of today's prominent public intellectuals. This title is useful and accessible on many levels, for its biographical revelations, particularly regarding Madison's health and the basis of his temperament, and as a cerebral encounter with a Founder with a lasting legacy.

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