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Hear from historian Tyson Reeder, author of Serpent in Eden: Foreign Meddling and Partisan Politics in James Madison's America.

This is the story of espionage, shadow diplomacy, foreign scheming, and domestic backstabbing in the formative years of the American republic.

Attendees will have the opportunity to submit questions and have their books signed.


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About the Book

Tyson Reeder's book traces early America's rocky beginnings, when foreign interference and political conflict threatened to undermine its aspirations and ideals, even its very existence. Spanning the period from the Revolution to the War of 1812, and focusing particularly on the presidency of James Madison, it reveals a nation adjusting to rancorous partisan politics, aggravated by the untested and imperfect new tools of governance and the growing power of media. Foreign powers, mainly Great Britain and Napoleonic France, exploited these conditions to advance their own agendas, interfering in U.S. elections to promote the outcome they favored. Dissent and disloyalty became dangerously interdigitated, nearly bringing the new republic to the brink of collapse.

No figure was more in the center of it all than James Madison. As a leading delegate at the Constitutional Convention, Republican congressional leader, secretary of state, and president, Madison grappled with foreign meddling for over three decades. At the same time, he emerged as a political leader, feeding the very partisanship that bred foreign intrigues. As chief executive, he presided over the calamitous barrage of accusations and counteraccusations of foreign collusion that culminated in the War of 1812. Madison left a mixed but indelible legacy: as a fierce adversary of foreign interference, a fiery champion of political debate, and a partisan operative who facilitated the former by inflaming the latter.

Forged in partisan conflict, the United States remains vulnerable to forces that test whether the constitutional system Madison was so central in implementing can withstand outside meddling while accommodating partisan conflict. Madison's successes and failures, along with his original vision of the Constitution and party politics, illuminate the ongoing struggle between domestic polarization and foreign interference.

About the Author

Tyson Reeder is assistant professor of history at Brigham Young University. His research focuses on early America, the Atlantic world, trans-imperial commercial networks, race and revolution in the Atlantic, and early U.S. state building. He is also an assistant professor of history at the University of Virginia where he serves as an editor with the Papers of James Madison. Reeder received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis. In 2019, he published Smugglers, Pirates, and Patriots: Free Trade in the Age of Revolution (University of Pennsylvania Press) based on research in Portuguese, Spanish, French, and English. He is the editor of the forthcoming Routledge History of U.S. Foreign Relations. He has published in the Washington Post and major historical journals including the Journal of American History, Journal of the Early Republic, Oxford Research Encyclopedia, and other venues. He was a member of the Washington Library’s 2020-2021 class of research fellows.

Sponsored By Ford Philanthropy

Mount Vernon has enjoyed a very special relationship with the Ford Motor Company dating back more than 90 years. We are grateful for their generous support and we applaud their abiding respect for American heritage.

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