Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Relationships of power
As I've read and studied about the founding of our nation, in my mind George Washington perhaps stands closest to the ideal of a truly noble hero. John Adams is likewise admirable, although hampered by his vanity and having the misfortune to follow in Washington's very long shadow. By the time I get to Thomas Jefferson, though, things get ugly. The nastiness of party politics becomes intractable - and Jefferson was a natural at hardball politics.
Both Jefferson and Madison were Virginians first and Americans second, and this heavily influenced their politics. Jefferson, the idealist and philosopher, is quite frequently seen in a contradictory light. His lofty ideals and eloquent way with words had a way of swaying opinion. His fear of monarchial tendencies in government drove his policies, and he sought to maintain states rights and limit the power of the federal government (even while, as president, he greatly enlarged federal power). Madison, credited as the "Father of the Constitution" for his monumental efforts in 1787, is seen wrongly as a continuation of the Jefferson presidency, and many assumed Jefferson was still pulling the strings. In spite of their close friendship, they frequently differed in opinions and the courses of action they took. And while Jefferson appears as cordial and pleasant, Madison is portrayed unfairly as cold and unemotional. And the book does a good job of highlighting the important role played by Madison in the history.
This is a lengthy book with the narrative being almost 650 pages long, with dense writing that requires careful attention (I spent nearly 2 months reading it). As such, it's probably directed at serious readers of history rather than casual ones. The focus is mostly on politics, although there's enough information on their personal lives to give it a decent balance. With two authors it sometimes feels a little uneven, although the book doesn't suffer for it. The ending, however, seemed a bit disconnected and I vaguely suspected the authors of inserting some of their own personal present-day politics. But even this doesn't take away from the terrific work they've compiled, and in spite of the length and depth it kept my interest throughout. (Note: I received this book from Amazon Vine.)