Review by Lada Ray
With profound knowledge and great style, J.J. Collins sets out to explore the creation of the American Constitution and the birth of the American Republic, as well as the people behind these events. This is not a very long book, but it packs a wallop of information, at the same time managing to convey the feel, texture and attitudes of that era.
We get to meet not only James Madison himself, but also the other greats of American history: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, among others. The author takes us to the historic 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia where we witness first-hand the process of creation of the Constitution.
The uncharted territory that was the American Constitution made it difficult to reconcile all the varying opinions and interests in order to arrive at one document, which would unite the whole country. James Madison and others were heavily influenced by the philosophy of the European Era of Enlightenment. In turn, the American Constitution would later become the symbol of freedom and the fight against tyranny in Europe and elsewhere.
Ironically, some of the most shameful moments of American history were also enshrined in the Constitution, including the justification of slavery and the fact that each slave was considered only 3/5 of a white man, as well as the creation of the Electoral College – the US Presidential Election’s unfair and archaic indirect voting system, which still persists today.
The book proceeds to describe the era of the British/French war, the French revolutionary wars starting at the end of the 18th century, a struggle for the USA to remain neutral to European conflicts, and the ever deepening bitter political divisions between Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans–the former revolutionary buddies. We follow James Madison’s life and career, from the post of the Secretary of State to being elected the fourth President of the United States, and later, to his death.
It was the era of great statesmen, not mere politicians, the kind of people we only wish we could see in the White House today. Their intellect, knowledge, erudition and profound concern for their country and fellow man–moderated with reason and wisdom–led them to create the foundation on which America functioned successfully for many years. They passionately debated the issues of individual’s rights, state vs. federal power, unjust enrichment, monopoly, separation of legislative and executive powers, establishment of a National Bank, and equitable taxation. They developed laws, which at that time in history resulted in the most advanced society on Earth. The creation of the American Constitution signified the US history’s proudest moment.
However, these men were also the children of their time: they held slaves and made constant efforts to forcefully convert the Native Americans into the white man’s way of life.
This book is especially timely today. As we slowly drift away from the principles that once made this country great in so many ways, it serves as an important reminder of things the Americans have conveniently forgotten.
A highly recommended read for American history buffs and novices alike!