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.

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