THE SACRED FIRE OF LIBERTY: James Madison and the Founding of the Federal Republic by Lance Banning

THE SACRED FIRE OF LIBERTY: James Madison and the Founding of the Federal Republic

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Banning (History/Univ. of Kentucky; Jefferson and Madison: Three Conversations from the Founding, 1995, etc.) offers a dry-as-dust intellectual history of James Madison's evolution from ardent Federalist to partisan opponent of the Washington administration. Banning starts with the riddle that has puzzled Madison biographers through the years: How could the ""father of the Constitution,"" coauthor of The Federalist, and draftsman of the Bill of Rights, who started his public life by favoring strong central government and extensive protection against majority oppression, have become the leader of an ideologically populist party? Banning argues that while Madison's thought evolved with changing circumstances, his Federalism and his defense of democracy and local interests were more consistent than is generally thought. In Madison's view, the author asserts, the democratic and revolutionary promise of the Declaration of Independence and the pragmatic checks and balances of the Constitution were both parts of the legacy of the American Revolution. Madison came to Congress in 1780, when the Articles of Confederation were brand-new and the outcome of the Revolution in doubt. He became convinced that the Confederation government was weak and that this weakness was endangering the Revolution. Although many viewed the Constitution's provision for a strong central government and use of checks and balances to restrain the excesses of the popularly elected legislature as compromises of the democratic ideals of the Revolution, Banning demonstrates that Madison viewed them as protections of personal liberty. However, once the Constitution was ratified, Madison became an advocate of liberty in another sense--as democracy. By 1792, he was a national leader of the Democratic-Republican party, and his ideological orientation was set for the rest of his public life. Hobbled by a sometimes turgid prose style, Banning's discussion of Madison's ideas never sufficiently renders him a flesh-and-blood person.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1995
Page count: 536pp
Publisher: Cornell Univ.