Alan Johnson's Reviews > Madison's Gift: Five Partnerships That Built America

Madison's Gift by David O. Stewart
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This book proves that a historian can write for both a general and scholarly audience at the same time. The text of the work is quite well written. It expresses in plain English—not in academic jargon—many important facts and developments regarding the life and thought of James Madison. Meanwhile, the endnotes carefully document, often with reference to primary sources, the factual statements and quotations in the text.

And the book does not simply recycle what others have already written about Madison. David O. Stewart carefully delineates the characters of Madison and his five partners (Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and Dolley Madison) by using documentary sources that are not routinely employed in studies of the Founders. Stewart also avoids presenting one-dimensional portraits of these individuals. Each is shown to be a complicated person, combining good and not-so-good qualities. I found Stewart's treatment of Madison's views and actions regarding slavery to be especially insightful. Madison struggled to find a solution to that terrible problem. Although he knew that slavery was wrong, he could not find a way, either for himself or for the nation, to eliminate its practice and insidious influence.

We are left, as the author undoubtedly intended us to be left, with the realization that the Founders were human beings, albeit sometimes extraordinary human beings. We might well conclude, with Hamlet, that each of these individuals "was a man [or woman], take him for all in all: / I shall not look upon his like againe." William Shakespeare, Hamlet , 1:2:376-77, in The Norton Facsimile: The First Folio of Shakespeare, 2nd ed., ed. Charlton Hinman and Peter W. M. Blayney (New York: W. W. Norton, 1996), 763.
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Reading Progress

April 3, 2015 – Started Reading
April 3, 2015 – Shelved
April 3, 2015 – Shelved as: history-american-19th-century
April 3, 2015 – Shelved as: history-american-founding-era
April 3, 2015 – Shelved as: law-constitutional
April 20, 2015 – Finished Reading

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