Sunday, February 1, 2015

Madison's Gift: Five Partnerships that Built America by David O. Stewart

I have read quite a few books on Dolley Madison but had not read a book about her husband President James Madison. So I was glad to have been accepted to read David O. Stewart's upcoming book Madison's Gift which looks at Madison's working relationships with President George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, President Thomas Jefferson, President James Monroe and his wife Dolley. Although the reader receives a basic understanding of Madison's biography it is really a 'political biography', similar to Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals" which considered Lincoln and his cabinet which was made up of political rivals for the presidency.

Madison's service to his country included championing the 1787 Constitutional Convention and the Bill of Rights; the creation of the first political party in alliance with Thomas Jefferson; service as the first 'war president' during the War of 1812;  the revision of The Articles of Confederation to insure the government rested on a more solid base; fine tuning the election process; support for a national tax to fund a standing army and pay debt; working on the amendment to guarantee free speech, the right to bear arms, due process of law, the freedom of the press and other rights we take for granted today.

Madison had a systematic and deep intelligence. He was small and frail in body, but was a giant intellectually. His public persona was not easy and warm, although his good humor shone in his family life. His friendships and partnerships perfectly balanced his weaknesses. Jefferson and Monroe forged deep friendships with Madison, with Jefferson encouraging Madison to become a neighbor, while the Monroes in Europe purchased and shipped furnishings for the Madison's first home.

Dolley was a beautiful and well off young widow when Madison fell in love with her from afar. Martha Washington encouraged Dolley to consider Madison's attentions and she married the "great little Madison", who was 15 years older and considerably smaller than her. But their relationship became legendary, both as marriage and political partners.

Stewart's book covers familiar events and historical passages but in a detail that opened for me a better appreciation and understanding. Our American government did not spring full blown at its inception. It took years of considered thought and political action to hone the system we now enjoy. At the center of this continual process was James Madison. He did not work in a vacuum, but in accordance with other gifted, inspired, and dedicated men.

I was not always riveted by the book. It does take attention. But the story is an important one, and made me better appreciate the marvelous experiment called democracy.

I received this e-book through NetGalley and Simone & Schuster for a fair and unbiased review.

Madison's Gift: Five Partnerships that Built America
by David O. Stewart
Simon & Schuster
Publication Feb 10, 2015
ISBN: 9781451688580
$28.00