My Review of David O Stewart’s Madison’s Gift: Five Partnerships That Built America

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It has been nearly 30 years since I first heard the term “networking.” Since then it has become both a common term and an everyday occurrence. I believe that David O. Steward’s newest treatment of the fourth American President, James Madison, presents Madison as a consummate networker.

In focusing on his “five partnerships that built America” Stewart makes a strong case in Madison’s ability to accomplish a great deal of important work in the formation of post-Revolutionary War America and into the early 1800’s. By focusing on his partnerships with Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and his wife Dolly Madison, we are given a fair and honest portrait of a man whose strength was in the “behind the scenes” work of developing and then leading an emerging nation based on the radical idea of self-government.

Stewart asserts and demonstrates that…

… with Hamilton, Madison co-wrote the influential The Federalist Papers which argued for the adoption of the proposed constitution over the Article of Confederation enabling a stronger and stable central government.

… with Washington, Madison helped to get the ratified Constitution based government into operation.

…with Jefferson, Madison helped to the develop the party system, based in part on philosophical opposition to Hamilton and Washington. However, neither of them cared for the result of political parties.

…with Monroe, Madison re-established both a personal and politically helpful friendship which allowed them to address knotty foreign policy issues with England and France, and helped the nation surprisingly win the War of 1812.

… with Dolly Madison found love and companionship with a vivacious woman who became an influential and politically astute First Lady and wife.

Madison’s Gift is a wonderful and helpful history of a key time in American politics and history that ultimately moved America toward a more functional central government. But Stewart, also through Madison’s own status and situation as a son of Virginia, address the dark shadow of slavery the impact in hand on both domestic and foreign policy. It also raises the highly visible tension, very present today in the health care and immigration debates, between having a strong central government and the rights of the states in governance of themselves.

Madison is portrayed in very human terms (his near poverty status at the end of his life) and yet his tenacity, notable during his unrelenting campaign for Constitutional ratification and military victory (and respect) against the British during the War of 1812, is brought out as well.

This biography serves as an able reminder to me at just how difficult it was for the fledgling America republic to establish itself as a functioning nation able to finally defend itself and develop a level of commerce that provided needed revenue for further growth and development. The scenes of Madison’s hard work alongside Washington create a functioning constitutional government from scratch tell a story of a resolute man who wanted to see his county become one. Well researched with many primary sources, such as letters and other documents, Madison’s Gift is, in my opinion, an outstanding addition to both the study and appreciation of the fourth President of the United States as well as to our nation.

I liked this book very, very much for the following reasons:

1. It illustrates that good leadership comes from more than one person. It comes from a team of people.

2. It demonstrates what I would call a maturing political view in which Madison moves from one set of positions to another based on philosophical reasons and not just “flip-flop.”

3. It is a wonderful reminder of just how difficult it was for the United States to become just that… United States.

4. It is gives the reader a very unvarnished, but fair, view of the fourth President.

I rate it a “magnificent” read.

Note: I received a galley copy of this book from the publisher, Simon Schuster, via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

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