James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights

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Overview


Today we hold the Constitution in such high regard that we can hardly imagine how hotly contested was its adoption. Now Richard Labunski offers a dramatic account of a time when the entire American experiment hung in the balance, only to be saved by the most unlikely of heroes--the diminutive and exceedingly shy James Madison.

Here is a vividly written account of not one but several major political struggles which changed the course of American history. Labunski takes us inside the sweltering converted theater in Richmond, where for three grueling weeks, the soft-spoken Madison and the charismatic Patrick Henry fought over whether Virginia should ratify the Constitution. Madison won the day by a handful of votes, mollifying Anti-Federalist fears by promising to add a bill of rights to the Constitution. To do this, Madison would have to win a seat in the First Congress, which he did by a tiny margin, allowing him to attend the First Congress and sponsor the Bill of Rights.

Packed with colorful details about life in early America, this compelling and important narrative is the first serious book about Madison written in many years. It will return this under-appreciated patriot to his rightful place among the Founding Fathers and shed new light on a key turning point in our nation's history.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"With Labunski's book we now have a very readable and reliable narrative of how Madison gave birth to the Bill of Rights."--Gordon S. Wood, Professor of History, Brown University

"Watch the wig powder fly as James Madison and Patrick Henry slug it out over the constitutional freedoms we take for granted today."--Atlantic Monthly

"A virtue of Labunski's account is the generous attention he gives to Anti-Federalist luminaries like Patrick Henry, George Mason, and Richard Henry Lee--figures too often overlooked in our reverential regard for the founding. For those used to thinking of the Bill of Rights as carved in stone, it is also instructive to see just how large a role accident played in its creation."--Gary Rosen, The New York Times Book Review

"This engaging study views the Bill of Rights as the crowning achievement of America's constitutional architect... 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."--Publishers Weekly

"Carefully and lucidly examines how Madison and his political supporters and opponents (mostly Anti-Federalists) shaped the initial parameters of the Constitution and then further expressed their constitutional philosophies in the amendments that followed... A highly recommended analysis that will be useful for public and academic libraries."--Library Journal (starred review)

Gary Rosen
A virtue of Labunski's account is the generous attention he gives to Anti-Federalist luminaries like Henry, George Mason and Richard Henry Lee - figures too often overlooked in our reverential regard for the founding. For those used to thinking of the Bill of Rights as carved in stone, it is also instructive to see just how large a role accident played in its creation. The 10 amendments familiar to us started off as 17 in the House and were reduced to 12 by the Senate. The first two of these - on the size of the House and Congressional pay - didn't pass muster in the states, and so the third recommended amendment became, as if by fate, our famous First.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
It will come as little surprise to learn that Poe is a veteran Broadway performer: in reading Labunski's chronicle of James Madison's efforts to ratify the Constitution and pass the Bill of Rights, his voice echoes with effortless assurance, carrying into the virtual back row of any room. Thankfully, Poe mostly avoids the vocal equivalent of theatrical preening and posing. His reading is careful, unassuming and avoids wholly unnecessary showboating. Labunski's narrative revolves around Madison's struggle with fellow Virginian Patrick Henry over ratification, and Poe does a fine job of conveying the steadily ratcheting tension of their battle. Poe colors Labunski's tale with an appropriate array of significant pauses, emphases and hushed mock-whispers, bringing his book to life without resorting to overworked theatrical tricks. He may be a stage veteran, but Poe's reading is anything but stagy. Simultaneous release with the Oxford hardcover (Reviews, May 8). (July) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
James Madison played an important role in both the development of the U.S. Constitution and the creation of its first ten amendments, i.e., the Bill of Rights. Relying on primary sources, Labunski (Sch. of Journalism & Telecommunications, Univ. of Kentucky: The Second Constitutional Convention: How the American People Can Take Back Their Government) carefully and lucidly examines how Madison and his political supporters and opponents (mostly Anti-Federalists) shaped the initial parameters of the Constitution and then further expressed their constitutional philosophies in the amendments that followed. Seven of the ten chapters focus on activities prior to the introduction of the Bill of Rights. In his thorough coverage of the activities of the Virginia Ratifying Convention, Labunski offers intriguing discussions of constitutional debates and provides an understanding of the political and social context of the early constitutional polity. He finds that Madison and other Federalists used strategies that would ensure adoption of constitutional ideas in both Virginia and other parts of the nation. He then goes on to examine Madison's transformation from opponent of amendments to the Constitution to a central advocate in the U.S. House of Representatives for passage of what would become the Bill of Rights. A highly recommended analysis that will be useful for public and academic libraries. Steven Puro, St. Louis Univ. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195341423
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/2008
  • Series: Pivotal Moments in American History Series
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 765,137
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Labunski is a professor in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky. The author of four other books, he previously taught at the University of Washington and Penn State and worked for ten years in radio and television news.

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Table of Contents

Editor's Note
Introduction
Ch. 1: The Philadelphia Convention
Ch. 2: The Reluctant Candidate
Ch. 3: The Road to Richmond
Ch. 4: The Virginia Ratifying Convention
Ch. 5: The Ratification Vote
Ch. 6: The Anti-Federalists Fight Back
Ch. 7: The Election
Ch. 8: Madison Introduces the Bill of Rights
Ch. 9: Congress Proposes the Bill of Rights
Ch. 11: Epilogue
Appendix I: James Madison's Proposed Amendments
Appendix II: Amendments Reported by the House
Appendix III: Amendments Passed by the House of Representatives
Appendix IV: Amendments Passed by the Senate
Appendix V: Amendments Proposed by Congress to the States
Abbreviations
Notes
Acknowledgments
Index
About the Author

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 6 of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 15, 2010

    Politics As Usual

    More proof that American politics hasn't changed a bit. Good ideas get both tossed out or modified in the name of compromise. For those who think that somehow America was pure at the beginning this book will enlighten the reader that political backstabbing, gossip and outright lies were and are the rule of the day. From gerrymandering the congressional districts in order to get a wanted result to writing newpaper articles to scare the voters it was all part of the program and yet semehow we got the first 10 ammendments. Although it took near 160 years before they became real for the average American, one can only imagine how this country might have developed had they not been ratified.

    James Madison, although not our finest President was an amazingly able behind the scenes facilitator and writer. Without his efforts and those of many others the Federal government would have had even more far reaching power than it already does. Considering the administration that just left office, one can only imagine the types of intrusions into our everyday lives that would have resulted had it not been for the Bill of Rights.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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