James Madison

It is important to tell the story of the Constitution’s origins in a way that demythifies it. Impressive as they were, the men who wrote the Constitution were not demigods; they had interests, prejudices, and moral blind spots.

An impetuous and sometimes corrupt Congress has often hamstrung the efforts of the president since the earliest days of the Republic

On a little-remarked, steamy day in late June 1973, a revolution took place in Washington, D.C., one that would transfer far more power and wealth than did the revolt against King George III in 1776. Read more >>

Written in haste, on an April midnight in 1803, the unedited text of the message that led to the Louisiana Purchase is printed for the first time.

A diminutive, persuasive Virginian hijacked the Constitutional Convention and forced the moderates to accept a national government with vastly expanded powers

On May 5, 1787, James Madison arrived in Philadelphia. Read more >>

At five critical junctures in American history, major political compromises have proved that little of lasting consequence can occur without entrenched sides each making serious concessions

Without major compromises by all involved and the agreement to avoid the contentious issue of slavery, the framers would never have written and ratified the Constitution

In September 1789, at the end of the Constitutional Convention, James Madison wrote in dismay to his old friend Thomas Jefferson, who was an ocean away in Paris. “I hazard an opinion,” he lamented, “that the plan should it be adopted will neither effectively answer the national object nor prevent the local mischiefs which everywhere excite disgust against the state governments.” Read more >>

Suppose they could go on "Meet The Press"...

The assignment—to select 10 books suitable for a lay reader that cover American history between the Constitution and the 1850s—sounds easier than it is. Read more >>

VOTER TURNOUT MAY BE DOWN IN RECENT YEARS, BUT THE INVOLVEMENT OF THE COMMON CITIZEN HAS GROWN TO FAR SURPASS ANYTHING THE FOUNDING FATHERS EVER DREAMED OF

ON IT HE GAVE THE NEW nation a new industry, wrote a protoguide to New England inns and taverns, (probably) did some secret politicking, discovered a town that lived up to his hopes for a democratic society, scrutinized everything from rattlesnakes to rum manufacture—and, in the process, pretty much invented the summer vacation itself

BY THE END OF THE FIRST CONGRESS, IN THE SPRING OF 1791, Thomas Jefferson badly needed a vacation. The first Secretary of State disliked the noise, dirt, and crowds of the capital, Philadelphia, and the cramped routines of office work. Read more >>

It has always been politics as usual

Supreme Court vacancies have provoked fierce, colorful—and wholly partisan—battles since the earliest years of the Republic Read more >>

Two hundred years ago the United States was a weakling republic prostrate beneath a ruinous national debt. Then Alexander Hamilton worked the miracle of fiscal imagination that made America a healthy young economic giant. How did he do it?

One price of political greatness is to be forced to campaign even long after death. The Founding Fathers, particularly, have been constantly dragged from their graves for partisan purposes. Read more >>

Every one of the Founding Fathers was a historian—a historian who believed that only history could protect us from tyranny and coercion. In their reactions to the long, bloody pageant of the English past, we can see mirrored the framers’ intent.

It took an Englishman, William Gladstone, to say what Americans have always thought: “The American Constitution is, so far as I can see, the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.” From this side of the water, however, Read more >>

James Wilson was an important but now obscure draftsman of the Constitution. Carry Wills is a journalist and historian fascinated by what went on in the minds of our founders. The two men meet in an imaginary dialogue across the centuries.

  His red judge’s robe looked faded and theatrical by daylight. People at the bus stop stared at him, and his face flushed near the color of the robe. But he busily ignored them. Read more >>

The framers of the Constitution were proud of what they had done but might be astonished that their words still carry so much weight. A distinguished scholar tells us how the great charter has survived and flourished.

The American Constitution has functioned and endured longer than any other written constitution of the modern era. It imbues the nation with energy to act while restraining its agents from acting improperly. Read more >>

The Founding, Fathers never did agree about the proper relationship between church and state. No wonder the Supreme Court has been backing and filling on the principle ever since.

THE SUPREME COURT has been busy of late scrutinizing the “wall of separation,” a figure of speech attributed to Thomas Jefferson. It is not like the ugly Berlin Wall, built of concrete blocks and topped with broken glass and barbed wire. Read more >>

Did the fifty-five statesmen meeting in Philadelphia at the Constitutional Convention know that a witch-hunt was taking place while they deliberated? Did they care?

In an age of ersatz heroes, a fresh look at the real thing

The Unknown Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton’s contribution to welding the thirteen semi-independent states which had won the Revolution into a unified political entity was greater than that of any other Founding Father, with the possible exception of Washington. But this tells only half the story. Read more >>

"With half the western world at stake, See Perry on the middle lake.” —Nineteenth-century ballad

In the late summer of 1812 a Great Lakes merchant captain named Daniel Dobbins arrived in Washington. Read more >>

The year was 1814, and within three weeks our “young and not always wise” nation suffered acute shame and astonishing victory

About to die at the untimely age of forty-four in 1883, Dr. George Miller Beard, a Connecticut physician and pioneer in neurology, remarked: “I should like to record the thoughts of a dying man for the benefit of science, but it is impossible.” And with those words, Dr. Read more >>

The idea goes back to the very beginnings of our national history. Then as now, it was built upon human relationships, and these—as Mr. Jefferson found to his sorrow—make a fragile foundation.

Jefferson and Madison led a revolutionary fight for complete separation of church and state. Their reasons probed the basic relation between religion and democracy

Was the old South solidly for slavery and secession? An eminent historian disputes a long-cherished view of that region’s history

At Ghent five Americans—divided and far from home—held firm for a treaty that won their nation new respect, and began a lasting alliance

I t was St. John’s Day, a gentle introduction to summer, and the road, Lowered by leafing elms and poplars and oaks, carved through lush grain fields and meticulous flower gardens. Read more >>

A leading American historian challenges the long-entrenched interpretation originated by the late Charles A. Beard