May Madness is COMING!

You heard correctly. May Madness is coming.

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“Bring it on, Garfield”- 43rd President and South Region 9 Seed George W. Bush

presidents-bracket

Upcoming schedule:

EAST REGION

5/2/14:

8) Herbert Hoover vs. 9) Benjamin Harrison

7) Rutherford B. Hayes vs. 10) Ulysses S. Grant

Byes: 1) Abraham Lincoln, 2) Theodore Roosevelt, 3) Dwight D. Eisenhower, 4) James Madison, 5) Ronald Reagan, 6) Bill Clinton

SOUTH REGION

5/2/14:

8) James Garfield vs. 9) George W. Bush

6) George H. W. Bush vs. 11) Warren G. Harding

7) Gerald Ford vs. 10) William Henry Harrison

Byes: 1) Franklin D. Roosevelt, 2) Woodrow Wilson, 3) James K. Polk, 4) James Monroe, 5) John Quincy Adams

MIDWEST REGION

5/5/14:

8) Calvin Coolidge vs. 9) Zachary Taylor

6) William H. Taft vs. 11) James Buchanan

7) Jimmy Carter vs. 10) Millard Fillmore

Byes: 1) George Washington, 2) Harry S. Truman, 3) John F. Kennedy, 4) Lyndon B. Johnson, 5) Grover Cleveland

WEST REGION

5/5/14:

8) Richard Nixon vs. 9) John Tyler

6) Martin Van Buren vs. 11) Andrew Johnson

7) Chester A. Arthur vs. 10) Franklin Pierce

Byes: 1) Thomas Jefferson, 2) Andrew Jackson, 3) John Adams, 4) Barack Obama, 5) William McKinley

 

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James Madison Crib Sheet

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Vitals!

Name: James Madison, Jr.

Lifespan: March 16, 1751 – June 28, 1836

Home State: Virginia

Served as President: 1809-1817

Vice President: George Clinton (1809-1812); none (1812-1813); Elbridge Gerry (1813-1814); none (1814-1817) 

Spouse: Dolley Madison

Historian Rank: 13

Why you may LOVE him…

James Madison is rightfully considered “The Father of the Constitution.” No single man deserves more credit for the painstakingly thorough compromise, dealing and negotiation that led to the United States Constitution. Long before the idea of even a Constitutional Convention was a foregone conclusion, Madison stood at the forefront on a mission to save his country from a mess. After completing the classic document, he exuded qualities of a statesman, teaming up with his philosophical foes John Jay and Alexander Hamilton, penning political classics in The Federalist. In a modern age where compromise and across-the-aisle divulgence is a dirty word, Madison frequently made strange bedfellows, simultaneously representing a staunch federal view while being seen as a champion for state’s rights. After forming the modern United States government, he served as Secretary of State during the grand Louisiana Purchase and rode his popularity to the Presidency himself. As president, he overcame the bitter snickering of “Mr. and Mrs. Madison’s War,” by standing firm in the War of 1812 while fairly or unfairly riding the war’s end to a windfall of popularity. When he died in 1836, Madison rightfully looked back at a thriving University of Virginia which he ushered into greatness ten years after the death of his mentor Thomas Jefferson. He also saw a solid economy he had a  hand in forming for early 19th century America. Always the public figure, one can hardly go a mile in southern Virginia without seeing a testament to this American great.

Why you may HATE him…

Madison is either naive, a hypocrite or both. Not because he owned slaves while he extolled the virtues of equality. Not because he oversaw the Louisiana Purchase that conflicted with his constitutional views. Not even because he fancied himself a pragmatist despite the British a few miles away and burning DC to the ground. Madison did more to create his own oblivion than any other founder with the exception of Jefferson. An exhaustive list is unnecessary but a few examples can inspire hatred. When his nation almost went to war in 1798, he and Jefferson did not rally around the flag. Through the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions the two men went against their government, advocating the infant theory of nullification and secession. “We didn’t mean that!” they may have argued. It is hardly plausible that two educated men could have believed otherwise. The result was decades of southern hostility to the Federal government especially at times of war and ironically no more present than in the War of 1812. In fact, the Resolutions were used as a precedent for the Northern Secession movement before a general named Andrew Jackson bailed him out. During that war he has the awful distinction of being the only President to helplessly flee DC as a foreign foe burned the White House to the ground. An inept tactician, the War of 1812 was mismanaged from the start and mercifully ended two years later as barely a stalemate. His private life also exposed his seemingly endless inconsistencies. Once again, the unfortunate reality of slavery rears its ugly head. In a world where historians struggle to find Madison consistent, he appears more and more opportunist as scholars dig deeper. One could argue that he was a man of his times and we shouldn’t hold him to an impossible moral standard. Yet, Madison lived long enough to experience the rise of abolition. In fact, Madison held onto the mistaken notion of the relocation American Colonization Society even when it was dated and antiquated as an idea. Madison, like his other slaveholding brethren, loved to appear to be against slavery, yet actively sought to expand and increase his slave holdings throughout his life. While Jefferson spent eight years hiding the presence of slaves around the White House, Madison and his wife Dolley brought them out into the open, holding lavish parties all with slave labor. He was exposed to ideas about the freedom of slaves, considered the resolutions during the Convention, and wrote extensively on the subject. However, this “Father” made a decision. His slaves were not 3/5ths as his infamous compromise suggested. They were always his property.

Final Verdict in Five Words: A father important and inconsistent

James Madison 1809-1817

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Book: James Madison and the Making of America

Author: Kevin R. C. Gutzman

1. Date published- Gutzman’s 2012 work is the most recent work about James Madison available. It is a welcome addition to Madison biographies specifically because it is a generation removed from Rutland’s work and benefits from an updated perspective. Possibly reflecting on the conservative views from the author and the mood of the country, generally a great deal of time is dedicated to the struggles of government action. Many other works of Madison obviously highlight his role in creating a modern constitutional republic, but it was 2012 in which modern thinkers pondered the role of government and the grey areas that complicate the issue. Perhaps succeeding generations will find this aspect of Gutzman’s focus a bit narrow, but this link to such a poignant philosophical struggle highlights Madison’s own challenges and certainly the strength of such a recent work and fresh perspective.

Grade: B

2. Scope- This category was created to truly highlight the presidency of each man and hopefully make selections that cater to that criteria. Gutzman’s book is tricky to examine in scope. The “Father of the Constitution” is aptly nicknamed and Madison’s efforts in both the Philadelphia Convention and the ratification struggle are the best parts of the work. Gutzman masterfully unravels the weekly (sometimes daily) developments in the colossally important process. If Madison was an Alexander Hamilton or even a John Jay this scope would be perfect. He is not. Madison is the fourth president of the United States and consensus founder or at least co-founder of the Democratic-Republicans. Gutzman is seeking to put Madison in the context of Making America and though he nails the Constitution part, the lack of coverage of the presidency conveys a sense that the presidency of James Madison was not integral in shaping America. The lack of scope can simply be highlighted by the fact that the Constitution construction is covered in 190+ pages. The enormously significant time serving as Secretary of State and President is given just 55 pages. Events such as The Louisiana Purchase, Embargo Act, War of 1812 and even the tremendously significant match with Dolley Madison are seemingly marginalized in this work. It takes away from the overall scope.

Grade: C-

3. Author-Kevin Gutzman is a tricky character to take up as someone to write an unbiased biography. He continues to be a History Professor at Western Connecticut State University. He has written many works on the Revolutionary Era especially on Virginia politics and their role in the Revolution. He certainly checks all the boxes when it comes to credentials and legitimacy. It should not be a surprise to readers that Gutzman has dedicated much time and research into the Constitution itself and frequently classifies himself as a states rights activist. Without even researching this author it is clear from this work that Gutzman values an Anti-Federalist. The politics from this era are tricky to view in the scope of the 21st century and trickier still is trying to reconcile Gutzman’s often staunch libertarianism with his criticisms of Madison. It is obvious from the get-go that Gutzman does not put on airs. His writing style is very direct, even demeaning to a reader expecting the self-described “definitive biography.” It could very well be considered one of the more accessible works but Gutzman’s biases become ever more clear because of his choice of words. For example, Gutzman tries to suggest that something as complex as the War of 1812 would have “obvious” conclusions.  Shockingly, Gutzman, as someone from academia, cites little when making bold analyses and rarely delves too deeply into primary letters or sources. He lets his views really conflict his analysis and lets his psuedo-common man approach dumb down the book. What starts as part of the book’s charm eventually becomes evidence that Gutzman is not as interested in being a scholar as once thought. Mr. Gutzman “obviously” is a confused individual. I won’t bother to cite it.

Grade: D

4. Length-At just over 350 pages this work matches the criteria for a short biography. For someone attempting a shorter work on each president this is to be preferred over Rutland’s work. What Gutzman offers is a slightly longer “short” biography encompassing more about Madison’s life while still moving at a brisk pace. The trademarks of a comprehensive work such as letters, long quotations, or excessive coverage of biographical events are completely absent from the work. What Gutzman does is try to cover everything in a brief and quick way. The only exception is the middle portion which displays more of a long biography style of the creation of the Constitution. Readers will notice a very sudden transition into day-to-day developments and the slowing narrative of the Constitution. Overall, it is a serviceable source for a short biography even though it sadly does not give the Presidency its due.

Grade: B

5. Mission- Gutzman’s misson was to write the updated standard in biography for James Madison. He wanted to present a biography of a man and his accomplishments but also put them in the context of the world he lived in. The mission comes very close to fruition when he shows Madison’s seeming ambivalence in regards to his prime: Bill of Rights, Presidency, etc. However, the glaring omission of Madison’s presidency and lack of true inspection makes the mission less successful. If the goal is to create a new standard work, then a generation of readers will dismiss the importance of the fourth presidency along with the War of 1812 and almost single handed destruction of an opposing party. The mission comes close to completion but Gutzman left the door wide open to have his work be eclipsed before it reaches definitive status.

Grade: B-

James Madison 1809-1817

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Book: James Madison: The Founding Father

Author: Robert Rutland

1. Date published-Originally published in 1987, Robert Rutland’s book attempts to update the life of James Madison for a late 20th Century audience. The result is a focus on efforts to preserve the union and also a candid discussion of Madison’s life and status as a slave-owner. This is particularly representative of biographies of the 1980s and 1990s that seem to highlight slavery in a matter of fact way without being overtly negative. This work was originally considered because of its most recent coverage of the post-presidency of Madison. This has since changed with the updated 2013 release by Kevin Gutzman. This is certainly not the most recent work but is an update that at a time was of superb value for contemporary readers.

Grade: B

2. Scope-For this work scope is a tricky barometer to judge. The pre-presidency is at once well documented but also lean. The narrative begins long into Madison’s life, past the Revolution, and into the 1787 Constitutional Convention. From here until his death in 1836 the scope of Madison’s life is complete with a decent sized chunk devoted to the presidency. Despite barely registering at 250 pages, the scope covers a lot of ground. However, the events before 1787 are almost non-existent with hardly a token mention of Madison’s upbringing and career that led to his prominence.

Grade: B-

3. Author- Robert Rutland seems to never decide if he is a cheerleader or a critic of Madison’s life. The result is a remarkably even-handed look at the successes and failures of his life. Particularly beneficial to the reader is sympathy for supposedly hypocritical moments of Madison’s life. Here Rutland shows his strength in highlighting the existence of the hypocrisies but also putting them in context and attempting to fairly put them in place. Rutland previously wrote about Revolutionary figures such as George Mason as well as multiple writing credits on Madison’s papers and other of the era’s most important documents. For all the extensive research conducted on Madison’s life it is perhaps most surprising that Rutland chose the route of a short biography over a single volume epic.

Grade: B+

4. Length-At barely over 250 reading pages, this work is a solid choice for those seeking a short biography on Presidents. The length allows a brisk overview of key events while giving due attention and detail to more important moments. However, the work does feel too brief especially considering the lack of discussion about his birth, education and career prior to 1787. In other short biographies of notable stature particularly His Excellency (Washington), these aspects of the subject’s life are brief but mentioned in their rightful place in the chronological development of the man and future President. The length is solid but could have used just a bit more.

Grade: B

5. Mission-By the mid-1980s, authors such as Rutland worried that Madison had been given an unfair shake and cited the work of Henry Adams as instrumental at creating an impression of a weak president. This work was an attempt to put Madison in the perspective of some of the greats. Rutland reveals in the closing chapter that the overall mission was to showcase Madison as  an elite president and the founding father of the nation. The statement is bold and the mission ends up falling flat as a result. There are surely many aspects of Madison’s career highlighted in this work. Unfortuantely, to make a claim that he was among the founding brothers of the nation, Rutland never gets concise enough to hammer home the claim that Madison alone was responsible. The part of updating the perspective was a successful mission especially in 1987. Yet, as a work to stand a the standard bearer for the fourth president, the mission falls short.

Grade: B-