A new look at James Madison from a former Washington resident

Author Lynne Cheney, the wife of former Vice President Dick Cheney, is getting a lot of attention for her new exhaustive biography of James Madison, which was partly inspired by recent events.

cheneybook320Cheney, a New York Times bestselling author, started working on the book, “James Madison: A Life Reconsidered,” as she was leaving Washington in 2008, but she told Bloomberg News earlier this week that she was also inspired by the events related to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America.

“When Dick and I left by helicopter from the South Lawn of the White House, and we could see smoke form the Pentagon, both of us thought about the War of 1812 and how it was the last time that this had happened,” she said, referring to Madison’s term as president during that conflict with Great Britain.

In other interviews, Cheney said she first had the idea of writing a Madison biography in 1987. The 564-page book from Viking has gotten good reviews, with the noted historian Gordon Wood calling it “probably the best single-volume biography of Madison that we now have,” with the exception of Ralph Louis Ketcham’s 1971 biography.

Cheney talks a lot about Madison’s early years as the motivating factor in his career success, especially his health battles with what might have been epilepsy.

“I was interested in Madison’s health because I had seen Dick [her husband] face health challenges during his political career,” she told Bloomberg.

She also explained to USA Today how Madison’s health problems broadened his life experiences.

“I think it made him an advocate of freedom of conscience, freedom of religion. Of all the founders, he was most fierce about that. And it was partly because epilepsy in his day was demonized,” Cheney said. “Madison heard that, saw his own experience, knew that wasn’t right and really began to think that one of the most important elements of human liberty is to be in charge of your own conscience. You don’t have to believe what other people tell you to believe.”

Another fact that Cheney points out is Madison’s role as the founder of the first opposition party in American politics. Madison was upset with what he saw as Alexander Hamilton’s ability to operate outside of the bounds of the new Constitution.

“Madison’s solution was to lead the way in establishing an opposition party—the first in American history. This was no easy task, since parties had an even worse reputation then than they do now,” Cheney told Politico.com.

Programing note: Cheney will be at the National Constitution Center on Tuesday, May 13, discussing her new book. For more information: http://constitutioncenter.org/calendar/james-madison-rediscovered-with-lynne-cheney

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