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Founding Friendship

George Washington, James Madison, and the Creation of the American Republic

Stuart Leibiger

Publication Year: 1999

Although the friendship between George Washington and James Madison was eclipsed in the early 1790s by the alliances of Madison with Jefferson and Washington with Hamilton, their collaboration remains central to the constitutional revolution that launched the American experiment in republican government. Washington relied heavily on Madison's advice, pen, and legislative skill, while Madison found Washington's prestige indispensable for achieving his goals for the new nation. Together, Stuart Leibiger argues, Washington and Madison struggled to conceptualize a political framework that would respond to the majority without violating minority rights. Stubbornly refusing to sacrifice either of these objectives, they cooperated in helping to build and implement a powerful, extremely republican constitution.

Observing Washington and Madison in light of their special relationship, Leibiger argues against a series of misconceptions about the two men. Madison emerges as neither a strong nationalist of the Hamiltonian variety nor a political consolidationist; he did not retreat from nationalism to states' rights in the 1790s, as other historians have charged. Washington, far from being a majestic figurehead, exhibits a strong constitutional vision and firm control of his administration.

By examining closely Washington and Madison's correspondence and personal visits, Leibiger shows how a marriage of political convenience between two members of the Chesapeake elite grew into a genuine companionship fostered by historical events and a mutual interest in agriculture and science. The development of their friendship, and eventual estrangement, mirrors in fascinating ways the political development of the early Republic.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

This book, many years in the making, could not have been possible without seemingly endless hours of assistance from countless individuals. While it would be difficult for me to remember, let alone recognize, the many people . . .

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pp. 1-10

THE COLLABORATION between James Madison and Thomas Jefferson has attracted considerable attention from historians, becoming the subject of a monograph, a volume of published lectures, and a three-volume edition of the . . .

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Chapter 1: Winning Independence

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pp. 11-32

AS GEORGE WASHINGTON entered Philadelphia on 30 August 1781, crowds received him “with shouts and acclamations,” noted a member of the military entourage. After the local cavalry escorted the commander in chief into . . .

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Chapter 2: Improving Rivers and Friendships

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pp. 33-57

THANKS to the ties established late in the war, the two Virginians did not drift apart after retiring in 1783. Once Washington discovered that Madison made an excellent lieutenant in the general assembly, their friendship grew . . .

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Chapter 3: Framing and Ratifying the Constitution

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pp. 58-96

WITHOUT THE Washington-Madison collaboration, the 1787 Federal Convention might not have taken place. As a Virginia legislator Madison placed Washington at the head of the state’s prestigious delegation to . . .

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Chapter 4: Washington’s “Prime Minister”

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pp. 97-123

BECAUSE ratification by ten states did not end the Antifederalist threat, the collaborators did not relax their cooperation during the first federal elections. Considering Madison’s parliamentary skills indispensable to the new legislature, . . .

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Chapter 5: Friendship Tested

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pp. 124-139

THE COLLABORATORS had never been and were never again as close as during the First Congress’s first session in 1789. As the executive departments took shape and precedents became fixed, Washington inevitably needed . . .

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Chapter 6: Founding Washington, D.C.

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pp. 140-152

THE UNITED STATES CAPITAL never would have moved to the Potomac River had it not been for the Washington-Madison collaboration. Running from 1783 until the mid-1790s, the crusade for a Potomac capital was the . . .

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Chapter 7: Four More Years

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pp. 153-168

NOT LONG after his 1789 inauguration, Washington decided he would retire after one term in March 1793 because he felt obligated to fulfill his pledge to the American people to quit public office for good. He also hoped to set an . . .

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Chapter 8: “Neutrality”

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pp. 169-181

ALTHOUGH Madison headed home for the 1793 recess confident about his relationship with the president, the Federalists within a year outmaneuvered him in the contest to stay right with the chief executive. The Hamiltonians . . .

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Chapter 9: Domestic Order and Disorder

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pp. 182-196

DESPITE their differences, Washington and Madison remained on excellent personal terms until late 1794, now rarely discussing state affairs but still communicating about nonpartisan interests such as agriculture. The president’s . . .

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Chapter 10: Estrangement and Farewell

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pp. 197-222

JOHN JAY’S agreement with Britain produced a head-on collision in which Madison won a battle over constitutional interpretation but Washington won the war over the treaty. The clash exposed fundamental differences between these . . .

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pp. 223-225

WHY HAS THE Washington-Madison collaboration, the greatest partnership of the American founding, also been the most unheralded? The simplest answer is that Washington and Madison themselves kept it a secret by having one . . .


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pp. 227-261

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 263-272


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pp. 273-284

E-ISBN-13: 9780813929125
E-ISBN-10: 0813929121
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813918822
Print-ISBN-10: 0813918820

Page Count: 284
Publication Year: 1999

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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1775-1783.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1783-1789.
  • Madison, James, 1751-1836 -- Friends and associates.
  • Washington, George, 1732-1799 -- Friends and associates.
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