From Pulitzer Prize-winning American historian Joseph J. Ellis, the unexpected story of why the 13 colonies, having just fought off the imposition of a distant centralized governing power, would decide to subordinate themselves anew.
We all know the famous opening phrase of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address: "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this Continent a new Nation." The truth is different. In 1776, 13 American colonies declared themselves independent states that only temporarily joined forces in order to defeat the British. Once victorious, they planned to go their separate ways. The triumph of the American Revolution was neither an ideological nor a political guarantee that the colonies would relinquish their independence and accept the creation of a federal government with power over their autonomy as states.
The Quartet is the story of this second American founding and of the men most responsible - George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison. These men, with the help of Robert Morris and Gouverneur Morris, shaped the contours of American history by diagnosing the systemic dysfunctions created by the Articles of Confederation, manipulating the political process to force the calling of the Constitutional Convention, conspiring to set the agenda in Philadelphia, orchestrating the debate in the state ratifying conventions, and, finally, drafting the Bill of Rights to assure state compliance with the constitutional settlement.
Ellis has given us a gripping and dramatic portrait of one of the most crucial and misconstrued periods in American history: the years between the end of the Revolution and the formation of the federal government. The Quartet unmasks a myth and in its place presents an even more compelling truth - one that lies at the heart of understanding the creation of the United States of America.
My high school history classes covered the American Revolution and American History from 1789 to the events which were current at the time. While the Articles of Confederation was discussed, and the reasons for the failure of the central government mentioned, little time was actually given to the process through which the US moved from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution or through the ratifying process. The most time that was spent on this period, and it was precious little, was a discussion of the importance of the Federalist Papers and Alexander Hamilton, probably because this school was in New York State. This book remedies that lack in a short and complete fashion.
Mr Ellis is a noted historian and he has turned his considerable talents to a complete description of why the Articles failed, the state that failure left the central government in and the process through which the four main proponents of a more powerful and centralized government, Washington, Hamilton, Jay and Madison, moved the process to its ultimate success. He also describes the difficulties involved in gaining ratification and the main opponents of the ratification effort as well as the motives of many of those strongly opposed to the new government system. Most central to this opposition were George Clinton and Patrick Henry and they figure prominently in the discussion of how the opponents first tried to stop the adoption of the Constitution and then tried to reverse the acceptance. While we know how things turned out, the description of the events themselves and the trials of those involved was both very interesting and informative.
I have read many books on this period of American History but most were concerned with why the American Revolution occurred, the events of the war, the struggle for a peace treaty with Great Britain and the events after the adoption of the Constitution with the remainder being biographies of many of those involved (Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Adams and others). While all of those books covered either the period leading to the adoption of the Articles of Confederation or the events following the adoption of the Constitution, none of them were dedicated to the time period between the two and none were as clear as to the motives and actions of the participants as this book.
Mr Ellis has also provided us with an analysis of what he believes was intended by the text of the Constitution by those involved and compares that with what is currently referred to as Original Intent. This is a short section and seems more like a political discussion than is warranted in a normal book on historical events, but it is short and does not mar the rest of the book. He also provides 3 appendices with the complete text of the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
The book, at 8 hours, is not long, but it is 8 hours I found well spent. The narration by Robertson Dean is first class and I found this book to be well worth 5 stars.
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
My second listen was more intense than the first.
My initial review was that anyone who quotes. the Constitution, Federalist Papers or writings by Jefferson or believes what they hear or see from the media, political organizations or politicians regarding these sources should listen to or read this book before they begin to throw them around. There are historians who do not agree with Ellis and again if you are going to live or die by these sources, again you should read those opposing views and make your own choice. Besides run on sentences these are strong facts.
In the last 20 or 30 years I have seen quotes regarding the Constitution, especially by Jefferson, who was in France before and long after the Constitution was written. Due to his position in the planter class, landed gentry , he had a vested interest in maintaining the Article's of Confederation. Therefore had no idea of the structure or negotiations and compromising that went into it.
I believe the book is well-written and well narrated and a must read.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Want to mention at the top that this actual book is shorter than the full time mentioned, as it includes the two appendices, which are actually a reading of the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. Very nice that they were included in the audio, though.
I feel this book was intensely interesting, and perfectly edited to a quick yet comprehensive subject matter. Highly recommend.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
If you could sum up The Quartet in three words, what would they be?
A Great listen
Who was your favorite character and why?
Amuricah. There was no individual character
Any additional comments?
In 1776 we signed the Declaration of Independence. Then we won the Revolutionary War. Then we became a Democracy. Then the Civil War happened.
To a large degree I confess to being mostly ignorant of what happened immediately following the Revolutionary War. Like most folks, I bought into the Founding Fathers worked together and figured out how to create this new Democratic Republic pretty seamlessly.
Boy, was I wrong. This is actually one of the better history books I’ve ready in a while. I illustrates the disconnect between the ineffective national government (which was truly more of a Confederacy of States than a Federal Government) and the all-powerful State governments.
For those of you who think the Founding Fathers could do no wrong and had singular goals and objectives in mind, read this book. You’ll also realize that much of the mindset was based on compromise (especially dealing with Federal versus State powers). And that much happened not because it was what all parties wanted, but what was politically doable.
The book focuses primarily on what the author sees as the four men most responsible for the creation of the constitution. George Washington, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison take up a good share of the narrative. But there’s a decent amount of attention spent on the political issues of the day as well.
A great read,
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
This is an absolutely fascinating look at a period of American history that is far too often glazed over. Also, Robertson Dean's narration is wonderful. If you want to learn more about the history of the Constitution, this is a must. Highly recommended!
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
This book is especially helpful for people like me attempting rely on High School US American History to navigate complicated political discussions including the Philosophy of supreme court using "original intent" as the basis for decisions regarding the constitution It was fascinating and illuminating to learn of the diversity of original intent in these first-generation leaders of our country. Thomas Jefferson thought the Constitution should be updated every 20 years in order to accommodate the changing needs and context of the population. Madison didn't even think that there needed to be a bill of rights as it wasn't enforceable. He didn't imagine that the Supreme Court would have the role of enforcing those rights. It is very interesting to hear how they managed the politics regarding these very important decisions. I think every American should read this book. It's very accessible!
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Our independence came from revolution, but our nation was founded on unity and tolerance.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
George Washington, aghast at the failure of Congress to properly feed and fund his ill-equipped army during the fight with the British, lamented, “We have become a many headed monster, a heterogeneous mass that never will nor can steer to the same point.” Loosely affiliated under the Articles of Confederation, the 13 states each pursued their own agendas.
Pulitzer winning historian Joseph J. Ellis tells the story how this heterogeneous mass was made to steer to the same point. Ellis reveals how four men George Washington, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison conceived and promoted a new political framework built on the Constitution. Ellis shows how during the years 1783 to 1789 these four men called for the constitutional convention, set the agenda, orchestrated the debates and drafted the Bill of Rights.
Some historians have viewed the Constitution as a betrayal of the American Revolution. Ellis, however, reminds us that democracy was viewed skeptically in the 18th century; he prefers to see the effects of the quartet as “a quite brilliant rescue” of revolutionary principles.
The book is well written and researched. Ellis has a way of taking a lot of information and turning it into easy readable prose. This is a book to keep in your reference library. Robertson Dean narrated the book.
4 of 6 people found this review helpful
This is one of the most well written historical books I’ve ever “read”. It moves around between storylines slowly and logically weaving them together like a metaphor of the story of our nation coming together and not ending up as separate states barely united if at all. Following the ‘characters’ is fascinating and ‘fiction-like’ in their color and depth. Highly recommended, might even get the hard copy to better absorb this robust work.
When reading historical works, it is inevitable that one will see history from the author's point of view. That much is understood, and even advantageous, insofar as the author's familiarity is assumed to exceed most readers. This system breaks down when the author ceases to present the facts, and instead demands the reader to subjective conclusion.
If the author wishes me to know his opinion on how a Founding Father may side in a modern political argument, then focus the book thusly. To present a work on the formation of the Constitution and then draw such conclusions for me is disingenuous.
This reader could even get past the author's opinions, until the author's credibility as a historian was negated completely with one word. The relations of Native Americans and Europeans is, of course, a deep and often controversial one. By no means should malicious deeds be ignored or uncommented. However, no historian worthy of that title can use the word genocide with regard to this subject and maintain an ounce of my respect. Europeans had no understanding of what their diseases may do to natives, and thus the term genocide, which by definition requires intent is entirely false. The author should be reminded that history is always viewed with hindsight, and while subjective interpretations of events are inevitable, honest scholarship demands as objective a view as possible.
It is an interesting and provoking insight to a world defining document. If not for the author's injurious bias infecting the work, the premise would merit deeper inspection. instead it's simply one more story on my shelf.