Author Lynne Cheney, called “the rarest of public intellectuals who combines scholarly rigor with narrative power” by the National Constitution Center’s Jeffrey Rosen, talks about her new extensive biography of a significant Founding Father, James Madison.
Cheney, a New York Times bestselling author and former second lady of the United States, is getting strong reviews for James Madison: A Life Reconsidered, an exhaustively researched work that reacquaints readers with the principal author of the Bill of Rights and the fourth president of the United States.
In excerpts from the event, recorded on May 13, 2014, Rosen and Cheney talk about Madison’s legacy and personalize the life and times of a seminal Founder who had a unique impact on the Constitution.
“I call Madison a genius in the book,” Cheney explained. “I think that his genius was to break through conventional wisdom and see in a way that hadn’t been seen before.”
She named Madison “the hardest working of the Founders” and wondered aloud about his success as a politician.
“One of his rules was, ‘Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the possible,’” Cheney said. “He wanted to have proportional representation [in Congress] across the board, but in the end, when that proved not to be possible, he accepted what had happened and moved forward.”
She also suggested Madison’s speaking style lent him persuasive power and credibility.
“He wasn’t histrionic,” Cheney said. Instead, Madison was “cool, composed,” easily able to counter arguments—a sharp contrast to Patrick Henry, “the man who could call thunder down from the heavens,” whom he battled for ratification of the Constitution in Virginia.
“That was Madison’s style,” she emphasized. “No flowers, just make the case—sheer reason.”
Cheney concluded with warm words for the National Constitution Center.
“You’re very lucky to live within close distance of this marvelous institution,” she told the audience. “It is a real gift for Philadelphia and for the country as a whole to have a place that’s centered on education about the Constitution. I’m very honored to have been here.”
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