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Book Review - Lynne Cheney's "James Madison: A Life Reconsidered"

The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper.  You can read all of our book reviews by clicking on the Books category link in the right sidebar.

9780525427865_p0_v1_s260x420The former Second Lady, Lynne Cheney, has written a riveting book James Madison: A life Reconsidered.  For years he has lived in the shadows of other founding fathers including Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.  Yet, he is known as the “Father of the Constitution,” the framer of the Bill of Rights, and the inspiration behind the Louisiana Purchase. He was also the first president to lead the nation into war under the Constitution, during the War of 1812.

This book has an in depth study of the man who would become the fourth President of the US.  Readers can only imagine if he could be elected today given his shyness and his epilepsy, which he suffered throughout his political life.  Cheney writes in the book, “He, in advance of his time, understood a connection between attacks ‘suspending the intellectual functions’ and epilepsy.  If an experience that sometimes passed quickly also on occasion led to convulsive seizures, a logical mind would posit a relationship.”

Great detail is given to the War of 1812 and its after effects.  Although outwardly it did not accomplish what Madison cited as the reasons going to war, it did have the great effect of having Americans take pride in themselves.  They saw that there was potential for the US to be a great sea power with a strong army. Madison is quoted about the pride “that the American people have reached in safety and success their fortieth year as an independent nation.”

She highlights his friendship with Thomas Jefferson and his contempt for Alexander Hamilton.  The book outlines how Madison originally believed that a strong central government was needed and saw the threat to liberty as coming from the states.  She told, “Madison witnessed Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton attempting to ignore the fact that the Constitution created a government of limited powers and chose instead to see it as a document that allowed Congress to do whatever its members concluded best for the general welfare. I don’t think he would like today’s expansion and intrusion by the Federal Government.  He spent the 1790s founding and building the first opposition political party to defeat those of the Hamiltonian persuasion.  Along with Thomas Jefferson, Madison would found the first political party in the country’s history, the Democratic Republicans.”

What was very interesting is Cheney’s narrative on Madison’s view that Americans should be allowed to speak out against the Federal government, and it should not be considered traitorous.  He was against the Alien and Sedition Acts that included severe repression of domestic protest. These acts violated the first amendment as well as freedom of the press since twenty Republican newspaper editors were arrested and imprisoned.  To counter them Madison and Jefferson worked behind the scenes to get the Virginia and Kentucky state legislatures to pass resolutions declaring these federal laws invalid within their states. This began the desire for Madison to support states rights over the Federal government. 

She brilliantly points out that Madison was not a hypocrite.  The Federalist opposition in New England to the War of 1812 included calling for seceding from the Union.  Yet, Cheney writes that Madison did not confront his opponents head-on, and had no intention of suppressing them.  Cheney told, “Madison saw that organized opposition is effective in keeping the Republic going. He believed government was there to protect American rights and values.”

 James Madison: A life Reconsidered is a must read for anyone that wants to learn why Madison advocated limited government and intellectual freedom as well as to make sure that government stays accountable to the people. Lynne Cheney clearly brings to life the character, personality, and political thought of one of America’s most underrated Presidents: James Madison.