A history of three of the Founding Fathers who fought relentlessly “for nothing less than the dignity, equality, and rights of man in America and throughout Europe and England.”
Except for stressing the revolutionary credentials of his subjects—Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and James Monroe—Ferling (Emeritus, History/Univ. of West Georgia; Whirlwind: The American Revolution and the War that Won It, 2015, etc.) delivers solid, conventional biographies, so readers searching for lives of the Founders can kill three birds with this one stone. All three men supported rule of the common man, but only Paine could not be accused of hypocrisy. He hated slavery and the seizure of Indian lands and never had much money, but his later attacks on George Washington and organized religion made him so unpopular that some Americans have never considered him a true Founding Father. Members of the Virginia aristocracy, Jefferson and Monroe opposed slavery in theory but treated their own slaves poorly. Jefferson is well-known for proclaiming that an ideal nation consists of small, independent farmers whose representatives would rule with a light hand. What he meant was that these sturdy yeomen would elect responsible gentry like himself who knew how to govern large groups of citizens. He was most unhappy when the electorate turned to crude, less-educated types more to their taste—e.g., Andrew Jackson. Mostly a follower of Jefferson and president from 1817 to 1825, Monroe is the least known of the three, so readers will find his biography particularly illuminating. Ferling matured during the turbulent 1960s when a school of historians believed that revolutionaries were cool and that traditional elitists like Washington and Adams lacked a je ne sais quoi. Though he has moved beyond this camp, a trace remains in this excellently opinionated history.
Another winner of early American history from a renowned practitioner.