Richard Brookhiser has spent much of his recent years chronicling the Founders — individually and as a group. His latest subject is James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution” and the fourth American president.
Brookhiser contends that Madison deserves much of the credit for the structure of American governance in place today.
Madison’s circumambient monument is American constitutionalism — the laws of doing and not doing, and all the debate and revisions they have generated (debating and revising are among the laws; some of the most important ongoing debates — over the power of the federal government, and of the courts; over free speech and freedom of religion — go back to Madison’s lifetime). Many other people helped build constitutionalism, including enemies of his, and he would be the last person to deny his collaborators. But he played a major role.
His other monument, coequal if not greater, is American politics, the behavior that makes constitutionalism work: the ways and means of acquiring, conferring, and rebuking power, the party organizations and partisan media that are the vehicles of interest, ambition, and thought. He was at the birth of the American political system, and he understood it better than almost all his great peers. Like the Constitution, politics has changed since he died, but not in ways that would make it unrecognizable to him, or that make him foreign to us. It is all around us, in election years, and every day between elections as well.