Historian David O. Stewart restores James Madison, sometimes overshadowed by his fellow Founders, to his proper place as the most significant framer of the new nation.
Short, plain, balding, neither soldier nor orator, low on charisma and high on intelligence, Madison cared about achieving results, not taking credit. To reach his lifelong goal of a self-governing constitutional republic, he blended his talents with those of his most talented contemporaries. It was Madison who invoked the influence of his patron George Washington to lead the drive for the Constitutional Convention and an effective new government; Madison who wrote the Federalist Papers with Alexander Hamilton to secure the Constitution’s ratification; Madison who corrected the greatest blunder of the Constitution by drafting and securing passage of the Bill of Rights with Washington’s essential support; Madison who worked with Thomas Jefferson to found the nation’s first political party and transform the nation’s politics; Madison who drew on the martial virtues of James Monroe to guide the new nation through its first, unsteady war in 1812, and who handed the reins of government to this last of the Founders, his old friend and sometime rival. No American leader has matched Madison’s gift for joining with brilliant and diverse personalities in pursuit of great achievements.
Madison’s partnership with his charismatic wife, Dolley, was his most important. With unfailing charm and sure political sense, she proved an invaluable asset both to the career of her soft-spoken mate and to a nation struggling for its republican identity. Their partnership was a love story that sustained Madison through his political rise, his presidency, and his fruitful retirement.
For David’s talk about Madison’s Gift at the National Archives (the actual talk begins at minute 8:30: