Founding Rivals: Madison vs. Monroe, the Bill of Rights and the Election That Saved a Nation

Founding Rivals: Madison vs. Monroe, the Bill of Rights and the Election That Saved a Nation

Chris DeRose

Language: English

Pages: 289


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

The Amazing True Story of the Election That Saved the Constitution

In 1789, James Madison and James Monroe ran against each other for Congress—the only time that two future presidents have contested a congressional seat.

But what was at stake, as author Chris DeRose reveals in Founding Rivals: Madison vs. Monroe, the Bill of Rights, and the Election That Saved a Nation, was more than personal ambition. This was a race that determined the future of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the very definition of the United States of America.

Friends and political allies for most of their lives, Madison was the Constitution’s principal author, Monroe one of its leading opponents. Monroe thought the Constitution gave the federal government too much power and failed to guarantee fundamental rights. Madison believed that without the Constitution, the United States would not survive.

It was the most important congressional race in American history, more important than all but a few presidential elections, and yet it is one that historians have virtually ignored. In Founding Rivals, DeRose, himself a political strategist who has fought campaigns in Madison and Monroe’s district, relives the campaign, retraces the candidates’ footsteps, and offers the first insightful, comprehensive history of this high-stakes political battle.

DeRose reveals:

• How Madison’s election ensured the passage of a Bill of Rights—and how;
• Monroe’s election would have ensured its failure;
• How Madison came from behind to win a narrow victory (by a margin of only 336 votes) in a district gerrymandered against him;
• How the Bill of Rights emerged as a campaign promise to Virginia’s evangelical Christians;
• Why Madison’s defeat might have led to a new Constitutional Convention—and the breakup of the United States.

Founding Rivals tells the extraordinary, neglected story of two of America’s most important Founding Fathers. Brought to life by unparalleled research, it is one of the most provocative books of American political history you will read this year.

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promised. “It is possible I may lose my scalp,” Monroe wrote in a letter to a friend, “but if a little fighting and a great deal of running will save it, God knows they shall not be wanting and particularly the latter.” He even had romantic designs. “[T]he Indian women I am told are handsome and some of their young girls are tall, quiet, majestic, and susceptible of the influence of all powerful love. For that little villain is not contented with giving pain and torturing the feelings of those

mentor Martin from school in August of 1769, “I am perfectly pleased with my present situation; and the prospect before me of three years confinement, however terrible it may sound, has nothing in it, but will be greatly alleviated by the advantages I hope to derive from it.”6 Madison plunged into his academic work, studying to the point of physical exhaustion and illness. At Princeton he had access to a library exceeding twelve hundred volumes. Madison studied science, geography, rhetoric,

publicly declare themselves ready to join the Bostonians as soon as violence is offered them or resistance thought expedient.” Madison noted that independent militias were forming in many counties, drilling, and preparing for what might come. As Virginians readied themselves for war, Madison considered the colony’s many vulnerabilities. In addition to deploying their armed forces, the British might successfully incite a slave revolt. (This possibility probably held more terror for the Madisons

Monroe shared his belief that the deficiencies of the government had arisen from the election of certain people, not from flaws inherent in the structure of the government.14 If right-minded people were elected to the legislatures, he reasoned, requisitions would be complied with and revisions to the Articles would be made as necessary. Monroe had been an enthusiastic supporter of both the Annapolis and Philadelphia Conventions—because he believed those conventions would procure the remedies he

Baptist General Committee had had its regular meeting in Goochland County. There they had unanimously resolved that the Constitution did not “make sufficient provision for the secure enjoyment of religious liberty.” This resolution was an easy decision for them. (A more contentious issue—whether to call for the “yoke of slavery to be made more tolerable”—was a topic they held over until the next session.) The Baptists were the most consequential voting bloc in the 5th District, and they probably

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