cover image James Madison: America’s First Politician

James Madison: America’s First Politician

Jay Cost. Basic, $35 (464p) ISBN 978-1-5416-9955-7

Cost (The Price of Greatness), a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, takes an in-depth look at James Madison’s political theories. Cost sheds light on Madison’s education at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) under Presbyterian minister John Witherspoon; writings such as the 1785 essay “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,” which called for the “complete disestablishment of the Church of Virginia and unconditional toleration of all sects”; and his push for a “massive increase in federal power” at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Elected to Congress in 1789, Madison advocated for the Bill of Rights, helped create the Republican Party (later known as the Democrat-Republican Party), and opposed Alexander Hamilton’s plan for the Bank of the United States. Detailing Madison’s handling of the War of 1812 as president and his rebuttal of claims that states had the power to annul federal laws during the 1832 Nullification Crisis, Cost contends that Madison viewed republican politics as the answer to the essential problems of government. Though he treads familiar ground and occasionally overstuffs the account, Cost effectively reconciles Madison’s well-documented contradictions under the banner of his commitment to “fair play” and “the search for common ground among factions.” The result is a solid intellectual biography of one of America’s most consequential founders. (Nov.)