James Madison (R., France)

I just came across this passage in Rick Brookhiser’s new biography of James Madison:

In April 1793 [Madison] learned that he had been made an honorary French citizen. His reply to Jean-Marie Roland, minister of the interior, shows the tone of his thought. The “artificial boundaries of nations,” he wrote, could not divide the “great family of mankind.” . . . [Jefferson and Madison] wrote of the common struggle [of French and American republicans] in religious terms. Madison described the typical Federalist as a “blasphemer” of rights and an “idolator” of tyranny; critics of the French Revolution in America were “heretical,” a French defector from it committed “apostasy.”

The founding generation, while deeply influenced by Enlightenment deism, was also much more comfortable than our culture is with frankly religious language. And we’ve changed in other ways too: Can you imagine a national politician today getting away with accepting French citizenship and blathering about the “artificial boundaries of nations”? (One possible explanation is that our understanding of patriotism is simply — to quote Flannery O’Connor in another context — “more advanced” than theirs was.)

If you want to read an engaging account of the life of the Father of the Constitution, this is the book for you. And — unlike so many biographies these days — Rick’s book is not a doorstop. The text is only 250 pages long, and the prose is clear and reader-friendly.

Michael Potemra — Michael Potemra was born in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1964, and spent his childhood years in Montreal, Canada. He received a B.A. in philosophy at the Catholic University of America. He ...

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