I love one of his children, but not the other

My sons gave me birthday gift cards for Barnes and Noble, my favorite place for hanging out aimlessly and browsing, and I’m there now, contemplating a dilemma.

A couple of days ago, I saw the review in the WSJ about this new biography of James Madison by Richard Brookhiser, and they have it here. Since college — when I took so many electives (to some extent concentrating on that period) that I ended up getting a second major in history when I hadn’t planned to — I’ve been drawn to that period, and the Founders. Particularly the Framers.

But do I really want to use one of my cards for that? The publisher overpriced it a bit, for a book with such large type and so few pages. Nowhere near the heft of McCullough’s John Adams. I could get several paperbacks for this price.

Also… I’m still reading, and fascinated by, Charles Mann’s exploration of the Americas and the world pre- and post-1492.

Do I really want to delve into my mixed attitudes toward Madison right now (I inadvertently typed “Jefferson” just then, a pre-Freudian slip)?

The thing is, I revere the man as the Father of our Constitution, a political achievement I honor as much as any in human history.

But… he’s also the father (note the lower case) of a bastard child — American partisan politics. Or one of the main fathers, anyway (the mother was indiscriminate). Certainly the most successful one. The Federalists (which, if I had to pick a party, would have been my preference then) faded away, but Madison’s Democratic Republicans remain vital, although in different form, under truncated name. (And no, for those who don’t follow such things, it’s not the Republicans, a later invention.)

I love one of his children, but the other is the bane of my life as a political writer.

Another reason to hesitate, and wait until this, too, is marked down or in paperback… I have yet to read the book about his chief rival, the one by Ron Chernow, that Fritz Hollings recommended to me several years ago. Fritz thought it was great, and I asked one of my kids for it for birthday or Christmas, and it sits on my shelf yet.

Of course, if anything, my attitudes toward Hamilton lean even more toward the jaded. Despite my Federalist leanings (which is really more of a reaction to the Democratic Republicans than a love of the Federalists), and despite my great admiration for the role that he, too, played in the Constitution, there’s that nasty partisanship thing.

While Adams and Jefferson were conducting themselves more or less above the fray, Hamilton and Madison were carrying out the nastiest sort of partisan warfare in their behalfs. But at least Madison served Jefferson well in so doing. One thing I respect about Adams is that he truly hated party politics, as much as I do, and his own party worked against him perhaps more than it supported him (to name but one example, there’s the way they blackened his legacy with the Alien and Sedition Acts). Jefferson was more affected in his nonpartisanship, and carried it off well, while Madison more smoothly conducted his dirty work.

As for my decision — oh, I’ll have to read the book at some point. I just haven’t decided whether to get it now. I’ll browse a bit more first…

20 thoughts on “I love one of his children, but not the other

  1. Brad

    Given my mixed feelings about Madison and Hamilton, perhaps I should become a John Jay fan. That way I could still celebrate the Federalist Papers without harrumphing about the author. Of course, it might just be that I don’t know enough about Jay. Nobody’s perfect…

  2. Mark Stewart

    Or Hamilton understood that the Federalist’s had the better platform that was worth the struggle to implement? Partisanship isn’t all bad. Not every disagreement is petty. But most are, no doubt.

  3. Ralph Hightower

    I am hoping that I will get “Wings In Orbit” (hardback version) for Christmas.

    Am I a Shuttle Hugger? Heck yea! I saw the first Space Shuttle launch on a tiny B&W TV. I have followed every launch that I could on TV and wanted to experience a Space Shuttle launch. I saw the last launch of Apollo.

    I saw the final Space Shuttle launch, 6 miles from the launch pad, and the final Space Shuttle landing, 200 yards from the runway.

  4. Leon Smith

    Brad, why don’t you check the book out at the library and save the card for another book you may want more. I always wonder why people buy at bookstores when they can read the library book for free. Well, free less your property taxes which go to the library! Of course, your property taxes go to the library no matter whether you ever stop foot into one or not!

  5. Cotton Boll Conspiracy

    Not long ago I was reading a biography of James Monroe and one of the things that struck me as being utterly improbable given today’s political atmosphere is that Monroe and James Madison, despite running for the same Congressional seat, apparently campaigned together.

    I believe it was during the Congressional election of 1790, but don’t have the book in front of me so I’m not positive.

    The book is “The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness.”

  6. Brad

    Well, there’s that. But to answer Leon’s question more fully…

    As it happens, the copy of 1491 that I’m now reading is from the Lexington County library. But I certainly don’t go there often. In fact, when I went by to renew it last week (it had already been renewed too many times to do it online, I think), they had to update my card. The address on it was for the house I haven’t lived in for 14 years. (My wife had checked it out for me at my request earlier, and renewed it for me, on her card.)

    And that’s one of the problems. I read slowly. I don’t get much time each day for book-readin’, so I have to keep renewing, which is a hassle. I also step away from them and read something else, then come back. This is especially true with non-fiction. I’ll plod through a novel more quickly, and directly. I’m like the combination of the negative traits of the tortoise AND the hare — I read slowly, and not steadily.

    Beyond that — I live in Lexington County, but I am almost never in the vicinity of a library branch in my county. The main Richland County library is across the street from my church, and I pass by it at least once, often twice or more, on weekdays. But they won’t let me check out books, except for a fee that is much higher than the $25 a year I pay to get discounts at Barnes & Noble.

    My allergies. The libraries we have around here do a really good job of managing mustiness, but I’ve been in some public libraries that gave me a sinus headache and hay fever. Which turned me off to the experience. If I’m going to browse (that is, stick my nose into) a bunch of books, I want them to be fresh, new ones.

    Then there’s the combination of book browsing and good coffee, which I find irresistible.

  7. Kathryn Fenner

    I’m also with you, Brad, on the allergy thing. I had to quit my college job at Thomas Cooper for that reason, and find that unless I get one of the newest books, the lingering cigarette smoke in older libray books is a deal killer.
    You can hang out at RCPL free, though, and read while you’re there. It’s a pleasant place, and seems clean enough, air-wise for me. YMMV.

  8. Kathryn Fenner

    and finally, the library card isn’t a discount card–once you have one, the rest is free- no co-pay…you understand that, right? At BN, you have to pony up the remaining 80-90% purchase price….

  9. Brad

    Ah… you’re supposing that I’m going to BUY something…

    That, I seldom do. (For myself, that is. I often buy gifts there, which is why the discount card makes sense for me.) Unless someone has given me a gift card.

    As it was, I bought nothing on Saturday. I decided I WOULD wait on the Madison book, and then spent the rest of my time blogging, until my laptop ran out of power.

  10. Kathryn Fenner

    So why worry about the price of an RCPL card?

    I bet your in-county relatives would lend you theirs, too….or you could move here. You belong in-town. You’re a walk-to-the-coffee-shop kind of guy.

  11. Brad

    Can’t afford it. I couldn’t sell my house last year even though we were offering it for less that I believe it’s worth.

    And before you tell me I should have lowered the price even further, so that I got totally ripped off, let me share this inconvenient fact: Even if we had been able to sell it at MORE than I think it’s worth, we couldn’t have then afforded anything downtown that I would live in.

    So… a bit of a conundrum. I’d have to be wealthy enough, essentially, to afford two houses in order to move into town.

  12. Brad

    … and that wouldn’t be worth it for the free library card. Especially since I prefer bookstores. I’d move for other reasons, if I did.

  13. Kathryn Fenner

    The reason you couldn’t sell your house at the price you wanted was because you overvalued it. Pure and simple. The market would have set it lower. The reason you couldn’t buy anything in town is the same: sellers thought their houses were worth far more than they actually were. That’s why the market stalls. If you had sold your house for the reduced price AND the sellers did likewise, I bet you could have done a deal.
    If you factor in gas and other transportation costs, I bet living in town would have won out, but….

  14. Steven Davis

    Yeah Brad, why don’t you move to Richland County… and pay 3x the taxes you are now in Lexington county? It seems like a no-brainer.

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