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Founding Rivals

Founding Rivals

4.1 7
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


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.

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.

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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Founding Rivals 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
JonathanShuffield More than 1 year ago
DeRose captures the essence of this vital yet forgotten scene in American history. Founding Rivals tells a great story of two political titans of early America, who fought for a seat in the US Congress, while the fate of the Constitution hung in the balance. The author tells the life stories of Madison and Monroe, their early friendship, and their political rivalry that changed the course of American history. The author also does a magnificent job of pointing out the fissures in the electorate in 1789, especially between religious groups. "Founding Rivals" is one of the best and most unique books about the Revolutionary era. I highly recommend this book, and look forward to future works by the author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found the book to be disappointing. I found the book to resemble a high school students version of a book report or something akin to Cliff Notes. 267 pages long to describe or layout a "rivalry" between two great patriots? You are a third of the way through the book before the two even correspond. There is just nothing new here. I found the writing style very mediocre and simple. There are too many other books worthy of your time.
Ashley_King More than 1 year ago
So often we hear that an upcoming election will be one of the most important elections of our time. While they may not have known it at the time, residents of Virginia’s 5th Congressional District in 1789 participated in one of the most important elections of their time. As Chris DeRose powerfully details in Founding Rivals, the race between James Madison and James Monroe changed the course of history by putting America on a path toward saving the Constitution and adopting a Bill of Rights. DeRose chronicles the lives of these men from the early days of the Revolutionary War to their epic battle for Congress. He presents this time in history as they would have seen it and details their journeys toward becoming statesmen. Well researched and engagingly written, Founding Rivals offers a unique glimpse into the early days of our nation.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Difficult to put down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A wonderful review of a period in our history that is not covered in the usual history classes. Very well done.
Iluvwords More than 1 year ago
The author goes back and forth with equal treatment of each man's significance to the establishment of our constitution without being wordy. One was pro and other happy with the articles of confederation which is all I'll say. What puzzled me is Monroe's love life and subsequent marriage was discussed several times yet no mention was made of Dolly Madison.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a great read, well written and packed a great deal of information in a readable length book. Everyone shoudl read it to better understand how the American political system has worked in the past as well as how it can work today! Barrie Tilghman