Jefferson, Madison, and the Making of the Constitution

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 07 Jun 2019

Member Reviews

JEFFERSON, MADISON, AND THE MAKING OF THE CONSTITUTION by Jeff Broadwater is a recently published work from The University of North Carolina Press. Broadwater is an historian who has written texts about James Madison, George Mason and also about other revolutionary founders. This latest work is clearly well-researched (roughly a fourth of the book is notes and source lists) and likely to be of interest to faculty members. Broadwater makes the points "neither Jefferson nor Madison got the Constitution that he really wanted" and offers a thorough exploration of the two men's "evolution of thought," particularly in the context of events between 1776 and 1789. 

I originally requested this preview because I thought it might be used in our Civics classes in order to probe some of the history and concepts related to the Constitution.  Unfortunately, I think Broadwater's text is too dense and assumes too much prior knowledge of American history (on the part of our students) to be useful in that way. Other academics and historians are more likely to appreciate his work in comparing and contrasting these two statesmen, debating, for example Broadwater's summary comment: "Jefferson left a more profound imprint on the American psyche. Madison made a greater impact on American law."
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Every American knows the story of how the US Constitution came to be.  However, this book goes in a little more in depth and gives us a behind the scenes look.  This book centers on Jefferson and Madison and weaves a story on how they worked together for the common good of The United States of America.
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Enjoyed this book. Kept me interested all the way through. Would recommend to a fellow reader.  Love the cover.
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I very much enjoyed this book, which goes into great detail about the deeply meaningful relationship between James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. However, it definitely gets into the weeds, so to speak, and I think the book will primarily appeal to those with a fervent interest in the period rather than lay audiences.
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5 stars!

A fascinating look into our amazing history that is very thoroughly researched. 

I voluntarily read an advanced copy.
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Jeff Broadwater writes a comprehensive and compelling account of the Making of the Constitution. He details the life stories of two significant protagonists: Thomas Jefferson (1743 to 1826), the primary author of the broad principles articulated in the Declaration of Independence and James Madison (1751 to 1836), responsible for the Bill of Rights, a framework for a new government; each document had an entirely different purpose. Thomas Jefferson was the 3rd president of America, and James Madison was the 4th.

Both men believed in a central government robust enough to promote American trade overseas, both supported expansion to the West and sought to preserve the Union. They both enjoyed years of study in history, law and political philosophy, and experience in legal practice, government, and politics. They were both prepared for the monumental task of helping the thirteen American colonies win independence from Great Britain. Both focused on how majority rule and individual liberties could be reconciled. Both men gained immeasurably from their friendship with each other and their ability to exchange ideas. Both men also had their differences which the reader may uncover for themselves.

The task of forming a unified government in America was enormous. Jeff Broadwater has enlightened us from might have been a dull historical subject by showing us how these two men developed from childhood to the towering political figures of their time. The reader can settle back and appreciate this historical drama. When faced with the salutary neglect of Great Britain exploiting the colonists, these descendants of the first colonists proved themselves worthy of the task of asserting their independence. We Americans today are lucky that the 1776 Founding Fathers had a deep appreciation of the roots of common law in Great Britain, the Magna Carta, English criminal law and the English Courts system and did not succumb to self-interest or ideology.

I love the way the story unfolds; Jeff gives us point and counterpoint all the way through, we understand the northern states are perhaps more sophisticated and threatening to the Southern states. How should that be reconciled? We begin to understand the disparate political factions and their motivations, and best of all Jeff provides us with derisive comments from Adams saying there was nothing new in the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson supported the Declaration by saying “not to find out new principles” …” but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain as to command their assent.” I am extremely grateful for Jefferson’s “common sense,” we need a continuing large supply of it today.

It is fascinating to understand that the significant political decisions of the day repeatedly had to wait for the arrival of politicians from different states. No air travel or limousines to transport politicians to the seat of government. Many of the politicians of the day divided their time between local government and Congress and had to choose between politics locally and politics in Congress. Many times, a quorum was missing for a significant vote, as the people in Congress waited for one state or the other to arrive day by day. No telephones, poor travel options, sometimes a trusty steed was the only answer. If you were waiting for a book published in England, you might have to find someone who would buy it there and bring it back for you. No instant internet to provide present knowledge, no polls to tell you what people are thinking.

I was not brought up in America, so this detailed historical account of the Founding Fathers is new to me. I believe it is a book that I might dip into again and again, and always gain further insights. People who already have a framework of US history will find this book fascinating as it fills in so many details and interactions of the time. The book is incredibly well-researched, with a lengthy bibliography. I found nothing to dislike about the book. It is ambitious in its scope, and Jeff has brought the reader a first-class political story in an accessible, interesting format.

I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars. I recommend it to people who love history, politics, spectacular beginnings, ongoing sagas, and to YA. It is perhaps not the first choice for people who like light reading.
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