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- iHaveNet.com: Politics
by Mallie Jane Kim
Author Nancy Isenberg on the Founding Fathers' role in the two-party system and why it might be impossible for Obama to reach across the aisle
For nearly half a century, passionate Thomas Jefferson and savvy James Madison formed a political alliance that led to the two-party political system, religious liberty, and the Louisiana Purchase.
"Their relationship was not one where Jefferson was in charge and Madison was Jefferson's dutiful lieutenant," argues Nancy Isenberg, coauthor with husband Andrew Burstein of Madison and Jefferson.
In the book,
How did the partnership form?
Their relationship begins within the context of Virginia politics. When Jefferson ends up becoming minister to France, you have very detailed letters. They begin to write about their political thinking.
What was a major disagreement?
Madison is often referred to as Father of the Constitution, which isn't really accurate because most of the proposals that Madison came to present at the
What kept them together?
That they're able to discuss intellectual ideas. To debate these ideas and how will they be applied is incredibly important to the nature of their relationship.
What was the dynamic of their relationship?
We see Madison playing this role of Jefferson's political handler when Jefferson ran for the presidency. Jefferson wants to write a letter to John Adams after he's been defeated in 1796. He sends it to Madison to look over, and Madison writes back and says, "No, you cannot send this letter," and he provides a list of reasons why. Often Madison's role is to pull Jefferson back from the brink.
What was their role in forming the parties?
In the 1790s, they begin to see that [Alexander] Hamilton is beginning to have a great deal of influence over [George] Washington. Madison is the first one to speak out in
How are present-day parties similar?
Jefferson later would refer to the Revolution, and I think this still continues to be part of American politics, that somehow they are reclaiming the true principles of the Revolution. And that somehow the opposition--in this case Hamilton and Washington's party--had moved away from the true principles that were established in the American Revolution. And they are more than willing to use the newspapers. Attacks and criticism in the newspapers are extremely hostile and vicious, so that's not new today.
What would they think of the parties today?
Madison and Jefferson would be completely horrified by the amount of money connected to elections. There's no way that Madison or Jefferson would have supported the
What did they accomplish together that they couldn't have alone?
Religious liberty. It's humorous today that people who are religious and conservative are criticizing Jefferson because they saw him as supporting the separation of church and state. But what they don't understand is that their position on religion made it possible for various evangelical religions to flourish--the Baptists, the Methodists--by diminishing the power of the state church.
Why should President Obama read your book?
Political events are not shaped out of thin air, not only because of the constitutional legacy but the political legacy, the partisan legacy. I think that Obama assumed he could reach across the aisle. It may not be possible. I think if he read about Madison and Jefferson, he would realize that there are moments in history when you can't reach across the aisle.
Available at Amazon.com:
Jefferson and Madison's Constitution and Modern Gridlock | Politics
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