“The narrative offers informed, exacting characterizations of the uncertain political alliances, strained interactions and ideological growing pains that elites of the post-revolutionary decades put the country through.”—Andrew Burstein, The Washington Post
A vivid account of leadership focusing on the first four Virginia presidents—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe—from the bestselling historian and author of James Madison.
From a small expanse of land on the North American continent came four of the nation's first five presidents—a geographic dynasty whose members led a revolution, created a nation, and ultimately changed the world. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe were born, grew to manhood, and made their homes within a sixty-mile circle east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Friends and rivals, they led in securing independence, hammering out the United States Constitution, and building a working republic. Acting together, they doubled the territory of the United States. From their disputes came American political parties and the weaponizing of newspapers, the media of the day. In this elegantly conceived and insightful new book from bestselling author Lynne Cheney, the four Virginians are not marble icons but vital figures deeply intent on building a nation where citizens could be free.
Focusing on the intersecting roles these men played as warriors, intellectuals, and statesmen, Cheney takes us back to an exhilarating time when the Enlightenment opened new vistas for humankind. But even as the Virginians advanced liberty, equality, and human possibility, they held people in slavery and were slaveholders when they died. Lives built on slavery were incompatible with a free and just society; their actions contradicted the very ideals they espoused. They managed nonetheless to pass down those ideals, and they became powerful weapons for ending slavery. They inspired Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass and today undergird the freest nation on earth.
Taking full measure of strengths and failures in the personal as well as the political lives of the men at the center of this book, Cheney offers a concise and original exploration of how the United States came to be.
About the Author
Lynne Cheney is the author and coauthor of twelve books, including six bestsellers about American history for children. The wife of former vice president Dick Cheney, she lives in Wilson, Wyoming.
“The narrative offers informed, exacting characterizations of the uncertain political alliances, strained interactions and ideological growing pains that elites of the post-revolutionary decades put the country through. As a work of history, the book is a disciplined, agreeably constructed synthesis. As a human interest story it is no less agreeable.” –Andrew Burstein, The Washington Post
“Bringing these men together as a group draws attention to how their thought and action unfolded in response to new challenges and dispels any illusion that they were a monolithic bloc. Cheney is an adept writer who makes no wrong steps.”—Library Journal
"An accessible group portrait of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe . . . Cheney selects anecdotes wisely and writes gracefully. The result is an informative introduction to four of America’s most important founding fathers."—Publishers Weekly
"Debates over power and justice are as old—even older, really—than the Republic, and Lynne Cheney has given us a thoughtful and illuminating account of how a group of distinctive Americans, all Virginians, confronted essential questions at the beginning of our common journey.”—Jon Meacham, author of The Soul of America
“From a plantation-rich cluster in colonial Virginia, four men were cultured who would shape the birth of our nation. This wonderfully readable narrative explores their complex relations with each other and the way they wrestled imperfectly with reconciling their ideal of liberty with their lives as slaveholders. The values and flaws they ingrained in our nation are with us still today.”—Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin and Steve Jobs