Founding Rivals: Madison vs. Monroe
The Bill of Rights, and The Election that Saved a Nation
By Chris DeRose
As I was wondering through the very extensive history section at the local library I ran across this interesting book.
Somehow the event covered in the book slipped passed me.
The author explores in detail the most important Congressional election in the history of the United States - the 5th District of Virginia between Federalist James Madison and Anti-Federalist James Monroe.
Madison stood before the voters in America's very first election as perhaps the principal author of the Constitution. Monroe campaigned against the Constitution that he felt made the central government too powerful and did not protect the rights of the people.
A Two Party System Developes - Even in this first election society began to break down into warring political camps. One observer at the time noted, "Hereafter, when a gentleman is nominated to a public office, it is not his virtue, his abilities, or his patriotism we are to regard, but whether he is a Federalist or Anti-Federalist."
At stake in the election was the future adoption of the Bill of Rights itself.
Madison was effectively the leader of the Federalist Party. His presence in the House was vital to getting a Bill of Rights written and adopted. A Monroe Anti-Federalist victory could have endangered the passage of the Bill of Rights by removing a pro-Bill of Rights Madison from the question. Without Madison in the House the Bill might have bogged down in inter-party fighting.
"Henry-Mandering" - The great patriot Patrick Henry almost got his name attached to the crooked partisan drawing of Congressional Districts.
Former Virginia Governor Henry was the state leader of the Anti-Federalist Party. He was viciously opposed to the new Federalist written Constitution for centralizing too much power with Congress and the President, and he forcefully defended the weak Articles of Confederation.
Federalist James Madison let it be known that he would seek election to the first House of Representatives. Patrick Henry's Anti-Federalists sharpened their knives. When Virginia's Congressional Districts were drawn, Madison's home was "Henry-mandered" by the Anti-Federalists.
|Virginia Governor Patrick Henry|
Anti-Federalist Party leader
Using the vote for the Virginia Ratification Convention as a guide, Henry's allies drew the lines of Madison's 5th Congressional District to include 74% Anti-Federalist voters.
In their next step the Anti-Federalists recruited a prominent Revolutionary War vet in James Monroe to carry their standard to defeat Madison.
Henry's goal was to defeat Madison before the votes were even cast.
With the future of the nation on the line, Madison did not shrink from the election.
In a day when candidates never personally campaigned both candidates hit the road hard. Monroe and Madison aggressively went after every vote in every town, rural cluster of houses and churches.
Monroe campaigned against the new Federal government having the power to tax in order to support itself . . . which was the entire point of the new Constitution.
Madison knew that the fear of direct Federal taxation could destroy his campaign. He had to do some political maneuvering to defuse the issue saying voluntary taxing would not work, "If some states contribute their quotas and others do not, justice is violated. . . . . Shall we put our trust in the system of requisitions, by which each state will furnish or not furnish its share as it may like?"
The author details an election that was hard fought. The votes were cast at county courthouses under the supervision of the local sheriffs.
People would walk in and announce their vote for Congress. No "secret" ballot. Real Americans proudly announced to their neighbors and the world who they supported.
In an Anti-Federalist district Madison won 57% of the vote. A ringing endorsement for the new government.
|Near the end of his life Chief Justice John|
Marshall was asked to name the most eloquent
orator of his age. "If it includes persuasion by
convincing, Mr. Madison was the most
eloquent man I ever heard."
The First Congress - There was an enormous task waiting for Madison and the others in the first Congress. An entire government had to be created from scratch and there was the danger that a Bill of Rights could easily be pushed back to be dealt with later.
As leader of the Federalists, Madison was front and center in bills creating the branches of government, financing and executive powers.
Madison pushed and insisted that a Bill of Rights must be passed before Congress adjourned. Finally the 12 amendments were passed, but only 10 finally being adopted.
In 1790 James Monroe went on to be elected to the U.S. Senate.
But while Congressman Madison was the architect in the creation of the United States, Senator Monroe hardly made his presence felt at all. Monroe spent more time on his law practice back in Virginia than in affairs of state.
The author was probably right. A rather "low energy" Anti-Federalist Congressman Monroe might have delayed or even prevented the adoption of the Bill of Rights.
An interesting side note, both Monroe and Madison became lifelong friends and political allies. In 1828 Madison and Monroe were selected as Presidential Electors for the ticket of John Quincy Adams and in 1929 both served at the Virginia Constitutional Convention.
In April, 1831 Madison wrote his last letter to his friend speaking of the "uninterrupted friendship that unites us." A few weeks later, on July 4th, 1831, Monroe died.
The book is an excellent read. Anyone interested in the founding of the republic must add this to their library.
|Washington crossing of the Delaware|
James Monroe is depicted as holding the flag.