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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Founding Rivals: Madison vs. Monroe, The Bill of Rights, and the Election That Saved a Nation by Chris DeRose

A refreshing perspective on the Founding Fathers

Published 2011 by Regnery History

I am an avid reader of American history and one of my favorite areas to study is the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers. There is no shortage of books about the build up to the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War and Washington, Jefferson and Adams (as of late) but there is a real scarcity of books about the difficulties experienced by the Articles of Confederation government and the debates that led to the creation of the Constitution. Of course, there are the famed Federalist Papers and the lesser-known Anti-Federalist Papers but not much written as a study.

James Madison (1751-1836)
In Founding Rivals, DeRose tells the story as a parallel biography of Madison and Monroe - two Founding Fathers, two future presidents, both close friends of Thomas Jefferson. This is more than a bare bones biography but there were times that I found myself wanting more such as when DeRose discusses Monroe's trips to the frontier. I would have been interested in hearing more about how that influenced his decisions later on in life. For Madison, mentions in one brief sentence that he wrote or co-wrote 29 of the Federalist Papers as part of the debate in New York about the ratification of the Constitution. I would have thought that his essays would have been explored a bit since they do show insight into his political philosophy but there is only the one sentence.

But, the book is not meant to be a complete dual biography, it is the story of one election to Congress and how that election impacted America. That part of the story actually occurs relatively late in the book. Once DeRose has finished demonstrating the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation and why Madison (known as the primary author of the Constitution) wanted to scrap it (no one had more experience with the deficiencies of the Articles of Confederation than Madison) we are easily two-thirds into the book. Frankly, I was starting to wonder when the "Rivals" part was going to kick in. In a way, it really does not. Madison and Monroe were friends. They respected one another's experiences and opinions and their rivalry seems to have been a gracious one. Interestingly, they did not seem to harbor any ill feelings towards one another during and after the election.

James Monroe (1758-1831)
They strongly disagreed on the new government created by the Constitution. Anti-Federalist Monroe wanted to go to Congress to limit the ability of the Congress to directly tax the people and create a Bill of Rights. Madison wanted to be able to directly tax the people and was one of the few Federalists that also wanted a Bill of Rights. Madison was bothered by states (like his native Virginia) that had an official religion and taxed its residents to pay for that religion and he had a long record of opposing those sorts of laws.

Madison wins the election and is one of the leaders of the movement to add the Bill of Rights to the Constitution. DeRose persuasively maintains that if Madison had not won the election, there would not have been enough support from Federalists to pass the first 10 amendments to the Constitution and that is how this election "saved a nation." It's a strong argument and the book presents an interesting look at the Founding Fathers and the arguments and friendships that created America.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Founding Rivals: Madison vs. Monroe.

Reviewed on December 7, 2011.

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