Madison Beats Monroe - The Small Election with Big Implications

Madison Beats Monroe - The Small Election with Big Implications

The first series of elections for the United States under the Constitution's Federal Government were extremely important.

Had the wrong people been elected, the Union itself may have been torn apart.

Today we look at the most important of these battles, perhaps even more important than many Presidential elections since.

Here is the story of the time two future Presidents ran against each other to represent Virginia in the United States Congress.

A New Government

After playing a central role in creating the United State Constitution, James Madison traveled to New York where he worked with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay in writing the Federalist Papers.

By late Spring of 1788, Madison was back in Virginia fighting for his home State to ratify the new government. Although he was ill for a large portion of the debates, the assembly accepted the Federal Government and prepared to select Senators, which was then done by the State Governments.

Madison sought one of these positions, however, Patrick Henry (who was one of the strongest opponents of the Constitution) was able to prevent him from obtaining the office.

Running for the House

Madison still saw himself as a necessary member of the new government and decided to run for the House of Representatives.

Henry was able to gerrymander Madison’s district so as to be rich with Anti-Federalist voters (mind you, this was before gerrymandering was a thing).

It turns out that Madison’s opponent was another future President...James Monroe.

The Promise

Though both men were friends, and disciples of Thomas Jefferson, they ran a hard-fought campaign. (Surprisingly, it seems that they traveled together by stagecoach on several occasions.)

Madison, at first glance, did not seem to have a chance to win.

However, after he changed his mind and admitted that a Bill of Rights needed to be added to the Constitution, James was able to come from behind and pull out the victory.

He would go on to serve as an inaugural member of the House of Representatives.


The consequences of this election are hard to overstate.

Monroe, following Henry’s lead, was part of a small but influential group who were debating the idea of a Second Constitutional Convention. After all, the first was done in secret and (agree with it or not) overstepped its instructions tremendously.

Additionally, despite his belief that a strong Federal Government was necessary, it was during this time that Madison’s politics began to side with those who would become known as the Democratic-Republicans. 

Because of this, he would quickly become a main opponent of Alexander Hamilton. This rivalry would be a central foundation of the United States as we know it today.

Furthermore, it was his change of heart/campaign promise which would lead to the Bill of Rights just two years later.

Here are some other articles regarding Revolutionary Rivalries:

John Morgan’s Side of the Continental Hospital Rivalry

Samuel Ward Sets Petty Issues Aside

James Wilkinson - America’s Favorite Double Agent

The Madison-Monroe Election is so important there is an entire book on the subject.

‘Founding Rivals’ goes into depth on this unique moment in history as well as the significant relationship between these to Framers.

If you’d like a copy you can get one through the Amazon affiliate link below (you’ll support this site, but don’t worry, Amazon pays me while your price stays the same).

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