A sweeping reexamination of the Founding Father who transformed the United States in each of his political “lives”—as a revolutionary thinker, as a partisan political strategist, and as a president
“In order to understand America and its Constitution, it is necessary to understand James Madison.”—Walter Isaacson, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Leonardo da Vinci
Over the course of his life,James Madison changed the United States three times: First, he designed the Constitution, led the struggle for its adoption and ratification, then drafted the Bill of Rights. As an older, cannier politician he co-founded the original Republican party, setting the course of American political partisanship. Finally, having pioneered a foreign policy based on economic sanctions, he took the United States into a high-risk conflict, becoming the first wartime president and, despite the odds, winning.
Now Noah Feldman offers an intriguing portrait of this elusive genius and the constitutional republic he created—and how both evolved to meet unforeseen challenges. Madison hoped to eradicate partisanship yet found himself giving voice to, and institutionalizing, the political divide. Madison’s lifelong loyalty to Thomas Jefferson led to an irrevocable break with George Washington, hero of the American Revolution. Madison closely collaborated with Alexander Hamilton on the Federalist papers—yet their different visions for the United States left them enemies.
Alliances defined Madison, too. The vivacious Dolley Madison used her social and political talents to win her husband new supporters in Washington—and define the diplomatic customs of the capital’s society. Madison’s relationship with James Monroe, a mixture of friendship and rivalry, shaped his presidency and the outcome of the War of 1812.
We may be more familiar with other Founding Fathers, but the United States today is in many ways Madisonian in nature. Madison predicted that foreign threats would justify the curtailment of civil liberties. He feared economic inequality and the power of financial markets over politics, believing that government by the people demanded resistance to wealth. Madison was the first Founding Father to recognize the importance of public opinion, and the first to understand that the media could function as a safeguard to liberty.
The Three Lives of James Madison is an illuminating biography of the man whose creativity and tenacity gave us America’s distinctive form of government. His collaborations, struggles, and contradictions define the United States to this day.
About the Author
Noah Feldman is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the author of six previous books, most recently Cool War: The Future of Global Competition. He is a Senior Fellow of the Society of Fellows at Harvard University and a columnist for Bloomberg View.
“Illuminating and absorbing . . . [Noah] Feldman’s deeply thoughtful study shows that the three identities of James Madison constituted one exceptional life, which effectively mirrored the evolving identity of the American republic in its most formative phase. In Feldman’s capable hands, Madison becomes the original embodiment of our ‘living Constitution.’”—The New York Times Book Review
“Grand . . . Feldman is a very accessible and quietly stylish writer, and his approach to his subject is a fresh one.”—Esquire
“Groundbreaking . . . The Three Lives of James Madison studies all the aspects of Madison’s complicated public career, as both the main author of the Constitution to the country’s first wartime president to the co-founder of the Democratic-Republican Party. . . . [Feldman is] uniformly excellent on Madison the political creature, which can’t help but resonate with the present day. . . . [A] superb account.”—The Christian Science Monitor
“James Madison was instrumental in framing the constitutional government that serves the American people today. . . . This is an insightful examination on how theories and ideals are applied and changed by real-life circumstances.”—Library Journal
“The most stimulating political book that I have read in as long as I can remember. Madison was a young genius obsessed with the idea of constitution-making and government structure and who, in his early twenties, started designing the American government. Almost every debate we’re having now about politics comes back in some way or another to Madison’s vision and the questions Madison was thinking about in the 1770s and 1780s. . . . Madison was way more important to our country than Hamilton was.”—Jacob Weisberg, editor in chief of The Slate Group and author of The Bush Tragedy
“Feldman brings a scholarly rigor and a gift for narrative to this impressive account of the sprawling—and often perplexing—life of James Madison.”—Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
“Feldman gives us a rich portrait of our fourth president in all his many aspects: constitution maker, politician, partisan, friend, slaveholder, husband, president, and elder statesman. The result is a fresh, bold, and much-needed look at a pivotal figure in American and, therefore, world history.”—Annette Gordon-Reed, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family
“Feldman, combining laudable scholarship with delightful writing, does a brilliant job of showing how Madison’s precise and reasoned mind, along with his personal friendships and rivalries, created our code as a nation.”—Walter Isaacson, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Leonardo da Vinci
“Feldman skillfully explains the evolving genius of Madison with precision and clarity. The result is a narrative both epic in scope and intimate in detail.”—David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler, authors of Washington’s Circle: The Creation of the President