Monday, March 16, 2009

Happy Birthday James Madison, we owe you dude!

Madison, perhaps the most brilliant and undoubtedly the most widely read president, was born in Port Conway, Virginia, in 1751. Madison, though frail and a hypochondriac, was a tireless worker throughout his political career. He worked long and hard for the ratification of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Though he faced strong opposition from founders such as Patrick Henry, his dedication to the Constitution won the day. He later claimed it was almost the death of him. His brilliant essays, along with those of Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, can be read in "The Federalist Papers."

A few interesting Madison tidbits: He was 5'4" by far the shortest president. He weighed less than 100 pounds and suffered from bad bowels among many other ailments. He and Dolly were childless. He was criticized for America's participation in the War of 1812 when the British attacked Washington and burned down the Executive Mansion (now known as the White House). Madison and Thomas Jefferson, both anti-Federalists (the only powers granted to the Federal government were those specifically written in the Constitution...states by implication gained all other rights) strongly opposed Hamilton's attempt to create a National Bank. They feared that this power, not stated in the Constitution, would open the Federal government to unlimited power and violate the Tenth Amendment (they were right). Hamilton won the day, and ultimately the question of slavery came under Federal scrutiny. It's a long story, but one worth reading about.

A few books I would recommend with Madison as the "hero" or "villain" depending on the author's point of view: American Creation by Joseph Ellis, James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights by Richard Labunski, The Summer of 1787 by David Stewart, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution by Woody Holton, Liberty's Blueprint by Michael Meyerson. All of these are in my collection and I recommend them highly.

Oh, and Hamilton, though never President (he was born in the West Indies and therefore not eligible) is on the ten dollar bill. Madison, sorry Jimmie, isn't on anything but the list of facts about presidents under "Who was the shortest president?" In fact, we owe as much if not more to Madison as any of the more famous Founding Fathers.