Tarheeltalker

Traveling with Mr Madison

stippling engraving of James Madison, Presiden...

In what I deem to be a significant accomplishment, I finally managed, on the third try, to complete a bio of our fourth president. The book is entitled, The Fourth President- A Life of James Madison by Irving Brant. Here I was thinking that this 642 page tome, written in 1969, was a tough read. This book is actually drawn from Brant's 6 volume, 3000 + page work. Guess I got off easy.

As always seems to be the case, I came away fascinated with Madison himself and all that he achieved, but also with the entire cast of characters with whom he interacted. Perhaps foremost among would be first lady Dolley, she who saved Washington’s  famous portrait just before the White House was burned in the war of 1812. She  was often described as glamorous and  arguably one of the best of our  first ladies. Or, as Brant wrote, ” Madison’s marriage had given him an effective sidearm.”

So, how can one describe the man who was the “father of the Constitution,” Secretary of State for 8  perilous years and the only president who served when his country was invaded? Brant used 3000 pages and  I will use fewer words than that. That is always a real dilemma when reading about a president, particularly an accomplished one, although his average ranking among presidents{ from 1948-2000) comes in around 12th. He just seems worthy of more. I kinda like him above Jefferson myself. His relationship with Jefferson himself was quite  was intriguing. They were rather close, although Madison want Jefferson’s puppet as he was accused of being. Nor was Jefferson controlled by Madison when he was Secretary of State. It was said that Madison often rescued Jefferson from some of his worst ideas.

Madison was often pilloried in the press, by the Federalist opposition and by  a somewhat belligerent Congress. It was amusing to hear him described by some of the above as well as the representatives of foreign governments. He was simultaneously weak nad timid but power mad. He was beholden to France , no he was in league with Britain. He wants war, why doesn’t  he  want war?

This quote from page 674 of Brant’s book in some ways summed up Madison for me. This was during some of the worst times of the war.

For more than four days the 64 year-old President had spent up to 20 hours in the saddle. Accused of fleeing to safety, he had been with the army at its farthest point of advance, followed it to battle, was under fire and came back to Washington  ahead of the army after the debacle. He found the  White House, (and) the Capitol………… a mass of gaunt and blackened ruins.

It often appeared that lies and falsehoods spread during his day were actually not refuted for many, many years leading to a less than flattering opinion of one to who, we owe much.

As he wrote in 1834 near the end of his life, the following,  which he desired to be  published after his death. ” The advice nearest to my heart and deepest in my convictions is that the Union of the States be cherished and perpetuated.” A man small  in stature and  by no means physically  imposing, what he wrote and championed secures his place among the Founding Fathers.

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April 30, 2011 - Posted by | History | , , , , , , , , , , ,

4 Comments »

  1. congratulations on finally finishing this book, an accomplishment worthy of praise, who’s the next president?

    Comment by pshope | April 30, 2011 | Reply

  2. Roy Williams maybe? Or do you mean who might I read about? lol

    Comment by tarheeltalker | May 1, 2011 | Reply

  3. Great Post! I have been doing research on James Madison over the last six month. My husband and I are opening a bed and breakfast on the property where he was born in Port Conway, VA at the Belle Grove.

    Comment by bellegroveatportconway | February 15, 2012 | Reply

  4. Thanks for the kind comments. For the past few years I have been trying to read at least one book about each president. I was quite surprised how much I learned about Mr Madison and came away with a greater appreciation of his time in office.

    Comment by tarheeltalker | February 18, 2012 | Reply


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