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The Never-Before-Told Story, Except for That One Time That Maybe I Forgot to Mention


Imagine you’re a historian writing about James Madison and the Bill of Rights. For your big chapter on Madison’s election to the First Congress—in which he defeated his good friend James Monroe, which in some respects helped secure passage of the Bill of Rights—you immerse yourself in primary sources. Reading letters and diaries, for instance, you learn that on election day, February 2, 1789, it was two degrees at sunrise, with ten inches on the ground. This might have depressed turnout in a congressional district drawn by Patrick Henry in such a way as to maximize the chances that Madison would lose.
So what was the turnout? Well, no sources actually cite that specifically; they just give the vote totals. So knowing that eligible voters were males aged twenty-one or older who owned either 50 acres of land or 25 acres plus a house, you scour the land records. It’s not cut and dry, of course; you might have miss some folks or mistake a female name for a male, etc., but in the end you come up with 5,189 elegible voters. Another historian might have done it slightly differently.
Whatever the case, it’s your work and it adds something to the historical record.
Now imagine that someone else comes along, and on television and in his promotional materials, declares his book to be “the never before told story of the most important Congressional election in American history … This is literally the campaign that saved America, told here for the first time.”
This hyperbolic jacket copy is bad enough, but THEN you notice that he uses your research—including that painstakingly calculated number, 5,189—without ever citing you or in any way acknowledging you or your book.
That’s what Richard Labunski says happened to him. Read what happened when he contacted the other writer’s publisher.
IMAGES: Official White House portrait of James Madison, by John Vanderlyn; James Monroe

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