Friday, February 4, 2022

James Madison: America's First Politician (Jay Cost)

Author Jay Cost’s James Madison: America’s First Politician is a fair and analytical look at one of the nation’s founders. Madison, like all of the Founding Fathers, was imperfect. His political views seemingly waffled at times (although it was more a matter of nuanced thinking that drove the perceived waffles), his decision making helped push the nation to the brink of losing to Great Britain in the War of 1812, and his views on slavery were incompatible with the modern concept of liberty. However, Madison’s brilliance was in the construction of America’s government and his deep thinking in looking at how problems should be addressed.

Cost’s biography captures Madison’s dedication and singular focus on developing the American republic. He covers Madison’s political philosophies over his lengthy career in public service and how they helped shape the early nation and its gradual transformation from coastal colonies to a country increasingly on the move west. Cost also captures Madison’s handling of slavery with regards to the Constitution and how the issue gradually became a larger and larger wedge that was driving the nation into conflict, first with the Nullification crisis in the 1830’s, followed gradually by the Civil War.

Historians and political science enthusiasts will enjoy Cost’s account of an early American leader who was the first consummate career politician in a nation where politics was, at the time, less of a career despite it being arguably as noisy as it is in our modern day.