James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights

Richard E. Labunski, Author . Oxford Univ. $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-19-518105-0

This engaging study views the Bill of Rights as the crowning achievement of America's constitutional architect. Journalism professor Labunski (The First Amendment Under Siege ) recounts Madison's exploits in the critical period from 1787 to 1789, as he battled anti-Federalist Patrick Henry to secure Virginia's ratification of the new Constitution, won a hard-fought election to the House of Representatives and shepherded the Bill of Rights through the fledgling Congress. Madison, the author argues, walked a tightrope between Federalists who dismissed a bill of rights as unnecessary, perhaps dangerous, window dressing, and anti-Federalists who clamored for one as a pretext to call a second constitutional convention to undo the first. Linking these events to Madison's biography, Labunski sometimes loses the narrative thread and analytical perspective in the clutter of Madison's existence, like his recurring bouts of diarrhea. Moreover, Labunski's "indispensable man" historiography downplays Madison's decidedly lukewarm attitude toward a bill of rights until popular pressure and political necessity forced him to embrace it. Still, the author makes it an interesting story, full of sonorous oratory and colorful details of 18th-century politicking. The result is a lively look at the rickety early republic and Madison's great balancing act. 20 b&w illus. (July)

Reviewed on: 05/08/2006
Release date: 07/01/2006
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-19-534142-3
Compact Disc - 978-1-4193-9613-7
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-1-4281-0297-2
Downloadable Audio - 978-1-4498-9662-1
Ebook - 352 pages - 978-0-19-804001-9
Ebook - 352 pages - 978-1-4416-2742-1
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