Founding Rivals

Founding Rivals

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by Chris DeRose

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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

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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.

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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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Two future presidents battle—albeit mildly—over the new Constitution in this illuminating historical study, though its premise is somewhat trumped-up. Lawyer and political consultant DeRose revisits the post-Revolutionary controversy over replacing the rickety Articles of Confederation with the robust Constitution of 1787. This was an era, like our own, of financial exigency—unable to extract revenue from the states, the weak Confederation Congress faced insurmountable debts and mutinies by unpaid soldiers. This forced a showdown between partisans and foes of strong government; and a searching reexamination of democracy in which reasoned argument defeated demagoguery. DeRose gives a lucid analysis of the issues and the hard-fought struggle to ratify the Constitution in Virginia, home of constitutional godfather James Madison, and his erstwhile ally turned anti-Federalist opponent James Monroe, who ran against him in the crucial 1789 congressional election. The book's central "rivalry” is lopsided; Madison, brilliant theorist and subtle politician, dominates the story, while Monroe seems a bit player. Still, their relationship makes a serviceable peg for an engaging account of the Republic's contentious framing. (Nov.)
Library Journal
DeRose, an attorney and veteran political strategist, uses contemporary sources to trace the development of James Madison's and James Monroe's position on the U.S. Constitution and how they opposed each other for a Virginia congressional seat in 1789. While Madison was a significant contributor to and supporter of the Constitution, Monroe was more suspicious of it, largely owing to his worries about federal powers trumping states' rights. Monroe felt that granting a federal power of direct taxation was unnecessary and unjust, and the Constitution did not include a Bill of Rights at the time to preserve liberties like religious freedom. In covering this territory, DeRose doesn't offer anything new until he moves to the congressional election between the two—and this, which he doesn't cover until two-thirds of the way through the book, would have been fine as an article. DeRose is correct that the stakes were high in that election: if Monroe had won, the Bill of Rights might not have passed the First Congress as Monroe would not have been the advocate that Madison was. But DeRose tries to build up some personal drama between the two that didn't exist, since both admitted that the election did not affect their friendship. VERDICT This book is a capable introduction for general readers interested in this time period and Madison and Monroe.—Bryan Craig, Univ. of Virginia, Charlottesville
Kirkus Reviews

A fresh, narrow, knowledgeable-of-minutiatake on a well-known friendship and rivalry during the early establishment of the U.S. Constitution.

Attorney and political strategist DeRose shifts his focus around James Madison's forced championing of a Bill of Rights to the Constitution, the contentious Congressional election campaign between fellow Virginians Madison and James Monroe of 1789 and the early influence of the Virginia Plan on thedrafting of the U.S. Constitution. His depiction of the evolving relationship between the two key Virginians proves a steady, compelling narrative throughout. Several years younger than Madison, the Revolutionary War hero Monroe became Madison's protégé and correspondent. Madison, a soft-spoken, eloquent landowner and delegate, became the architect of the Constitution. Both men, writes DeRose, proved in separate ways their heartfelt patriotism. At the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Madison helped hammer out a perfect-enough Constitution in order to present to the states, and then—along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay—tried to convince the public of its worth in a series of newspaper essays under the pen name Publius (i.e.,The Federalist Papers). Subsequently, Monroe, as a delegate to the Virginia Ratification Convention the next year, presented objections, namely to the lack of controls on the central government and need for preservation of basic rights. In just six months, Madison and Monroe would be battling over election to the first House of Representatives. Madison barely won, largely because of his campaign promise to introduce into the new Congress a Bill of Rights, which he duly did, preempting the anti-Federalists, and thus helping to gain passage for the first 10 amendments by 1791. DeRose maintains that unless Monroe opposed Madison early on, the lack of amendments would have quickly created division and rupture in the new government.

A lively, clear-cut study of the myriad hurdles and uncertainty that characterized the first attempts to form the U.S. government.

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Product Details

Regnery Publishing
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6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Chris DeRose is an attorney and also serves as a political strategist for candidates for state and federal office. For the past fifteen years, he has been involved in campaigns at every level in five different states. DeRose lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

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