THE MADISONS by Virginia Moore


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This political and personal biography of James Madison, fourth president of the United States, and his wife Doily, the famous Washington hostess, is a eulogy couched in endlessly repeated banalities. The most important author of the Constitution, House leader of the Jeffersonian Republicans, and Jefferson's secretary of state as well as president, Madison was truly outstanding. But as Moore would have it, he had scarcely a flaw in politics, character, or even personality. True, as a young man he was too much head and too little heart, but fortunately in 1794 he married widow Dolly (he was 43, she 26). He taught her politics, she taught him poetry, and so they were always (for we are constantly reminded) moving towards better internal balance. And always, always growing closer together in love. One may discover that Madison, despite his pre-1809 services, was not a great president for want of executive leadership ability--the author acknowledges his inadequate control of his cabinet. But the reader must come to this conclusion on his own because Moore buries the admission under glowing prose. Seeking a broad unifying theme, she does Madison a disservice by reducing his political philosophy to the idea of a centripetal-centrifugal balance, as between federal and state powers. Then, confusing this notion with the art of pragmatic give-and-take, she detects it in the most commonplace Madisonian political compromises. For better or worse, the book covers all the major and many minor public and private events in its subjects' lives to 1836, when James left Dolly once again a widow. Sisyphean primary source labor is largely wasted in the absence of critical judgment.

Pub Date: March 25th, 1979
Publisher: McGraw-Hill