An intellectual biography of James Madison, arguing that he invented American politics as we know it
How do you solve a problem like James Madison? The fourth president is one of the most confounding figures in early American history; his political trajectory seems almost intentionally inconsistent. He was both for and against a strong federal government. He wrote about the dangers of political parties in the Federalist Papers and then helped to found the Republican Party just a few years later. This so-called Madison problem has occupied scholars for ages.
As Jay Cost shows in this incisive new biography, the underlying logic of Madison’s seemingly mixed record comes into focus only when we understand him primarily as a working politician. Whereas other founders split their time between politics and other vocations, Madison dedicated himself singularly to the work of politics and ultimately developed it into a distinctly American idiom. He was, in short, the first American politician.
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