my year with 44 men

Reading the Presidents One by One

Archive for the category “James Madison (4)”

James Madison: The Back-scratcher and Back-stabber

Ok, I’d like to start by apologizing for my slow reading.  I’m sure all 4 of you who read (hey Mom and Robert!) have been waiting on pins and needles to hear what I have to say about Jimmy-Mad.  I know excuses are worthless, but I just started a new job and I’ve been exhausted.  Plus I’ve been sick.  Plus other stuff.  It’s taken me an embarrassingly long amount of time to get through these last few books, but my goal is to pick up the pace in February.  Anyway, I love James Madison.  I love Mr. Brookhiser.  I am back in good standing with my project and I’m not mad anymore.

The Book:

I really enjoyed the presentation of Brookhiser’s book, James Madison.  It was new and super readable- meant to be picked up by an average reader.  It wasn’t dry like Jefferson’s book, or an untackleable monster like Washington’s.  It wasn’t presumptuous like Adam’s.  But my goal isn’t to go all “fan-girl” and list 16 things I liked about it.  To start with things that I like (because I don’t want to start on a bad note), it was funny.  Little quips referring to Madison being the oldest of eleven siblings who he educated were like, “…Madison would soon become interested in politics; we do not know if he made the connection, but herding small children is good training for certain aspects of legislative work” (17). That’s funny, right?  Other positives include that it was smart, fast-paced, there was an appropriate amount of information for each sub-area of Madison’s life, and again, very readable.  On the flip side, there wasn’t a single picture!  I found that to be extremely depressing, especially since he was such a looker!  Additionally, there weren’t too many primary sources in here, which is probably what made it so readable, but at the same time made it less reliable for me.  I’m not saying that the information was false, but without all the footnotes (there were endnotes) it made me suspicious.  My last big problem was there was SO much about Alexander Hamilton…and you all know how much I dislike him!  The book did an excellent job setting the stage, but I could have done without so much Hamilton. Is that too picky of me?

The President:

I feel like James Madison would be the sort of person I’d vote for.  I’m confused as to how the political terms (like, vocab, not timeframes) worked.  The Republican party was Madison, Jefferson and their allies, and their enemies were the Federalists.  “This Republican Party still exists, though they call themselves Democrats.  The modern Republican Party is a newer, different organization” (109).  Because that’s not confusing at all.  I did learn that Madison is often as hailed at the Father of Politics

Here are a few things that I learned about Jimmy Mad.

  1. He was just a little guy.  Never hit more than 100 lbs and was shorter than 5’0.  He apparently was also epileptic and never a particularly healthy person.  Hard to imagine such a little guy as the leader of a nation in turmoil.
  2. He loved Washington.  They were BFFs.  Kind of.  They got into a tiff, and things ended there.  “He had supplied [Washington] with Madeira, and helped him with canals and constitution-making; Washington had blessed his marriage [he and Martha kind of set up he and Dolley].  The man who never quarreled with his biological parents did not want to fight with the father of his country” (126).
  3. He hated Adams (who didn’t?) and in fact my book noted that the only politician that Adams could get on his side was his own son, John Quincy. Hahaha
  4. He loved Jefferson.  I think in fact at some point, Brookhiser referred to them as soulmates.  “The distant friends were establishing a template for their relationship- Jefferson, the philosopher and strategist, Madison the reality check and right-hand man.  As time passed, they would, like an old couple, occasionally switch roles” (43).
  5. Huge proponent of Western Expansion, and in fact proposed that we sell the land in the West to the tune of $600 million and use the money to buy and resettle all the slaves (apparently he also was against the institution of slavery.  It should be noted that at his death, he still owned 100+ slaves).
  6. Even though he wasn’t very good at war, he jumped right in in 1812 and though it was more or less disastrous, he did what he thought had to be done, regardless of popular opinion.  He also wasn’t good at helping with the Louisiana Purchase, because he was very confused when he found out that he hadn’t, in fact, bought Florida.  What a disappointment!
  7. Knew what he believed in and was steady in those beliefs.  Never gave up on religious liberty, freedom of press, Anglophobia and Francophilia, explansion (222), but was very brainy and well-versed in history, and used his knowledge to determine what policies he needed to revise.

Just to note something else that the last three books also emphasized.  Being President sucked.  Washington kept trying to retire and no one would let him.  Adams wanted to be reelected so badly, but noted that no one who had been in the position would congratulate a friend on the office.  Jefferson said something about feeling like a prisoner taking off his shackles.  On his last day in office, someone recorded that James Madison looked, “like a schoolboy on a long vacation.”  Man- what a job!

I liked it.  That’s really all you need to know.  Onto the next James- Jimmy Mon.


James Madison Never Had a Son (but he fought the War of 1812)

What a handsome devil.

Glad to be reading a book that isn’t the literary equivalent of The English Patient, which has been hailed as the most boring movie of all times by several all rational critics and audiences alike.

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