Chris DeRose has written a terrific book about a little understood period of American history, those years between the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the first session of Congress under the Constitution in 1789.
Beyond the story of Madison and Monroe, one thing that struck me time and again was how similar the country’s problems were as a nascent nation and today as a world superpower. The very first tax bill that came before Congress went nowhere and was punted to a “Committee”. Really. On day one of the first session of Congress, the country had a “staggering” $54 million debt, 12% of which was owned by foreign governments. Sound familiar? Madison did a study of failed governments throughout history and the common thread he discovered was paralysis. They were no longer able to govern. Super committee anyone? Overseas rivals mocking our government’s ability to function, not to mention our balance sheet. China and Russia do this regularly. Even intransigent politicians ignoring directives goes back to our Founding. When Pulitzer-prize winner Ron Suskind joined us to talk Confidence Men, he told a story about Treasury Secretary Geithner ignoring a directive from President Obama to break apart Citigroup. Geithner disagreed so he simply ignored it. In Founding Rivals, the order was to strike a deal with Spain to secure access to the Mississippi River. New York’s John Jay didn’t agree and set out to do the exact opposite. Thanks largely to Madison and Monroe, he was unsuccessful.
It was remarkable how relevant this book is today. At it’s core, it is the story of life long allies who ultimately became political rivals without becoming personal enemies. Buy this book for any history lover on your holiday shopping list!
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