Founding Rivals: Madison vs. Monroe, the Bill of Rights and the Election That Saved a Nation
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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.
• 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.
finances persisted, he feared that “the foundations of our independence will be laid in injustice and dishonor,” resting as they did upon the backs of unpaid soldiers and other patriots.35 Madison considered other ways to raise the money. A poll tax—a per-person assessment—was forbidden by the Maryland Constitution, and therefore that state legislature could never agree to it. The $40 million dollar debt continued to mount at 6 percent interest. The interest payments alone were $2.4 million each
their departure would bring the number below a quorum, and decided to go home.43 Serious members of the Committee, including Monroe, were absolutely appalled. Thus during the summer and fall of 1784, the United States had no operative federal government. If the British had renewed hostilities or if the Spanish had declared war over the Mississippi, weeks might have been lost before a common response could be organized. Both Madison and Monroe used their recess to travel. Monroe would finally
accepted the charge of the governor of the Virginia Colony to lead a force to rescue colonists seized by Indians in a raid.4 Isack’s success as a planter grew, and he gained exclusive trading rights with the Indians in the Chesapeake Bay. Fourteen years after settling in Virginia, he died and was buried in the land where he had found wealth, adventure, prestige, and love, but far from his original home. James Madison, future political colossus, was no rugged pioneer in the mold of his ancestor.
another chance for the United States? Still Madison, always meticulously prepared and disciplined in the pursuit of his aims, would gain what benefit he could from consulting with those delegates who had arrived. He talked and dined with the delegates present in Philadelphia and worked hard to unite the Virginians around his plan. Madison and his home state delegation met every day in the run-up to the Convention. Their preparation would amplify their influence in the proceedings. Finally on
one another, Madison and Monroe must have been exhausted. After more hours traveling, a fire was surely a welcome relief from the deep chill, and a bed with blankets a greater one still. Madison and Monroe had made a long and hard journey together to this point in the campaign. In a very few days, they would know which one of them would go on to Congress, leaving the other behind. Chapter Fifteen THE FEDERALIST ENDGAME “It is an event which I am convinced would not have taken place a