The revolutionaries we honor as the Founding Fathers may have been the most remarkable generation of leaders in human history. And Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Jack Rakove calls James Madison "the most original, creative and penetrating political thinker" of them all.
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Madison, the fourth president of the United States, was known in his lifetime as the "Father of the Constitution." He wrote more than a third of the Federalist Papers and is widely regarded as the author of the Bill of Rights and the chief architect of the most daring and important political experiment in human history.
It was Madison who devised and refined the principle of divided power, seeing it as a preventative for majority tyranny. (That's why we have three branches of government.) He was an astute and inquisitive scholar, poring over crates of books that Thomas Jefferson sent him from France on every form of government ever tried.
Madison believed that, as a rule, legislators (like those they represented) could not be relied on to put the national interest — and the protection of minority or individual rights — ahead of their own interests and passions. Madison wisely feared a majority that, while professing to represent the will of the people, actually served itself instead of the public good.
In this excerpt from a wide-ranging interview about his book, Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America, Rakove, a professor at Stanford University, talks about how Madison's outside-the-box thinking changed the course of history.