James Madison: Political Philosopher, Practical Politician

Suffolk University

Robert Allison is a professor of history at Suffolk University and teaches in the Harvard Extension School. He has received the Extension School’s Petra Shattuck Award for teaching and has been awarded the Suffolk’s Student Government Association award for teaching three times. Professor Allison has written books about the American Revolution, the history of Boston, and the Barbary Wars, and is co-editor of The Essential Debate on the Constitution. He is an elected Fellow of the American Antiquarian Society and the Massachusetts Historical Society, and President of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts.




History of James Madison

James Madison’s years in the White House actually diminished his political reputation. Madison was one of the architects of the United States Constitution, creating its structure out of his study of political philosophy from the ancient Greeks and Romans through the Enlightenment, but more importantly through the understanding of politics earned in the brawls of the Virginia legislature. He understood ambition and corruption, and so rather than design a system for high-minded statesmen, he shaped one for people as they are.

The History James Madison’s Political Life

A shy and timid speaker, Madison lived his political life in the shadow of others: Thomas Jefferson, whom Madison served as a faithful lieutenant (though John Adams thought Madison’s ideas were sounder than his mentors); Alexander Hamilton, his Federalist co-author and later chief political opponent (a French observer said that Madison was “less brilliant” than Hamilton, but “more profound”); Patrick Henry, whom Madison challenged both in the Virginia ratifying convention and the state legislature (where Madison succeeded in getting the Statute for Religious Freedom passed over Henry’s opposition); and even his vivacious and charismatic wife, Dolley Payne Todd Madison, known during his term in the White House as “The Presidentess.” (In fact, during the War of 1812 the British boasted of capturing Dolley—not her husband—and parading her through the streets of London.)

A History of James Madison’s Political Writings 

In this lecture, Professor Allison will explore some of Madison’s most important political writings—on religious freedom, the structure of the union, freedom of the press, and the nature of power—and ponder this unlikely politician who understood politics—then and now—better than we do.

Learn More About the History of James Madison 

For more online lectures about James Madison’s history check out fascinating lectures such as 6000 Years of ReligionEthical Dilemmas, and Modern Medicine: Questions Nobody Wants to Ask, and much more!  Access to all online video lectures comes standard with OneDayU membership, click here to learn more.



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