NR Digital

Heroic Argument

by Michael Knox Beran

Madison and Jefferson, by Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg (Random House, 848 pp., $35)

Every student of American history forms in his mind a picture of Jefferson, more or less accurate, but full of life. Madison, on the other hand, remains for most of us a great lawgiver whose living personality eludes us. Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg, in their exhaustive new book Madison and Jefferson, seek to remedy the problem by showing Madison in the human light of his long friendship and intense political collaboration with Jefferson.

The trouble is that when the two men are brought together tête-à-tête between the covers of a book, Jefferson looms larger than ever, and leaves “poor Jemmy,” who labored, Henry Adams said, “under serious disadvantage in the dryness of his personality,” in the shade. It is certainly not fair, for Jefferson, with all his remarkable virtues, had also remarkable faults; but (such is our nature) we are apt to find the morally flawed character more dramatically interesting than his less compromised brother.

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