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Vols. II., III.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1866, by
WILLIAM CABELL Rives,
The second volume of the “ History of the Life of Madison,” prepared for the press more than four years ago, in the state in which it is here given, but prevented from publication by the inauspicious circumstances of the times, is now submitted to the judgment of the reader. It comprehends the most instructive, and, in a civil and political view, the most eventful period of American annals, — from the close of the war of the Revolution, down to and including the formation and establishment of the Constitution of the United States. It was during this period that the embarrassments and disorders incident to the imperfect system of confederation by which the States were held together — kept in check, while the war was in progress, by the spirit of union and strenuous patriotism awakened by the crisis—at length broke out in all their nakedness and force. The distressing experience of the radical vices of the confed
eration, thus “brought home to the business and bosoms of men” during the four or five years immediately succeeding the termination of the war, conducted the nation gradually, but certainly and logically, to the remedies provided in the Constitution of 1788.
The history of this period, Mr. Madison was accustomed to say, is like the preamble of a statute, — the key to a true conception and just interpretation of the Constitution, unlocking and revealing the practical evils it was framed to remedy, and which must ever be kept in mind in seeking its legitimate sense and operation. No portion of our annals, therefore, merits a fuller development, or presents a stronger claim to the attention of those, of whatever country, who may be interested in acquiring a correct knowledge of the political institutions of America, and especially of such of her own citizens as feel a patriotic solicitude for the preservation of these institutions in their original spirit and purity.
From the leading agency of Mr. Madison in the initiation, conduct, and consummation of this great organic change, the history of his public life becomes necessarily a history of the Constitution of the United States, and under a form, which, combining a concrete narrative of individual exertions and individual opinions with the more abstract
process of national deliberations, may impart to the latter a livelier and more attractive interest.
The Constitution of the United States is thus also exhibited, not merely in the collective and final result of its provisions, but in the successive stages of its elaboration and development from the first elementary conception to the last finishing touch ; showing, at each step, the influence which the principles and opinions of the prominent actors, and the interests and policy of the different States, had in moulding and deciding its ultimate shape. In this view, the chapters devoted to a general outline of the proceedings and debates of the Convention, in their chronological sequence, will, it is presumed, not appear misplaced or unimportant in the work we have undertaken. The correspondence and papers of Mr. Madison throwing new and important lights on every act and scene of the great national drama in which his own rôle was so conspicuous and influential, no explanation is deemed necessary for the liberal use which has been made of them, whether for the illustration of his conduct and opinions, or the elucidation of contemporary events.