The Real James Madison: The True Story of America’s Greatest Political Mind, by Joe Wolverton II, J.D., Mesa, Arizona: Heritage Academy IP, 2018, 453 pages, paperback. To order, visit ShopJBS.org.
Founding Father James Madison is described as America’s “greatest political mind” in this fascinating, readable, and informative biography by The New American magazine’s own Joe Wolverton. And the book makes its case very well. After reading The Real James Madison, it will become clear to anyone — whether a seasoned student of American history or a novice getting started — just how massive a debt Americans who value their liberties owe to this brilliant Founder. The book also offers a great amount of insight into America’s founding era. And it shines light on the real history that is so carefully omitted from government-school textbooks and “mainstream” historical narratives that are pervasive today. In short, it should be regarded as indispensable reading for all true patriots and Americanists.
Madison, often described as the “Father of the U.S. Constitution,” is typically seen by American patriots as a towering giant of the founding era and among men generally. And he was, as Wolverton’s book so ably demonstrates. He was the chief architect of the Bill of Rights while in Congress, one of the co-authors of The Federalist Papers defending the U.S. Constitution after the constitutional convention, and much more. He served as secretary of state, became America’s fourth president, and was an able military leader who successfully steered America through the War of 1812 without violating the Constitution he played such a key role in bringing into existence. Incredibly, there is no monument to him in Washington, D.C., even though if anyone deserves one, it is him.
However, Madison was also a man — and a frail one with serious health issues, at that. And sometimes, even on very important matters with consequences that are still manifested to this day, he was wrong. Wolverton’s book shows this, too.
The biography also debunks some of the more dishonest smears of Madison used by his contemporary critics, including on the issue of slavery.
Among the most interesting elements of the book — at least to this education-minded writer — was the in-depth focus on Madison’s education, and the value he placed on education. Indeed, as Wolverton pointed out, Madison was fond of reminding his fellow Americans that “knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” Madison also warned, “The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.” Madison’s life and American history are both testaments to the truth of those statements.
Wolverton calls Madison “one of the most learned men of this time.” And indeed, the description of the education Madison received is extraordinary — especially to modern Americans accustomed to a regimen of 12 to 15 years of dumbed-down government indoctrination masquerading as “schooling.” Madison’s incredible education began, like most young Americans in those days, at home with his parents. Madison’s mother, Nelly Conway Madison, taught him how to read, write, and do arithmetic. She also taught young James and his siblings morals and proper behavior using the Bible as her textbook. Clearly it worked, as the book reveals a gentle man dedicated to God, his family, public service, and liberty.
After learning all the “basics” at home by age 11, Madison spent five years studying under a Scottish teacher named Donald Robertson, where he learned history, grammar, Latin, literature, and more. Before he left school, he could read and write in Latin, as with most boys his age. He also learned Greek. Readers of Wolverton’s biography will also learn what books the young Madison purchased and borrowed during his studies, based on records maintained by Robertson. Anyone familiar with what passes for “education” in today’s America may well have to pick up his jaw off the floor after reading the titles on the list. By 17, Madison enrolled in the university today known as Princeton.
Obviously, Madison’s world-class education played a key role in shaping the man who would play a predominant role in shaping the American Republic and even world history. His understanding of Roman and Greek history, Wolverton shows, was fundamental in Madison’s understanding of how to create institutions that he felt could preserve freedom and self-government. His thorough familiarity with the great political treatises of Europe helped him understand the dangers of “democracy” and unchecked power.
Throughout the book, Wolverton quotes directly from Madison himself — his speeches, his letters, his writings, and more. By reading what the man himself had to say, while learning about the actions that accompanied the rhetoric, readers will come away with a full picture of Madison that is sorely lacking in contemporary narratives. Another key benefit of reading Madison’s words is having a more thorough understanding of what the “Father of the Constitution” thought about the Constitution. For instance, Wolverton quotes a report by Madison on the “Necessary and Proper” clause that explains the absurdity of some of the arguments used today by globalists and statists to undermine the limitations on federal power enshrined in the Constitution. Bogus arguments on the commerce clause, the supremacy clause, and the general welfare clause are also totally smashed using Madison’s own words.
The reader is treated to Madison’s own accounts of what transpired at key historical moments in U.S. history, including his records of the constitutional convention. Madison’s view on the role of state governments in protecting liberty comes through loud and clear, too — and represents a truth bomb of massive proportions that, if widely known, could and would give Americans the necessary tools to rein in the feds. The book also includes excerpts from some of Madison’s little-known but brilliant essays published mostly anonymously and mostly in the National Gazette. They cover topics including migration, the consolidation of power, public opinion, the dangers of political parties, the spirit of government, and so much more. And as Wolverton explains, many of them are very relevant today.
Madison’s correspondence with other important historical figures in America’s founding era also gives flavor, context, and depth to the book. Indeed, one of the most fascinating elements of The Real James Madison is how Wolverton seamlessly weaves in Madison’s relationships with, and letters to, other Founding Fathers. His friendship with Thomas Jefferson, for instance, is explored extensively throughout the book, even receiving a full chapter on what is dubbed “The Great Collaboration” between the two Founders. Those who have concerns about some of Jefferson’s beliefs, associations, and attitudes will find it just as interesting as those who continue to revere the controversial Founder. Their collaboration on state nullification is something every American should be familiar with, as it destroys the myths relied upon by federal supremacists to advance lawless and tyrannical government.
Wolverton is also candid and honest in admitting that, despite his brilliance and his phenomenal education, Madison was not always right. For instance, citing The Federalist, No. 46, and Madison’s arguments against figures such as Patrick Henry, who warned that the federal government would usurp too much power, Wolverton explains that Madison was apparently wrong on this crucial point. “History, it seems, has not borne out Madison’s confidence in the connections of the people to the state governments,” Wolverton conceded, highlighting a list of Madison’s assumptions, at least some of which were clearly incorrect. The enormous implications of Madison’s error on the security of American liberty are still plaguing America today.
Much information is contained in the book about James Madison’s passion for religious freedom, and his opposition to government interference in matters of religion. Perhaps the primary subject that this reviewer would have liked to see explored in more detail was Madison’s religious views, or what was known of them, which remain the subject of contention in U.S. history. Some claim Madison was a deist or even an atheist, while others say he was a devout Christian. Because of Wolverton’s well-known meticulous research and honesty, more insight on this question, while certainly difficult to address and potentially polarizing to readers, could have added some finality to a debate on one of America’s key Founders that continues to rage — and is, in fact, quite significant to many patriots.
But this book is a must-have. The incredible writings and insight by Madison and his biographer, and the value of these to the contemporary freedom fight, are among the strongest arguments in favor of disseminating Wolverton’s book and the information contained within it far and wide. In fact, if Americans knew the Constitution and what those who drafted it intended, the lies and distortions of today’s establishment could no longer be employed to rob the people of their liberties. So get a copy, read it, and then share the information with opinion molders.
Unlike so many biographies, Wolverton’s book about Madison is an incredibly interesting page-turner and attention-grabber that is hard to put down. Wolverton, one of America’s finest contemporary patriots, has hit another home run with this most excellent book. If you love history, America, the Constitution, or freedom — or if you know somebody who does — you need to get The Real James Madison. Without a doubt, it will serve as a valuable resource in the freedom fight for years to come.
This article originally appeared in the November 19, 2018 print edition of The New American. The New American publishes a print magazine twice a month, covering issues such as politics, money, foreign policy, environment, culture, and technology. To subscribe, click here.