A brilliant account of six years during which four Founding Fathers, “in disregard of public opinion, carried the American story in a new direction.”
In a virtuosic introduction, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Ellis (Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence, 2013, etc.) maintains that Abraham Lincoln was wrong. In 1776—four score and seven years before 1863—our forefathers did not bring forth a new nation. American revolutionaries hated distant governments, taxes, armies and inconvenient laws. Their Colonial governments seemed fine. Ellis reminds us that the 1776 resolution declaring independence described 13 “free and independent states.” Adopting the Constitution in 1789 created the United States, but no mobs rampaged in its favor. In fact, writes the author, the “vast majority of citizens had no interest in American nationhood, indeed regarded the very idea of national government as irrelevant to their love lives.” Ellis delivers a convincing argument that it was a massive political transformation led by men with impeccable revolutionary credentials. The indispensable man was George Washington, whose miserable eight years begging support for the Revolutionary army convinced him that America needed a central government. Its intellectual mastermind, James Madison, not only marshaled historical arguments, but performed political legerdemain in setting the Constitutional Convention agenda, orchestrating the debates and promoting ratification. Less tactful but equally brilliant, Alexander Hamilton’s vision of American hegemony would provoke stubborn opposition, but during the 1780s, the people that mattered had no objection. An undeservedly neglected Founding Father (Thomas Jefferson became our first secretary of state only after he declined), John Jay was close to the others and a vigorous advocate of reform.
This is Ellis’ ninth consecutive history of the Revolutionary War era and yet another winner.