Founding Friendship: George Washington, James Madison, and the Creation of the American Republic

By Tscheschlok, Eric | South Carolina Historical Magazine, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Founding Friendship: George Washington, James Madison, and the Creation of the American Republic


Tscheschlok, Eric, South Carolina Historical Magazine


Founding Friendship: George Washington, James Madison, and the Creation of the American Republic. By Stuart Leibiger. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999. Pp. x, 284; $35.00, cloth.)

Ever since the publication of Adrienne Koch's Jefferson and Madison: The Great Collaboration (1950), historians have grown accustomed to pairing off eminent statesmen of the founding generation in an effort to see how their professional cooperation and interpersonal relations might shed light upon the events of the early American republic. In addition to the partnership studied by Koch those of Thomas Jefferson-John Adams, James Madison-Alexander Hamilton, and George Washington-Alexander Hamilton have received considerable attention. In the present opus, however, Stuart Leibiger argues that scholars have overlooked "the most important and revealing pairing of all": the collaboration between Washington and Madison (p. 1). According to Leibiger this duo "remains the founding's central team overall," "outweighing all other permutations during the all-important 1785-90 period" (p. 1). Despite some obvious exaggeration in these claims, Leibiger presents a lively and remarkably convincing case that the Washington-Madison friendship had significant-and heretofore under appreciated-consequences for the formative era of American nationhood.

Madison and Washington first met in 1781 near the end of the Revolutionary War. They shared a common republican vision and a continental perspective that made both men committed nationalists. Their political collaboration began in the early postwar years, when the pair joined forces in a string of initiatives to strengthen the weak central government under the Articles of Confederation. What emerged from these endeavors was a symbiotic political relationship in which Washington came to rely upon Madison's literary skills and parliamentary prowess while Madison benefited from the promotional use of Washington's name and prestige. According to Leibiger, this alliance took center stage in the late 1780s and was indispensable in the framing of the U.S. Constitution and the creation of the new national government. "Without the Washington-Madison collaboration," the author contends, "the 1787 Federal Convention might not have taken place" (p. 58). He probably embellishes somewhat in this regard, but he nevertheless shows how instrumental Madison was in convincing Washington to attend the Philadelphia Convention and how Washington's presence, in turn, "bestowed the legitimacy and popular approval vital to the convention's success" (p. 58).

The two men maintained their intimate connection throughout the opening years of the federal republic. While serving in the First Federal Congress (1789-1791) Madison acted as an important floor leader and trusted adviser to President Washington. Leibiger, in fact, dubs him the president's "prime minister," and there is good reason for the epithet (p. 123). Washington often turned to Madison for aid in drafting official messages, such as his inaugural address, and the young congressman "became Washington's closest adviser in the difficult task of choosing high-ranking federal officials" (p. …

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