2/22/12 - james madison reads 400 books

In today's excerpt - James Madison (1751-1836), our fourth President, may have been the most qualified man to ever assume the U.S. presidency. He is said to have read over four hundred books in a single year in preparation for helping design the miracle of self-government contained in the U.S. Constitution:

"James Madison had come to the presidency uniquely prepared to manage the mechanics of government. Born on his father's plantation in Orange County, Madison, unlike many of his Vir­ginia peers, attended the College of New Jersey (later known as Princeton). He followed in the footsteps of a favorite tutor, then returned after graduation to help man­age the family plantation. He left again to help draft the Virginia constitution in 1776, then became the youngest delegate in Philadelphia, aged twenty-nine, at the Continental Congress in 1779.

"Although he served four sessions in the Virginia House of Delegates in Richmond following the Revolution (1784 and after), Madison's chief labor of the mid-1780s had been a self-assigned research project. Closeted in the second-floor library in his father's house, he spent countless hours reading widely on the topic of government (one year he read four hundred books). His syllabus, which included many volumes sent to him by his friend Jefferson from Paris, approached the subject from a mix of histori­cal and theoretical perspectives, studying modern and ancient models. But Madison's investiga- tions were more than an intellectual exercise. As a son of the Enlightenment, Madison believed such a disciplined survey might produce a plan whereby man could control his destiny. He was looking, in short, for political solutions to self-government.

"A new approach was required, he believed, because of what he termed the 'imbecility' of the Articles of Confederation [the document that governed the relationship of the thirteen states during and after the American Revolution], which, hav­ing granted the central government few powers, left the nation unable to levy taxes, negotiate with foreign powers, or manage its economy. Madison was readying himself for an opportunity he soon facilitated, namely, the gathering of twelve states for a 'Grand Convention.' He and fifty-four other delegates spent seventeen weeks in Philadelphia in 1787, hammering out a new governing document for the nation, the U.S. Constitution.

"After its 1788 ratification—which Madison helped accomplish as a co-writer (with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay) of the essays collec­tively known as The Federalist Papers—Madison was elected to the House of Representatives. There, as President George Washington's most trusted ally in Congress, Congressman Madison guided the passage of the first ten amendments to the Constitution, colloquially known as the Bill of Rights. During his four terms in Congress, the never-married Madison, at forty-three, also met a young widow, Dolley Payne Todd, who, in 1794, became his wife [and became one of the most beloved First Ladies in American history]."


Hugh Howard


Mr. and Mrs. Madison's War: America's First Couple and the Second War of Independence


Bloomsbury Press


Copyright 2012 by Hugh Howard


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