Madison and Jefferson

Madison and Jefferson

Author: Andrew Burstein, Nancy Isenberg

They say...

The third and fourth presidents have long been considered proper gentlemen, with Thomas Jefferson’s genius overshadowing James Madison’s judgment and common sense. But in this revelatory book about their crucial partnership, both are seen as men of their times, hardboiled operatives in a gritty world of primal politics where they struggled for supremacy for more than fifty years. With a thrilling and unprecedented account of early America as its backdrop, Madison and Jefferson reveals these founding fathers as privileged young men in a land marked by tribal identities rather than a united national personality. Esteemed historians Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg capture Madison’s hidden role—he acted in effect as a campaign manager—in Jefferson’s career. In riveting detail, the authors chart the courses of two very different presidencies: Jefferson’s driven by force of personality, Madison’s sustained by a militancy that history has been reluctant to ascribe to him.

I say...

Jefferson. A known quantity. I've read much about him in the past and, like most Americans, developed a detailed perspective from the cumulation of many history classes over the years.

On the other hand, Madison was the new learning for me as I read this book. And, Madison's long-term friendship with Jefferson. I was aware they knew each other but did not understand the length and depth of their connection.

Of particular interest to me was learning Madison's thinking regarding the design of the U.S. Constitution. I had not appreciated both the extent of his contributions (as in number of points) and the depth (as in the complexity of thought). He clearly was a "quiet" thinker. Jefferson made more "noise" both in his day and since. Madison is the one we have much to thank for the quality of our highest national law.

He used his considerable insight into the human condition to propose and draft key sections of the document. He was highly influential in debates with the other members of the Continental Congress. It is clearly accurate to refer to Madison as the author of our Constitution—not just in writing it but the critical thought behind the design. He contributed more than anyone else.

If you've not read much about, or have a clear understanding of, Madison's ideas then reading this book will be of considerable benefit to you as it was to me.