Book Review: Founding Rivals

founding-rivals

Chris DeRose, Founding Rivals: Madison vs. Monroe, The Bill of Rights, and the Election That Saved a Nation (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2011).

Before serving the young United States as President, or as Secretary of State, James Madison and James Monroe each eventually served the new republic in Congress. In the nation’s first election under the newly adopted Constitution, these two men faced each other in a contest to represent Virginia’s 5th Congressional District. Madison, author of the Constitution versus Monroe, a soldier hero of the Revolution. Madison, the Federalist versus Monroe, the Anti-Federalist. The Constitution’s survival as a governing document was at stake.

Using this election race as the focus of his book, author Chris DeRose delivers an exceptional work of history. DeRose presents the lives of both men in contemporaneous slices, beginning at home, where familial influences figure prominently in the development of both men. Madison enjoyed a robust education at his home in Orange. Monroe lost both parents early, but enjoyed strong support from his maternal uncle, Joseph Jones. Both were reared in environments that featured a developing sense of Americanness. Fathers, uncles, and associates were involved in the nascent movement for independence.

Madison and Monroe provide a contrast. DeRose relates their collegiate experiences, beginning with Madison’s whetting at Princeton. A time when the Virginian nourished his bent toward political philosophy. Monroe arrived at William & Mary with the rise of revolutionary fervor. Once in Williamsburg, Monroe quickly joined a group of fellow students in militia activity. His military career launched before his first year was complete.

DeRose addresses an issue that loomed as the Revolution opened, slavery and the colonist’s fear of a British supported of slave revolt. The decision to perpetuate slavery represents the principle failure of America’s founders. However, British efforts to exploit America’s slaves in order to maintain their empire was also hypocritical. Thankfully, the author delivers a history that explores this and many other many issues about which Madison and Monroe were concerned without engaging in political advocacy or presentism.

America’s Revolution saw both men shine in their differing roles. Madison the statesman, Monroe the soldier. Both men served in Congress under the Articles of Confederation, and their experiences contributed to each man’s developing political philosophy. In tracing certain issues, the author sketches out the evolution of Madison’s and Monroe’s positions regarding several of the nation’s many challenges. The issues which DeRose explores are: The Mississippi River and the U.S.’s access to it, the national debt, national defense, freedom of religious expression, and the fear of a powerful central government.

Founding Rivals hinges on the election of 1789. Both men had staunch supporters and the fate of the Constitution hung on the decision. If Madison won, would amendments be enough to placate those fearing the establishment of a strong central government? If Monroe won, would the Anti-Federalist call a new convention to replace the Constitution with a revamped version of the Articles of Confederation? The answers to those questions are well known, but DeRose explains how each candidate approached the voters of Virginia’s 5th District. In the end, victory depended on several surprising groups.

Chris DeRose is now on my list of sought after authors. A quick but fulfilling read of 276 pages, I highly recommend this book. Founding Rivals: Madison vs. Monroe, The Bill of Rights, and the Election That Saved a Nation is a must have book for those interested in the early history of the United States.

Author: historypresent

History Understood in Its Present

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