37 Following

Seriously, Read a Book!

Thoughts on books, often interpreted through the high-brow prism of cartoon (read: Archer) references. Wait! I had something for this...

Currently reading

The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Notetaking
Mike Rohde
The Antidote
Oliver Burkeman
The Kind Worth Killing
Peter Swanson
Data Points: Visualization That Means Something
Nathan Yau
James Buchanan
Jean H. Baker, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.

James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights

James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights (Pivotal Moments in American History) - Richard Labunski

By the lax rules of my 2014 presidential reading mission, I'm more than happy to read a book that hones in on a specific affair in the life of a POTUS. However, Richard Labunski's play-by-play of the controversies around, drafting and adoption of the Bill of Rights (BoR- yes, I'm that lazy) wasn't particularly Madison-y (other than multiple TMI mentions of Madison's "bilious troubles" and hemorrhoidal afflictions...seriously he almost didn't attend the ratification delegation due to- heck I'll just say it- diarrhea). Labunski's color commentary is lacking throughout the book. It reads more like a transcript of events than it does a narrative and the inclusion of minute details without any emotional punch made much of it immemorable. Simply put, I found this to be a pretty boring read.


Mara's Amateur-Hour Arbitrary Highlight Reel:


I came across a paper with a subtitle that perfectly captures James Madison's relationship to the BoR, James Madison and the Bill of Rights: A Reluctant Paternity. That's right, Madison may have been the baby daddy, but this was not a case of planned parenthood. They just finished birthing this whole "Constitution" thing, and, frankly he was tired. 


Although Madison had buddied up with Alexander Hamilton to write the Federalist Papers, giving Madison all the Federalist street cred for which one could ever hope, Federalists and Anti-Federalists alike had reasons (although not the same ones) for not wanting to deal with the business of a bill of rights. Heck, Madison thought it unnecessary. 


Federalists v. Anti Federalists

As per usual, there was fracas about regarding states rights and federal power. There was also the fear that if the rights were enumerated they could be turned on their head to imply that those liberties not expressly stated didn't exist (tricky stuff).


However, Madison was ever-concerned with protecting the vulnerable against Majority Misrule, wanting to prevent "the aggressions of interested majorities on the rights of minorities and of individuals." If The Big Lebowski had been around circa 1787, I'm pretty sure Madison would have abided the wisdom of the Dude.


This Aggression Will Not Stand Man


Meanwhile, the ever-dramatic Patrick Henry (of "give me liberty or give me death" fame) was doing everything in his power to undermine Madison (sort of). Henry could be a bit of a diva; after his infamous "Treason" speech in 1777 (below- and, seriously, talk about melodrama; gloves are being thrown, statesmen are cowering in the corners- Henry sure knew how to put on a show), and partaking of his gubernatorial activities in Virginia for a while, he refused the invite to attend the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and insisted on some serious rider clauses before he would ratify in 1788. He might as well have just locked himself in his dressing room!


Patrick Henry throwing down


In the event that your sarcast-o-meter is in the shop, obviously I think that Henry had some pretty beneficial ideas. However, he deserves at least one demerit for the advent of gerrymandering (though the term wouldn't be coined until 1812). Rumor has it that some of this is debatable, but since I'm reviewing Labunski's book, we'll go with his take which is that Henry pulled a lot of strings to get Virginia's voting districts finagled to undermine Madison's chances of being elected to the House of Representatives.


Spoiler alert, Madison ended up in Congress, became Secretary of State (at the time an almost requisite precursor to the presidency) and eventually ended up as fourth president, so take that Mr. Henry! Oh and also, we ended up with a bunch of Constitutional amendments (though not all of Madison's got through, notably national sovereignty over states; and we've tacked a few of them on as recently as 1992). In 1791 the ten ratified amendments became our Bill of Rights, and we've been fighting about it ever since. 


If you've gotten this far, you deserve a Mini Dove James Madison for your persistence.


James Madison Mini Dove