Madison's Gift: Five Partnerships That Built America By David O. Stewart 433 pp. $28 Simon and Schuster
As the jacket flap for this book notes, its subject was "Short, plain, balding, neither soldier nor orator, low on charisma and high on intelligence. [He] cared more about achieving results than taking the credit."
And even though James Madison served as the fourth U.S. President for two terms, spearheaded both the drafting and passage of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, and led the country through the War of 1812, he is somewhat of a "lost" founding father.
Madison's legacy is often overshadowed by men history has deemed more bold, dashing and heroic such as George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and even John Adams.
Historical author Stewart (The Summer of 1787, American Emperor) argues here that it's time for James Madison to come out of the corner of U.S. history to take due credit (and for more than just the namesake of New York's Madison Avenue...) for his accomplishments.
And, as he preferred to blend his talents with those of others rather than push them alone, Stewart shows how Madison's key partnerships with five individuals helped forge this country at a time when the whole American Experiment could have gone to hell and we'd all be speaking with British accents and taking high tea at noon now.
With Alexander Hamilton, he pushed for ratification of the U.S. Constitution. And under pseudonyms, the pair wrote the vast majority of the Federalist Papers.
The 80+ essays totaling 190,000 words appeared in pamphlets and newspapers were sheer propaganda for the Constitution's passage. But their arguments were so compelling and precise, they not only succeeded in their immediate goal, but tenets and language are still quoted and used today by a wide variety of political interests.
With George Washington, Madison worked for the connection of the Potomac and Ohio rivers, opening travel and commerce to U.S. western lands. And most important, the passage of the Bill of Rights.
Madison actively courted the at-first wary Washington. And in their relationship, Madison found an ally of unimpeachable stature as they formed the basis of early government. They also secured placement the U.S. Capitol near the Potomac -- in no small part because it was near Washington's Mount Vernon home.
With Thomas Jefferson, Stewart says, Madison found his closest match in terms of idealism, political instincts and personal interests. The two bibliophiles would eagerly share reading lists and crow about their latest rare acquisitions both in the United States and from abroad.
And when the pair grew alarmed about the growing power of Hamilton, they helped form the nation's first political party -- the Republicans -- for a more moderate approach. Stewart writes that theirs was the "most influential political partnership in the nation's history."
(Hamilton's ego, ambitions and active sexual proclivities also drew the ire of John Adams. The eventual second U.S. President once wrote that Hamilton had "a superabundance of secretions which he could not find whores enough to draw off."
With James Monroe, Madison had an often prickly partnership. But when Madison and his cabinet were foundering during the War of 1812 -- during which British soldiers actually reached and burned portions of the White House -- it was Monroe who helped him out of the jam.
Monroe was named Secretary of State and then Secretary of War. And his success in those positions helped pave the way for his own ascendency to the presidency after Madison's second term expired.
But James Madison's most long-lasting partnership was also -- naturally -- his most personal.
Wife Dolley set a new standard for charisma and vivaciousness (two traits Madison sorely lacked, at least in public) in governmental spouses. Her parties and receptions provided a convivial excitement sorely needed among early politicos.
She also played cards, took snuff, danced and drank. And -- as the term "First Lady" had not yet been coined, was known by some as the "Lady Presidentress."
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And it's also Dolley whom history credits with saving Gilbert Stuart's famous painting of George Washington from the advancing British solders during the War of 1812. After being unable to pull its heavy and tightly secured frame from the wall, Dolley ordered the painting be cut out and secreted away for safety.
She also served as an invaluable asset to Madison for decades. Down to his last two years when she acted as nurse to her husband, who -- while mentally sharp -- was mostly limited physically to two rooms in their house.
When James Madison died on June 28, 1836 at the age of 85, he had the distinction of being the last surviving delegate of the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention of 1787. Fittingly, as many historians since then have called him the "Father" of that historical document still running the United States today.
Madison's Gift, then, it seems, was his ability to work with others and use their strengths along with his to achieve a common goals. And -- at the time -- the United States sorely needed it. Stewart's book hopes to restore some of that lost luster.