Friday, February 15, 2013

James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights

[July 2009] This book starts out slowly, then starts to get better as it goes on, all in a rather dry (but no too dry) scholarly, yet popular tone. It provides a fairly detailed biography of James Madison from the end of the constitutional convention until the ratification of the Bill of Rights. An alternate subtitle could have just as well been "Madison vs. Henry", for Patrick Henry is set up as James Madison's persistent foil. The actual title is somewhat of a misnomer, for the battle over the Bill of Rights is given coverage as a second (and smaller) act, after the initial act of ratification of the constitution. As with many historical accounts, this book suffers from the availability of sources. Some well documented debates are given detailed coverage, while others without much historical record are barely passed over. This creates an illusion (however unfair) of mistaken significance of one event over the other. Though the focus is on Madison, there is very little attention given to events outside the "constitutional period." By a corollary, the book gives the impression that Madison was almost single-handedly responsible for dreaming up the constitution and driving its ratification. Aside from these shortcomings, it remains an interest take on the trials that had to be surmounted to give rise to the birth of the United States.

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