Congressional Series, volumes 1-3

"The initial three volumes of The Papers of James Madison . . . [offer] a tentative picture of the primary drives and values of the young Madison and of his responses to the central problems he encountered during his early years in public office.

"What impresses one most about Madison from a reading of his early writings is his quiet determination to excel. He seems to have had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, boundless curiosity, and a deep-seated love of study, but it was not knowledge and study per se that he seems to have coveted so much as the improvement he hoped they would bring him. . . . So intent was he upon readying himself to take advantage of any 'noble enterprise,' any 'expanded prospect' that might come his way that he pursued his studies even to the point of seriously impairing his health."

(Read the full Jack P. Greene 1965 review.)

Congressional Series, volumes 7-10

"During the five years covered by these four volumes James Madison, Virginia politician and intellectual, in his thirties, became widely known beyond his native state, and during this first notable period in his long life he advanced steadily toward the center of the national state. In the public service continuously as a member of Congress, of the Virginia House of Delegates, of Congress again, of the Annapolis Convention, and of the Federal Convention, he grew in stature as public citizen, political philosopher, and cogent speaker and writer. From the perspective of history, all the problems he contended with, all the issues he argued, with or without success, prepared him unwittingly for the unique role he played in the framing of the United States Constitution.

"With this meticulous edition of The Papers of James Madison in hand the scholar can trace the transformation of Madison the Virginian into Madison the nationalist."

(Read the full Lester J. Cappon 1977 review.)

Congressional Series, volumes 15-17

"These three volumes . . . conclude publication of all relevant documents from the period of James Madison's life prior to his de jure entrance into the executive branch."

"Volume 15 traces the increasing threat that Madison perceived in the Federalist policies of Alexander Hamilton . . . . Madison's frustration over the lack of party discipline in the House of Representatives is evident as he became involved with creating an opposition party. . . . His . . . 'Political Observations' . . . demonstrates Madison's keen appreciation of the potential power of public opinion in the United States; it also shows his firm liberal belief that, if all sides of an issue are presented to the public, the truth eventually will win out."

"Volume 16 presents the finale to Madison's career in the House of Representatives. . . . Although this volume closes with Madison's retirement from the house and his return to Montpelier, [volume 17] makes clear that the move should not be confused with retirement from politics. . . . [and] constitutes the gem of these volumes--documents pertaining to Madison's four-year hiatus from elected national office and his return to the private arena at Montpelier. These documents demonstrate that he never left politics; he merely shifted mailing addresses."

(Read the full Richard K. Matthews 1994 review.)

Secretary of State Series, volume 8

"Volume 8 . . . provides a snapshot of American foreign policy in the early republic . . . . the routine business of the State Department in addition to the intracacies of diplomacy. . . . Madison dealt with several deteriorating situations throughout Europe. England presented the most serious problem, dominating the seas, denying American rights, and kidnapping sailors from neutral powers. Even-tempered as ever, Madison worked to contain the problem, . . . . these British offenses . . . eventually resulted in war between the United States and Great Britain during the Madison presidency."

"Since the 1950s, the James Madison papers project has been collecting and publishing the correspondence of the fourth president, . . . [and] along with the Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Adams family correspondence, [has] created a standard for America's documentary editing tradition . . . this volume underscores why the Madison papers stand at the forefront of this tradition."

(Read the full Aaron Scott Crawford 2009 review.)

Presidential Series, volume 6

"During this time Madison attempted to consolidate the American war effort against Great Britain and prevent outbreaks of fighting along the Louisiana Purchase territories. He also initiated the negotiations that would bring an end to the war. Madison began his second term in office in 1813, and in the draft of his second inaugural address, he cited the war effort as being a matter of 'our national sovereignty on the High Seas.' He stressed the importance of national unity 'without breaking down the Spirit of the nation, destroying all confidence in itself and in its political Institutions.' Madison's response to the growing criticism of the war was that it 'was just in its origin, and necessary and noble in its objects.'"

"The unity Madison wished for in his inaugural address was difficult to achieve. He faced a Congress that was becoming more fractious, political rivalries within his own cabinet, Federalist opposition to the war, and difficulty raising funds for the war effort. There were also unresolved issues involving earlier territorial purchases from Spain and France, including incursions from Native tribes, which were possibly funded by Great Britain in an attempt to open a second front to the war."

"Volume 6 . . . increases our knowledge of this complex period in history, as America was engaged in the process of nation building and in charting her way on the ever-changing world stage."

(Read the full David Serxner 2009 review.)

Presidential Series, volume 8

"The dates covered in Volume 8 of James Madison's presidential papers represent 'the nadir and zenith' of not only Madison's presidency but also the War of 1812. This collection opens in the summer of 1814, when a string of military defeats, on the Great Lakes and in the nation's capital, had made an American victory against the British increasingly unlikely. . . . However, by February 1815, when this volume ends, American fortunes had changed dramatically. . . . This volume, . . . documents the war's dramatic transformation from near collapse to ultimate success."

"This volume . . . contains dramatic moments, such as the hasty evacuation of Madison and his wife, Dolley, from the capital. They took refuge in different locations, and several days elapsed before they learned if the other was safe."

"Collections of presidential papers, such as the Papers of James Madison project, are invaluable resources for those who study the nation's first presidents. . . . With J. C. A. Stagg . . . as one of the lead editors, this work is in particularly capable hands."

(Read the full Sandra Moats 2019 review.)

Retirement Series, volume 1

"[This] first volume . . . covers the first three years of Madison's retirement and offers an invaluable insight into his thinking and activities during this time. Like Washington and Jefferson before him, Madison retired from the presidency to his beloved agricultural pursuits. Madison was, according to Jefferson, 'the best farmer in the world,' . . . this first volume [is] a magnificent resource for understanding Madison and his world."

(Read the full Andrea Wulf 2009 review.)

"The first volumeĀ of the Retirement Series . . . is perhaps the richest volume yet of any in The Papers of James Madison for revealing Madison the human being and 'Father of the Constitution,' second only to Washington as a Founder of the nation and, by 1817, preeminent as an officer in guiding and securing its existence. . . . Madison was a very active elder statesman. . . . The papers in this volume show . . . clearly . . . how the twenty-four years of Jeffersonian Republican leadership (1801-1825) were a deliberate, self-conscious, and unified effort to work out in practice a republican ideology of self-government for the new nation."

(Read the full Ralph Ketcham 2011 review.)

Retirement Series, volume 3

"James Madison's retirement writings cover one of the most fruitful periods of his life. . . . [T]his volume, . . . should provide ample fodder for further study by students of both American political thought and American history and culture. Spanning . . . political parties and constitutional interpretation as well as . . . the internal-improvements controversy and the founding of the University of Virginia, . . . it shows Madison continuing to grapple . . . with the issues that preoccupied him throughout his active political life."

(Read the full Greg Weiner 2017 review.)

The Papers of James Madison, Digital Edition

"The Digital Edition offers the same content as the print, plus a powerful search capability, with hundreds of linked cross-references, a subject index, and explanatory notes. Using the Compass search tool, researchers may toggle among the letters, documents, and other writings, and make use of a hierarchical and chronological layout. With a Rotunda subscription package, researchers may interact with companion-founders and their papers on a common platform. The functionality of this database is commendable. This superb primary research collection will only increase in usefulness as the papers projects slowly come to completion. Summing Up: Highly recommended."

(Read the full K. Potts 2011 review.)