Sunday, November 02, 2008

James Madison

Having recently finished Robert Allen Rutland’s James Madison: The Founding Father, I can’t recommend it except, possibly, to the most die-hard Madison fans.

The fault is probably not Professor Rutland’s. He writes perfectly well, and his mid-length (253 pages of text) biography covers all the basic episodes. The problem, I think, is Madison himself. His life just does not translate readily to the biographical form at reasonable length. To make the important episodes of Madison’s life interesting – or even comprehensible – requires providing a great amount of background information and detail. Want to find out about Madison’s contributions to the Constitutional Convention or the Federalist Papers? That’s a course of study in itself. Want to understand what was important about his service as Secretary of State, or the period of his presidency leading up to the War of 1812? You need to compose a chart recording all the bizarre permutations of embargos, Orders in Counsel and the like that litter the period. (My favorite is Macon’s Bill No. 2.) A brief course on the Napoleonic Wars wouldn’t hurt either. Etc. etc.

In preparation for my upcoming trip Madison’s plantation, Montpelier, I’ve bitten the bullet. Yep, I’ve laid my hands on Ralph Ketcham’s hefty James Madison. About fifty pages in, so far, so good.


  1. Sean Nalty6:45 PM

    Hi Elektratig,

    Good choice on the Ketcham. Also, Professor J.C.A. Stagg's book on Madison's foreign policy in the Spanish Borderlands will come out January 5th from Yale University Press. I do not know if you have read Stagg's earlier work, "Mr. Madison's War," but the new study will continue his rigorous approach that challenges conventional wisdom on the subject of Madison's foreign policy.

    Also, do give me a heads up when you and your family expect to be in the Charlottesville area.


  2. Sean,

    I have heard of, but not read, "Mr. Madison's War." If I make it through the Ketcham -- the size is, er, daunting -- I may need to take a break from Mr. Madison!

    I will be in touch.


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