Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
If it had’t been for Virginia’s Lutherans and Baptists and a congressional race between two friendly rivals, America might never have had a Bill of Rights and might have been strangled while still an infant country because of squabbles over federal vs. state power says Chris DeRose in “Founding Rivals:Madison vs. Monroe The Bill of Rights and the Election That Saved a Nation” (Regnery History, 336 pages, $27.99).
In “Founding Rivals” DeRose hasn’t written a dual biography so much as a detailed account of the two Virginians who faced off in the commonwealth’s 5th Congressional district in 1789 in an America with intense political partisanship, crushing national debt owed to foreign nations, citizens losing their homes to foreclosure, and a nation in danger of separating at the seams.
This all sounds familiar today with the nation facing similar problems; unfortunately we don’t appear to have statesmen/politicians of the caliber of the two Virginians. So much the pity!
link to Articles of Confederation: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/artconf.asp
link to U.S. Constitution: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/usconst.asp) — was in need of amendments, Madison argued. Specifically, the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, in force Dec. 15, 1791
For one thing, Virginia’s dissenters from the Episcopal Church, primarily Baptists and Lutherans, wanted guarantees that they wouldn’t have to fund a state established church, something the Bill of Rights that Madison crafted after he won the election in a district that had been gerrymandered against him. The first amendment of the Bill of Rights guaranteed rights of dissenters by stating that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
In Founding Rivals DeRose writes:
* Why the 1789 race between Madison and Monroe was more important than most presidential elections.
* 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 would never have survived the First Congress if Monroe had won in 1789, and how Monroe convinced Madison of the importance of the Bill of Rights.
* Why James Monroe opposed ratification of the Constitution.
Madison’s achievement in drafting and securing passage of the Bill of Rights drew praise from even his opponent Patrick Henry who wrote Monroe: “Although the form of government into which my countrymen determined to place themselves had my country, yet we are one and all embarked, it is natural to care for the crazy machine, at least so long as we are out of sight of a port to refit.” If Henry thought it was a “crazy machine” back then, I wonder what he would make of our dysfunctional Congress today!
And, it’s a fitting tribute to Madison that Congressman Fisher Ames from Massachusetts — a frequent opponent of Madison — wrote in a letter to a friend: “He is our first man.”
About the Author
Chris DeRose is an attorney and also serves as a political strategist for candidates in 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. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and Pepperdine University School of Law.
Publisher’s website: www.regneryhistory.com