American Revolutionary War

‘Becoming Madison’ A Nice Preamble To Constitution

Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives. — James Madison

Becoming-MadisonMany an argument in America, I’m certain, has ended with the phrase “it’s in the Constitution,” despite the reality that many Americans have never read the document and would be ill-advised to debate what is in — or not in — the Constitution.

But one who man could say it with certainty was president James Madison.

Becoming Madison: The Extraordinary Origins of the Least Likely Founding Father, centers around the younger, formative years of the country’s fourth president and author of the Constitution. Most of the story is neatly sandwiched between two defining moments in Madison’s life and both incidents involve his political nemesis, Patrick Henry. In the first moment, Henry see a great political opportunity in, of all things, the decline of church membership in Virginia. Henry tries to exploit the electorate’s belief that the closing churches indicate the country is heading down the path to Hell, immorality and eventual destruction.

Salvation Through Taxation

Henry offers up a solution — the Bill Establishing a Provision for Teachers [Ministers] of the Christian Religion. The bill, which initially proved very popular with politicians and voters alike — would assess a tax on all citizens to fund churches. Since this was in the pre-Constitution era, the concept of a wall between the church and state did not exist. Madison, though, saw the inherent flaw with Henry’s popular concept and set out to defeat the proposal. Madison initially scribbled some notes on the back on an envelope contesting the concept. His note began,

The true question was not whether religion was necessary. It was whether religious establishments were necessary for religion. No.

From the simple answer of No, Madison would write a 15-point essay and address the Legislators in opposition to Henry. Madison, a short, soft-spoken man was definitely in a David versus Goliath fight when he chose to engage in political battle with the Revolutionary War icon who famously spoke, “Give me liberty or give me death.” Just as in biblical times, Goliath fell, but more importantly, it was in this singular event that led to the creation of Madison’s method of political attack. The method consisted of nine interlocking tactics:

  1. Find passion in your conscious.
  2. Focus on the idea, not the man.
  3. Develop multiple and independent lines of attack.
  4. Embrace impatience.
  5. Establish a competitive advantage through preparation.
  6. Conquer bad ideas by dividing them.
  7. Master your opponent as you master yourself.
  8. Push the state to the highest version of itself.
  9. Govern the passions.

The book ends with an even larger political battle with Henry — ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Henry was adamantly opposed to the proposed Constitution — viewing it as the enemy of freedom — and, of course, Henry was considerably influential. In fact, it was assumed in his day that if his home state of Virginia did not ratify the Constitution — then the Constitution would fail to garner the nine states needed for acceptance. In the end, Virginia narrowly ratified the document.

Unelectable Today?

Although the focus of the book is on the forces and influences in Madison’s younger years — especially the ones that channeled him into being a statesmen — the book is also filled with enough real life stories to let reader understand who Madison is. Madison, at 5′ 4″ and a 100 or so pounds, probably would not have been elected in today’s TV-driven presidential races where the passions are intentionally enflamed by demagogues. Although by no means perfect, Madison was a believer in a governmental system that kept all the various passions in check so that the good of the nation — and its citizens — would be served.

Panic Attacks

The author points out several of Madison’s weaknesses and the most pressing one was panic attacks. The problem plagued Madison his entire life. As a young man Madison — a believer in armed opposition to the British — collapsed on the battlefield unable to participate in war. At the age of 36, during the ratification process of the Constitution, Madison retreated to his room for days unable to face the controversy. Despite this weakness — which was potentially debilitating in politics — Madison rose above his pain, authored and then fought for the document that governs our nation.

Principle Proves Costly

Madison was a believer in reason and it nearly costs him his political career. He suffered his first defeat by refusing to participate in a common practice of securing votes. Most politicians in his day would supply voters with alcohol on election day and, of course, the drunker the voters became the more apt they were to cast their ballot in favor of the one supplying the alcohol. Madison felt the practice demeaned the nation, believing that those who govern had a moral obligation to be statesmen and push the state to the highest version of itself.

Final Note

In a book review it is not possible to explore all the reasons a book is worth reading and the list of childhood influences and educational choices are just two subjects the book explores that I have not touched on. But, the fact that Madison was educated under the tutelage of John Witherspoon was extremely influential in the creation of the U.S. Constitution. It was while being pushed, educated and challenged by Witherspoon that many of the ideas in the Constitution first surfaced.


Rated 5 out of 5. Before reading the book all I knew about Madison was he authored the Constitution and I was pretty sure he married Dolley. After that I knew little about the man. After reading the book though, I must say, my impression of Madison is he was a man of principle and believed that for a country to succeed, strong checks must be in place to counteract voters’ passions. His main weakness, I would contend, was he put too much faith in the morality of elected officials, presuming they would govern from a sense of morality and the higher good.

Categories: American History, American Revolutionary War | Tags:

Founding Father Reworked New Testament To Highlight Philosophy of Jesus

Thomas JeffersonThomas Jefferson was obviously one of the most influential men in early American history which is why I find this to be one of his most intriguing projects (besides, of course, the Constitution). It is a little book Jefferson pieced together commonly called The Jefferson Bible.

In a nutshell, the book is a succinct version of the first four books (the Gospels) of the New Testament. Jefferson splices together all four books and, by removing the redundancies, streamlines the story of Jesus and his philosophy into an easy-to-read 40 pages.

Since Jefferson was a Deist, besides splicing the story together, he removes quite a bit from the Gospels as well.

The Jefferson BibleThis is because Jefferson rejected the divinity of Jesus and did not believe all the miracles that had been attributed to him. In fact, in Jefferson’ words those passages belonged on the ‘dunghill.’ Since those passages are eliminated (the virgin birth, the resurrection, water to wine, etc.), what is left is the core of what Jesus said and taught.

Although Jefferson did not believe Jesus was divine, he did believe that the ethical system of Jesus was the ‘finest the world has ever seen.’

From a historical perspective, the book is also interesting simply because you get to read Jefferson’s handwritten notes in the margin of the book and you get a feel for how his mind worked. The Smithsonian version that I read, includes a couple chapters in the front that explain why Jefferson laid out the book as he did and its unique history — including how the Smithsonian finally acquired it. The Smithsonian version also explains the process of preserving the original book.

Regardless of your religious beliefs, it is an excellent book to read if you want a clearer understanding of what Jesus said. Besides the English passages, Jefferson also compiled the story of Jesus in Latin, Greek and French. All four translations exist inside the same book.

You can read the English-only, 1902 publication online for free here (pdf).

Categories: American History, American Revolutionary War

Free Revolutionary War records until end of July

Yohn_Battle_of_Kings_MountainIf you are interested in the United States Revolutionary War, then head over to Fold3 and view records free until the end of July. This is a great deal. Years ago, I purchased the Revolutionary War records for my grandfather of that era Shadrach Claywell and paid about $40 for the documents (not sure what the fee is now).

Based on Shadrach’s records, the documents have quite a bit of information in them. In the case of Shadrach, I learned in 1778 he served three months under Capt. Robert Adams as a private — and that, when he enlisted, he lived in Bedford County, Virginia. The file contained about 20-30 pages so I was able to learn about his other tour of duties — including his capture at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse.

An email from Fold3 describes the collection as:

  • Revolutionary War pension files
  • Service records
  • War rolls,
  • Payment vouchers and,
  • The Revolutionary War Manuscript File

The email further states:

If you’re interested in the historical aspects of the war, you can explore the captured vessels prize cases, Revolutionary War milestone documents, Pennsylvania Archives, Constitutional Convention records, and the papers and letters of the Continental Congress, among others.

You can access the free records here until July 31.

Categories: American History, American Revolutionary War, Family History, Tools for historical search | Tags: , ,