James Madison

By Irving Brant
AMONG all the men who shaped the present government of the United States, the one who did the most is known the least. James Madison . . . is known only through a backward projection of his later self, and therefore is not known at all. When a man rises to greatness in youth, it is with his youth that we should first concern ourselves.’ That is the thesis from which Mr. Brant starts in this first 400-page volume of a work planned for three volumes. It covers intensively, with exhaustive documentation, thirty years of its subject’s long life, stopping with his assumption of membership in the national Congress in 1780; that is, six years short of the events that made him, at thirty-six, the Father of the Constitution. Over and above his general devotion to the task of making Madison integrally known, Mr. Brant is actuated by a passionate belief that the feeling of nationalistic solidarity was of much earlier origin in America, and also far more general, than latterday historical science is disposed to grant. His most searching pages are focused on the proof that ‘the uniting sense of Americanism within the British empire’ was no post-Revolutionary growth, struggling toward cohesion at the time of the Constitutional Convention, but the renascence of a much earlier, a pre-Revolutionary fact. I he proof as he marshals it is overwhelming, and his demonstration of the early part played by Madison in the emotional unification of the colonies, though intricate, is finally persuasive. Readers will undoubtedly be fewer because the author insists on fighting the battles of scholarship in public, with overt efforts to unhorse proponents of a contrary view, instead of telling his story and sticking to its own affirmations. But perhaps the method is necessary in a field already held by entrenched opinion; and perhaps the number of general readers is neither here nor there in connection with a work that asks to be judged by the pressure it puts on the professional historian to reconsider various of his judgments.
W. F.