Event — Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington

Ford Evening Book Talk: Mary Sarah Bilder

Where: Robert H. and Clarice Smith Auditorium

3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon, Virginia 22121

When: Thursday, September 15, 2016, 7:00 pm

Details: Mount Vernon welcomes author Mary Sarah Bilder to the Robert H. and Clarice Smith Auditorium to discuss her book Madison’s Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention on Thursday, September 15th, 2016.

James Madison’s Notes on the 1787 Constitutional Convention have acquired nearly unquestioned authority as the description of the U.S. Constitution’s creation. No document provides a more complete record of the deliberations in Philadelphia or depicts the Convention’s charismatic figures, crushing disappointments, and miraculous triumphs with such narrative force. But how reliable is this account?

In an unprecedented investigation that draws on digital technologies and traditional textual analysis to trace Madison’s composition, Mary Sarah Bilder reveals that Madison revised the Notes to a far greater extent than previously recognized. The Notes began as a diary of the Convention’s proceedings. Madison abandoned the project at a critical juncture, however, and left the Notes incomplete. He did not return to finish them until several years later, largely for Thomas Jefferson. By then Madison’s views were influenced by the new government’s challenges and Jefferson’s political ideas. Madison’s evolving vision of republican government, his Virginia allegiances, his openness to constitutional protection for slavery, his fascination with the finer points of political jockeying, and his depictions of Alexander Hamilton and Charles Pinckney shifted during the writing and rewriting of his account. When the Notes were finally published in 1840 the layers of revision were invisible.

Cost: Free

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