Terrifying Thought of the Day

Lynne Cheney is well-known for attacking any negative characterizations of the Framers. So in her new biography of James Madison, expect references to the “help” on the plantation.

Jack Rakove, in his positive review of Gary B. Nash’s new book on the Liberty Bell, notes that Lynne Cheney is “now writing a biography of James Madison.”

Spare us.

Cheney is well-known for opposing any writing about American history that says bad things about the Founders.  So what will she do with Madison, who owned slaves his entire life and never lifted a finger to stop the peculiar institution?  Mention the “farmworkers”?  Discuss the “help” or the “cleaning lady”?

Even Cheney, however, will find space to criticize Madison for his attacks on the Alien and Sedition Laws.  And what about Madison’s presidential leadership during the War of 1812?  It was an unmitigated disaster: maybe some warrantless wiretapping and torture of American citizens could have done the trick.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

5 thoughts on “Terrifying Thought of the Day”

  1. In terms of the violence to historical accuracy the book will perpetrate, I'd expect the main victim to be Madison's ideas on the Separation Of Church And State.

  2. "So what will she do with Madison, who owned slaves his entire life and never lifted a finger to stop the peculiar institution?"

    That criticism applies equally to George Washington, does it not?

    … Re: main victim, Warren may be right, but I wonder how Madison's interventions in the secession controversy will fare.

  3. Anderson —

    In my view, Washington has a far better record than Madison, and especially Jefferson, on the slavery question. First, Washington did have the common decency to emancipate his slaves in his will. Washington also supported manumission societies, as did most Federalists, and like all Federalists, he supported a strong central government, which was anathema to Jeffersonians because they worried what it would do to their unique species of property. As Secretary of State, Madison made sure that the French would capture Toussaint L'Ouverture, and of course refused to recognize Haiti when it became independent in 1804. Besides, I'd have no problem criticizing Washington's slaveholding. Lynne Cheney? Yecch.

  4. Ooooh-oooh! I got one: How about after Lynne Cheney writes her bio of Madison, we get Jonah Goldberg to write a biography of Jefferson and have him "prove" the "bitch slave" set him up to have sex with her? I can only bet the Cheney book will be published with that horrible white-white paper that so many of the other "conservative" books have, starting with the Hannity books, because they KNOW rightwingers buy them at Wal-Mart or in bulk and never actually read the things…

  5. Don't forget the Church-State separation–Madison was instrumental in pushing it through and convincing Jefferson to demand it as well. The conservative line on this has been preposterous–mostly picking out isolated phrases where Jefferson mentioned anything positive concerning religion. But they've said nothing about Madison and one has to wonder if official con and neocon biographers will skirt over that issue.

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