Hot Best Seller

James Madison: America's First Politician

Availability: Ready to download

An intellectual biography of James Madison, arguing that he invented American politics as we know it  How do you solve a problem like James Madison? The fourth president is one of the most confounding figures in early American history; his political trajectory seems almost intentionally inconsistent. He was both for and against a strong federal government. He wrote about th An intellectual biography of James Madison, arguing that he invented American politics as we know it  How do you solve a problem like James Madison? The fourth president is one of the most confounding figures in early American history; his political trajectory seems almost intentionally inconsistent. He was both for and against a strong federal government. He wrote about the dangers of political parties in the Federalist Papers and then helped to found the Republican Party just a few years later. This so-called Madison problem has occupied scholars for ages.  As Jay Cost shows in this incisive new biography, the underlying logic of Madison’s seemingly mixed record comes into focus only when we understand him primarily as a working politician. Whereas other founders split their time between politics and other vocations, Madison dedicated himself singularly to the work of politics and ultimately developed it into a distinctly American idiom. He was, in short, the first American politician. 


Compare

An intellectual biography of James Madison, arguing that he invented American politics as we know it  How do you solve a problem like James Madison? The fourth president is one of the most confounding figures in early American history; his political trajectory seems almost intentionally inconsistent. He was both for and against a strong federal government. He wrote about th An intellectual biography of James Madison, arguing that he invented American politics as we know it  How do you solve a problem like James Madison? The fourth president is one of the most confounding figures in early American history; his political trajectory seems almost intentionally inconsistent. He was both for and against a strong federal government. He wrote about the dangers of political parties in the Federalist Papers and then helped to found the Republican Party just a few years later. This so-called Madison problem has occupied scholars for ages.  As Jay Cost shows in this incisive new biography, the underlying logic of Madison’s seemingly mixed record comes into focus only when we understand him primarily as a working politician. Whereas other founders split their time between politics and other vocations, Madison dedicated himself singularly to the work of politics and ultimately developed it into a distinctly American idiom. He was, in short, the first American politician. 

30 review for James Madison: America's First Politician

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    This very good book may not be the best of the many that have been written about James Madison in recent years. Nonetheless, it may still be the best option for many readers. More thoughtful and intellectual than Lynne Cheney's James Madison: A Life Reconsidered, and more readable and accessible than Noah Feldman's The Three Lives of James Madison: Genius, Partisan, President, this book occupies something of a satisfactory middle ground that makes it a good choice for anyone interested in a well This very good book may not be the best of the many that have been written about James Madison in recent years. Nonetheless, it may still be the best option for many readers. More thoughtful and intellectual than Lynne Cheney's James Madison: A Life Reconsidered, and more readable and accessible than Noah Feldman's The Three Lives of James Madison: Genius, Partisan, President, this book occupies something of a satisfactory middle ground that makes it a good choice for anyone interested in a well-written, well-reasoned discussion of Madison's life and impact. Cost’s aim is to smooth out Madison’s rough edges, clarifying his contradictions and complications by positioning him as “America’s first politician.” Other biographers, he writes, "have long struggled to reconcile the seemingly two-faced nature of Madison's politics," as he once advocated for a strong central government but later pivoted toward trying to rein in federal authority. As a result, others tell his story by "periodizing Madison, breaking his life up into discrete, manageable chunks" instead of following his evolution along a single through-line. By considering Madison as a politician rather than as the original Constitutional originalist, Cost explains his evolution from one who adhered to strict Constitutional orthodoxy, to one who considered the Constitution open to greater interpretation, as a form of political pragmatism rather than treating it as contradictory or hypocritical. In doing so, he argues for the consistency of Madison's beliefs, with a change only in his strategies to defend them, as he sometimes allowed his political goals to dictate his interpretation of what the Constitution allowed. And Madison’s split with Alexander Hamilton over the appropriate role of the federal government was not a change in his beliefs so much as it was a clarification and refinement of them - believing in a strong central government that derived its power in a bottom-up manner from the people, as Madison did, was not the same as believing in a strong central government that wielded its power from the top down, as Hamilton did (and Cost is decidedly on Team Madison/Jefferson as opposed to Team Hamilton, whom he describes as "half-brilliant, half-mad.”) It’s not an entirely unique thesis, as one can reach the same conclusion about Madison even by “breaking his life up into discrete, manageable chunks.” But Cost explains it all in a very accessible, non-lawyerly way, breaking down complex topics without getting bogged down in political philosophy and governing theory. He does so with an often casual vernacular that cuts to the chase, such as when he attributes early U.S. support for revolutionary France to a desire for “the French to stick it to those high-handed Brits." Sometimes the simplification goes a little too far, as when dramatic conflicts are not necessarily described dramatically. The debates over the framing of the Constitution, for example, are related without much tension or suspense. We’re later told that the process of ratification was contentious, but as described, it just kind of happens, as though Cost figures you know how it turned out anyway, so he’s just sort of matter-of-fact about it. And the Compromise of 1790, in which Madison, Jefferson and Hamilton negotiated federal assumption of state debts in exchange for the national capital being located in the South, is described particularly perfunctorily, as Cost waves away the details by writing “regardless of the specifics, a compromise of some sort was hashed out" and then moving on. It’s when the narrative gets to Madison’s service as Secretary of State and president, though, that Cost seems to start wavering and vacillating in his heretofore straightforward conclusions, as he begins going back and forth between criticizing Madison’s actions and defending them; from refuting others’ critiques to reiterating them. He first bluntly concludes that "Madison was not a very good Secretary of State," largely due to his support for the failed trade embargo against Britain. Becoming president in the midst of this deepening crisis, "he really had nobody to blame but himself," Cost concludes. But then, in describing how President Madison's first-term agenda is "often criticized for being wobbly and incoherent" and that "the conventional narrative sees Madison as an uncertain leader," he counters that Madison actually had "a clear-eyed view" and his agenda was "firm and precise." Yet he faults Madison for deferring too much to Congress during ensuing negotiations with Britain, but then credits him for ultimately standing up to Britain by declaring war, even though he criticizes Madison for "petition(ing) Congress for a war that the country was not ready to fight." It was “particularly Madison's fault" that the country found itself heading toward war with Britain, "but given the circumstances, the president made the best of a bad diplomatic situation," even though "the ultimate responsibility for these problems rested squarely on the shoulders of James Madison." It’s a dizzying back-and-forth - just when you think you know where Cost stands on defining Madison or his actions, he’ll go on to argue the opposite. It is possible, indeed responsible, to see both sides of an issue and acknowledge that both can be true to some extent. But here, it seems to come across as mere waffling - trying to have it both ways in order to placate fans and critics alike by giving them both something to agree with. The ensuing War of 1812 is half-treated as an unnecessary blunder we would have been better off without, and half-treated as an important learning experience for Madison and the country that made us better off in the end. The war exposed many weaknesses in the country’s preparedness, but then Madison was able to focus the rest of his term on addressing those weaknesses by improving the country militarily, financially and infrastructurally. One last contradiction comes near the end of the book, where Cost attempts to grapple with Madison’s actions - or inactions - regarding slavery. In arguing against the idea of nullification late in life, "Madison employed his reputation as the father of the Constitution to great effect, helping save the Union," Cost writes. Hooray for Madison, then! But that Constitution and the very Union were inherently flawed and conflict was inevitable, Cost argues later, because the Founders allowed the institution of slavery to fester until it took a civil war to end it. "Madison, like all Americans up to the time of that great and terrible war, must take responsibility for this sin. Indeed, he more than most." So, boo for Madison, then? Overall, the narrative is strong and well-written, and the book will give you a good overview of Madison despite its tendency to make both-sides arguments. Cheney might help you get to know Madison a little more personally, and Feldman will help you get to know him more intellectually, but Cost steers right down the middle. He doesn’t approach his subject with a strong point of view, allowing you to decide for yourself what you think of Madison - and then decide for yourself whether you’re up for further study about a man whose entire life and legacy can’t be adequately summed up in a single book anyway.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    https://bestpresidentialbios.com/2021... Jay Cost's hot-off-the-press biography of James Madison is a skillful 399-page examination of Madison’s public life and a compelling exploration of the apparent philosophical inconsistencies exhibited during his lengthy political career. Readers expecting a thorough introduction to Madison will discover this is less a comprehensive review of his public and private lives than it is a thoughtful exploration of his four decades of public service. Madison is no https://bestpresidentialbios.com/2021... Jay Cost's hot-off-the-press biography of James Madison is a skillful 399-page examination of Madison’s public life and a compelling exploration of the apparent philosophical inconsistencies exhibited during his lengthy political career. Readers expecting a thorough introduction to Madison will discover this is less a comprehensive review of his public and private lives than it is a thoughtful exploration of his four decades of public service. Madison is notorious for being “all work and no play” and Cost’s narrative focuses almost exclusively on Madison’s political career. As a result, though, readers hoping for insight into his family life and closest friendships may come away disappointed. This book’s field-of-view is a bit unusual compared to most presidential biographies. While some excel at placing a biographical subject firmly within the context of “the big picture” and others concentrate on the day-to-day grind of a subject’s life, this biography focuses intensely on neither. Instead, it is superb at capturing everything in between – it shies away from tedious detail, assumes moderate historical fluency by its readers and focuses almost exclusively on events within Madison’s own orbit. Readers will quickly notice that Cost’s writing style is delightfully straightforward and easy to digest. The book’s fifteen chapters read more like the transcript of an engaging lecture series than a sagacious but irredeemably dry sermon on Madison’s life. And although the narrative never exhibits the eloquent flair of a Ron Chernow biography or the vibrancy of a Candice Millard book, it is extraordinarily comprehensible and revealing. Among many notable highlights are Cost’s overview of the Constitutional Convention, a chapter describing Madison’s role drafting The Federalist Papers, an excellent comparison of the competing visions of government proposed by Madison and Hamilton and a riveting exploration of Madison’s opposition to Hamilton’s national bank. But the book’s most refreshing strength is the clarity with which it analyzes and explains complicated topics. The book’s relative brevity and remarkable lucidity come at a price, however, and some readers will desire more insight into Madison’s daily life and personal affairs…and possibly a more explicit connection between his activities and meaningful national and global events (such as the major moments of the Revolutionary War). Readers hoping to see the world through Madison’s eyes will also be disappointed. This is an interesting intellectual review of Madison’s life as considered from a distance, not a narrative which will leave readers feeling like a fly on the wall in Independence Hall – or in Dolley Madison’s dining room. Finally, Cost’s failure to include more context (and detail) leaves the text feeling over-simplified at times. Overall, however, Jay Cost’s biography is a valuable addition to the relatively small group of biographies dedicated to James Madison. While providing far more insight into Madison the thinker than the person, it offers an uncommonly enlightening analysis of his political philosophy and public career. And if it isn’t quite the perfect comprehensive introduction to James Madison, it undoubtedly makes a compelling companion biography. Overall Rating: 4 stars

  3. 5 out of 5

    Daddy-O

    As it's become fashionable to dismiss liberalism as yesterday's ideology, self-government as a failed experiment, and compromise as cuckolding, the intellectual and political career of James Madison makes for a healthy dose of reality through history. The Madisonian design's “answer to the problem of government was politics,” Cost describes. “He would force all factions in society to argue, debate, broker, and compromise with one another until they found a solution that most of them could live w As it's become fashionable to dismiss liberalism as yesterday's ideology, self-government as a failed experiment, and compromise as cuckolding, the intellectual and political career of James Madison makes for a healthy dose of reality through history. The Madisonian design's “answer to the problem of government was politics,” Cost describes. “He would force all factions in society to argue, debate, broker, and compromise with one another until they found a solution that most of them could live with. This would secure justice for all groups and promote the general welfare.” Pure political unity requires violent dominance, whereas politics for a free people are meant to be perpetual. Our contemporary perversion is in imagining we're one election away from desolation or from paradise when there's always another one around the corner; there's no election to end all elections as long as “our political institutions … are equal to the severest trials … as well as adapted to the ordinary periods of repose” as they've strainingly shown themselves to be over the centuries. The fact that Madison's grand designs toward this design were altered and tempered at the Constitutional Convention by fraught compromise between disparate factions goes to reinforce the principle; a system of compromise achieved by compromise, and thereby accountable and acceptable to the public and for the public interest. Now, a future problem the fellow didn't foresee, other than the fickle corruptions of legal interpretation which he had his own share of, was the competition of factional ambitions in government being distorted by purely performative status ambitions. Who'd have thought Congress, the dominant branch of Madison's design, would enjoy ceding its power to the executive and go about all day shouting at the President to do something which Congress is entirely capable of doing? Madison's presidency is a relic of a preside-ant understanding of the executive, before candidates even found it acceptable to actively campaign for the job and before it devolved into the superstitious god-king role we now see it as: the will of the people embodied in an omnipotent volksseele ruler who bears all of the responsibility for all of the nation's virtue, wealth, justice, or lack thereof. No, Madison was a President who sought the public interest through a constitutionally constrained role, even changing his politics in the face of political realities rather than catering to an audience damn the consequences. Madison, the ardent (Jeffersonian) Republican evolves from his commerce-skeptical vision of “an idyllic mythology of a virtuous republic populated with independent farmers” (he was a Virginia plantation owner, whaddya expect) into assimilating the Hamiltonian Federalism he'd so despised into his own “even-handed,” constitutionalist framework, spurring on the exponential commercial and infrastructural growth of the young nation. Madison's policy failures as Secretary of State coming to a head in declaring unprepared war as President taught everyone involved: don't go putting the country on complete and total commercial lockdown, and maybe have a military at the ready rather than reluctant and untrained militias. Unfortunately the disastrous protectionism preceding the War of 1812 didn't persuade anyone completely off the tariff wagon, but you can't always get what you want. This is a Republic, after all. The retired Madison's final advice to his country, “Advice to My Country,” which would have to be heeded and executed by Founders' Son Abraham Lincoln after him, was given in the context of slave-states' nullification turmoil but remains an important rebuke to those who play-act at secession, civil war, revolution, or “fundamental transformation” for media-fueled dramas insignificant or nonexistent when weighed up against those of the 19th century and slavery's culmination. Cost reproduces Madison's abidingly relevant message: “As this advice, if it ever see the light will not do it till I am no more it may be considered as issuing from the tomb where truth alone can be respected, and the happiness of man alone consulted. It will be entitled therefore to whatever weight can be derived from good intentions, and from the experience of one, who has served his Country in various stations through a period of forty years, who espoused in his youth and adhered through his life to the cause of its liberty, and who has borne a part in most of the great transactions which will constitute epochs of its destiny. The advice nearest to my heart and deepest in my convictions is that the Union of the States be cherished and perpetuated. Let the open enemy to it be regarded as a Pandora with her box opened; and the disguised one, as the Serpent creeping with his deadly wiles into Paradise.”

  4. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Brown

    Jay Cost is always worth reading and usually has interesting, thoughtful political analysis to offer. His "James Madison" does not disappoint. While a lot has been written about Madison, Cost really pushes back against the common criticisms of the founder. Cost writes admiringly of Madison, fighting to preserve his historical reputation in what is a fascinating, revisionist history. Cost knows his stuff and this is a brilliant book that will help redeem Madison against many of his detractors in Jay Cost is always worth reading and usually has interesting, thoughtful political analysis to offer. His "James Madison" does not disappoint. While a lot has been written about Madison, Cost really pushes back against the common criticisms of the founder. Cost writes admiringly of Madison, fighting to preserve his historical reputation in what is a fascinating, revisionist history. Cost knows his stuff and this is a brilliant book that will help redeem Madison against many of his detractors in academia.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kyle Morse

    Biography that focuses, as the title suggests, on the political career of James Madison. Goes over the different offices held by Madison, and his role in politics throughout the different stages of his life. Has a clear view of what Madison’s core political beliefs were and how they motivated the different positions and actions he took throughout his career. Certainly not a fawning biography, as Cost basically suggests that the core economic and foreign policy positions held by Madison for most Biography that focuses, as the title suggests, on the political career of James Madison. Goes over the different offices held by Madison, and his role in politics throughout the different stages of his life. Has a clear view of what Madison’s core political beliefs were and how they motivated the different positions and actions he took throughout his career. Certainly not a fawning biography, as Cost basically suggests that the core economic and foreign policy positions held by Madison for most of his career were wrong, but he is clearly sympathetic to the motivations held by Madison that led to him adopting those views. Pretty good overall, and would recommend if you want an introduction to the 4th President.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jean-Luc

    A magnificent portrait of one of the most influential figures among the original founding fathers from his important role crafting the US Constitution after the Wars of Independence, his co-authorship of the Federalist Papers and the US Bill of rights and his political accomplishments as Secretary of State and also 4th president of the young Republic. An engrossing analysis of the birth of American politics and diplomacy and a compelling biography of one of the most brilliant American intellectua A magnificent portrait of one of the most influential figures among the original founding fathers from his important role crafting the US Constitution after the Wars of Independence, his co-authorship of the Federalist Papers and the US Bill of rights and his political accomplishments as Secretary of State and also 4th president of the young Republic. An engrossing analysis of the birth of American politics and diplomacy and a compelling biography of one of the most brilliant American intellectuals at the beginning of the Republic. A must read for anyone interested in early US history. Many thanks to Netgalley and Basic Books for this terrific ARC

  7. 4 out of 5

    JP Ferreira

    A solid and fair fact based retelling of James Madison's life. A solid and fair fact based retelling of James Madison's life.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Robert Conder

    Great read. Anyone interested in history or politics should read this book. It is a book of a man who believed in the constitution, even if it was not perfect, and in the union.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Barry Harris

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sue

  11. 4 out of 5

    donald swanz

  12. 5 out of 5

    Terry Ryman

  13. 4 out of 5

    george porter

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Atkinson

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mark Singer

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mark Pasewark

  17. 5 out of 5

    Bob Riesterer

  18. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Owen

  19. 4 out of 5

    Geoff Bourdon

  20. 4 out of 5

    Chris Carson

  21. 4 out of 5

    James Gustafson

  22. 5 out of 5

    Christina

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rule Johnstone

  24. 5 out of 5

    Leonard Singer

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sandra H. Mozack

  26. 4 out of 5

    Richard Lehmann

  27. 5 out of 5

    Dick Gookin

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ted

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dawn

  30. 5 out of 5

    Richard W Bobilin

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.