BOOK REVIEW: ‘Founding Rivals’: How Madison’s Defeat of Monroe in 1789 Congressional Election Gave Us the Bill of Rights

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

BOOK REVIEW: 'Founding Rivals': How Madison's Defeat of Monroe in 1789 Resulted in Bill of Rights -- And Saved the Young United States of America

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).

The Madison of the title, of course, is James Madison (1751-1836), later the fourth president of the U.S., serving from 1809-1817,  and the Monroe is his successor, the fifth president, serving from 1817-1825, James Monroe (1758-1831), famous for the Monroe Doctrine.

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!

DeRose’s book kept my attention to the end, revealing an important but until now neglected element of American history. OK, I’m a history junkie, but even those who aren’t addicted to history will find this book eye-opening.   I was unaware of the importance of the election — an election I had never been aware of.
“Founding Rivals” tells the story of a congressional race that has been largely ignored by historians that DeRose believes saved the nation. In this book, DeRose relives the campaign, retraces the candidates’ footsteps, and offers the first insightful, comprehensive history of the most important congressional race in American history, the only congressional contest in which two future presidents ran against each other.
Chris DeRose

Chris DeRose
The election was important, DeRose writes, because Madison, the principal author of the recently passed Constitution — which replaced the Articles of Confederation (links to both documents on the Avalon Project at Yale University:
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…”

  Actually, DeRose says, the district had been “Henrymandered” against Madison by Patrick Henry, who favored Monroe and didn’t like the Constitution because it gave the federal government too much  power. Yes, that “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” Patrick Henry.

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

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