Wood begins his article on Madison with a bitter, cane-shaking condemnation of the unwashed masses for not celebrating him as much as we do Jefferson anymore, my first warning that the article might consist of nothing but a list of Madison's achievements and a link to the website for his fanclub. Fortunately, this was not the case; the article was indeed going somewhere, it just felt that it was too good to tell me where until I had dedicated my evening to plodding through its lengthy introduction. When I got there, the issue seemed a bit manufactured, as I had never been notified that historians had perceived a discrepancy in Madison's nature over time, much less that it was apparently a hot topic among those who cared--I'm sure people were already discussing it, but to a novice like me the author's spending twelve pages to create an argument he would then go on to disagree with smacked of a massive waste of time and implied that he could have started twelve pages further in. Also, apparently the idea that a man's principles can change over the course of his lifetime (or simply go out the window once he gains power) is something that flummoxes historical scholars, but let's assume they have never in fact met an average politician before. Now, this is all nitpicking, and I should qualify my standard criticisms by saying that I'm quite fond of Wood's writing style--he presents the issue simply enough for it to be understood, but also takes time to examine scholarly attitudes towards all sides and to explain why we think what we do. "As these studies... become more and more refined and precious, they seem to drift farther... from Madison's eighteenth-century reality," jumps out as one of the more perceptive comments of the piece. I also found the description of Madison as "not all as realistic and as modern as we often make him out to be," quite fair, though it certainly could have stopped beating around the bush and just said "hopelessly naive" anytime it wanted to. It's completely accurate, too, to say that the idea of a whole government not poisoned by politics and biases is hopelessly naive, and to say that the Founding Fathers were not the wily, pragmatic devils we make them out to be--they did tend to be naive at times, though all in different ways. But once one's in the president's shoes, it's not quite so easy to be naive, now, is it, Mr. Madison? No, sometimes, one has to play ball and let the states faff about a bit and "allow the country to be invaded and the capital to be burned" in order to keep Hamilton and his wacky Federalist friends from sticking a king in office and having done with it. Most of the perceived discrepancies between one's actions in and out of office in history can generally be attributed to this same cause, as a matter of fact: they were naive, and now that they have to actually sort this mess out they're not so naive anymore, generally resulting in broken campaign promises, confusing voters, and looking a bit goofy and indecisive.
The author is completely correct in saying that Madison was the same person throughout his entire life, and I applaud the brilliance it must have taken to reach the conclusion that the man had rationale for all of his actions. In all seriousness, though, the explanation on the author's part does indeed make perfect sense with what I know of Madison, and I do agree with the justifications behind his actions.
Also, I know the title wasn't funny. It was late and I was tired.
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