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Election 1789: The mother of all congressional races

Sunday, Dec. 25, 2011
 

Had one of the first races for Congress turned out differently, America would have, too, according to attorney, political strategist and author Chris DeRose.

His new book "Founding Rivals: Madison vs. Monroe, The Bill of Rights and The Election That Saved a Nation" covers not just the 1789 U.S. House contest between Federalist James Madison and Anti-Federalist James Monroe, but how Madison's narrow victory led to passage of the Bill of Rights, which mollified the Constitution's opponents. It's also among the first titles released under its publisher's new Regnery History imprint.

Following are excerpts from the Trib's phone conversation with DeRose.

On his topic's attractions:

When I saw that there were two future presidents running against each other for Congress, I instantly realized that this was the only time this had ever happened, that I as a lifelong political junkie and history junkie had never heard of this race ... . (W)hen you consider all the consequences of Madison's first term as a congressman and the major legislation that was passed by the first Congress, that literally kept the country together and reunited the states that were remaining outside the union, I instantly realized that, boy, this is something really important.

On elections then and now:

Madison and Monroe maintaining a very high degree of civility throughout the race -- that is one notable exception that separates that race from what you might see today, to the point where Madison and Monroe traveled together to debates, they'd slug it out for two or three hours and then they'd go and maybe stay in the same hotel room. ... (T)here (were) false, misleading attacks that were launched on Madison by ... not Monroe personally, but by his supporters. ... It's an enduring myth of American history that every election cycle brings with it the nastiest campaign ever. That isn't true and I think this race would certainly qualify as a race where there were shots thrown on both sides. Madison's supporters turned on Monroe and the Anti-Federalists. ... Newspapers were primary vehicles for people getting information. ... (A)nonymous polemicists in the newspapers of the Virginia 5th Congressional District are the historical antecedents to today's modern anonymous blogger.

On the political and the personal:

Madison and Monroe had been friends for five years going into this race, and so that friendship never did abate, and I think part of it is simply because these were people who could tell the difference between a political and a personal question. Today, it's all personal, but back then, they could separate. I'll bet you they never even talked about the issues when they'd leave these debates and go to dinner together ... because what was the point in fighting• So part of the problem today is the constant demands of campaigning. Congressional races have gone from Madison and Monroe's time, being a couple months, to a two-year constant practice.

On whether one man still can make a difference:

I think it is possible. If you look (at) the unfavorable context of the first Congress -- crippling national debt, paralyzed political system, disunion of the states -- what I try to point out is not only is it true that every generation of Americans faces challenges, but that not even our challenges are unique. This is exactly what people were dealing with in 1789.

PRESENT SENSE: Print, digital markets show new trends

If a new Kindle Fire from Amazon was among the presents you got to unwrap this Christmas morning, you're probably less enamored of it as an e-book reader than you are of its other functions.

Kelly Gallagher, vice president, publisher services for R.W. Bowker ( bowker.com ), which conducts market research for publishers, says of the Kindle Fire: "Especially with the way that it's ... being marketed ... it's really out to challenge the iPad as a tablet more than a better kind of e-reader."

He says online reviews of the Kindle Fire as an e-reader "really are not a whole lot better; in fact, in some ways, people are not liking it as much as a (dedicated e-reader)," such as earlier Kindle models.

Thus, it's not avid readers who might push Kindle Fire sales past iPad sales, according to Gallagher.

"(W)hat is still driving the e-book market are ... people who read quite often, buy books quite often. And in making the switch from print to digital, those that read regularly are by and large reading on dedicated devices."

E-books' prices have climbed to where they're often much closer to the same books' print versions than they were a year ago. And while final numbers for Christmas-season sales are still to come, "what we've seen is really, for the last four months, a fairly flat ratio between print and 'e,' meaning (e-books) have not seen any significant growth for the last several months," Gallagher says.

November 2010 "was when things really took off (for e-books) ... . It'll be really interesting to see if that happens again."

There's a new trend emerging, too, according to Gallagher: "The other impact that we're looking for, which may have a bit more of a delayed effect, which not a lot of people are talking about ... is we're now hitting what we're calling the 'second cycle' of e-readers ... (or) the 'hand-me-down' effect ... . Mom is going to go and switch from the Nook black-and-white to the Nook Color.

"It's not because the (old) device is broken -- it's just a better (new) device and she can afford it. ... (T)hese (old) devices now being handed to another person in the family ... could actually add a nice bounce to the (e-book) market because ... the old devices, we believe, are going to continue to be used. It's kind of a doubling effect."

Gallagher adds, "I'm not guessing that a lot of them are just going to end up on a bookshelf somewhere, although that's kind of a funny thing, now that I think about it: Will the old devices end up on a bookshelf?"

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SHELF LIFE: PICKING STANDARD-BEARERS

With Democrat Barack Obama seeking re-election, most 2012 campaign action thus far has been among contenders for the Republican nomination -- who've taken part in umpteen debates before 2012 even starts.

But come Jan. 3, the 2012 campaign will produce its first actual winner and losers -- determined by the Iowa caucuses. And Republican Party rules that penalize states for moving their nominating contests earlier on the calendar by taking away convention delegates haven't had much deterrent effect.

Florida -- which will host the GOP convention next August -- moved its primary up to Jan. 31. South Carolina's going even earlier, with its primary on Jan. 21. New Hampshire, traditionally the "first primary" state, threatened to hold its primary in December but settled for Jan. 10 -- after Nevada dropped the notion of holding its caucuses on Jan. 17 in favor of Feb. 4.

It's all part of the evolution of America's presidential nominating process. Learn more about the history and workings of that process from the following titles selected especially for A Page of Books readers by manager Karen Rossi and her staff at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's Downtown & Business branch.

Grassroots Rules: How the Iowa Caucus Helps Elect American Presidents

by Christopher C. Hull

(Stanford Law and Politics, 2007)

The Imperfect Primary: Oddities, Biases, and Strengths of U.S. Presidential Nomination Politics

by Barbara Norrander

(Routledge, 2010)

The Marketplace of Democracy: Electoral Competition and American Politics

edited by Michael P. McDonald and John Samples

(Brookings Institution Press, 2006)

The Presidential Nominating Process: A Place For Us?

by Rhodes Cook

(Rowman & Littlefield, 2003)

Stormy Weather: The New Hampshire Primary and Presidential Politics

by Dante J. Scala

(Palgrave Macmillan, 2003)

Tension City: Inside the Presidential Debates, From Kennedy-Nixon to Obama-McCain

by Jim Lehrer

(Random House, 2011)

Almost President: The Men Who Lost the Race but Changed the Nation

by Scott Farris

(Lyons Press, 2011)

A Page of Books, written and compiled by Alan Wallace, appears on the last Sunday of each month.

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