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The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789

von Joseph J. Ellis

MitgliederRezensionenBeliebtheitDurchschnittliche BewertungDiskussionen
6382328,162 (4.05)40
"The prizewinning author of Founding Brothers and American Sphinx now gives us the unexpected story--brilliantly told--of why the thirteen colonies, having just fought off the imposition of a distant centralized governing power, would decide to subordinate themselves anew. The triumph of the American Revolution was neither an ideological nor political guarantee that the colonies would relinquish their independence and accept the creation of a federal government with power over their individual autonomy. The Quartet is the story of this second American founding and of the men responsible--some familiar, such as George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison, and some less so, such as Robert Morris and Governeur Morris. It was these men who shaped the contours of American history by diagnosing the systemic dysfunctions created by the Articles of Confederation, manipulating the political process to force a 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"--… (mehr)
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A sweeping overview, nicely painted. Ellis does take some things for granted... like how much you already know about some of the supporting players. And I vehemently disagree with some of Jefferson's opinions (so ending the book with his disputable quote left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth). But it is a nice work... and he definitely didn't diminish my opinion of Hamilton. ( )
  OutOfTheBestBooks | Sep 24, 2021 |
First off, I want to thank JJ for introducing me with Founding Brothers to one of my favorite historical periods of all time -- the Federalist Era -- and to the entire historical discipline in general. The way Ellis weaves historical sources and historiographical debates into the political narratives of the era is sublime.

The Revolutionary Generation sent Ellis to our era with an assignment to squash the belief that they were "quasi-divine creatures with supernatural powers of mind and heart", and to erase the Progressive dogma that they were entirely economically motivated, constructing a government that has perpetuated its own elitist white agenda. This book accomplishes that, perhaps to a fault, when placed in the context of the other books that I've read by him. It reiterates the same historical argument but not in a novel enough way.

Regardless, JJ is my favorite historical writer. His lifework is more convincing than any other historian's, while also painting the most fascinating picture of this nation's founding -- of complicated men, with their own deeply entrenched character flaws, with their own sets of political and economic ideologies, fighting together and with each other to build a country whose future was entirely not inevitable, and perhaps even inevitably tenuous.

James Madison (unsurprisingly) shines the most here as a powerful, determined thinker, balancing the line between political philosophy and acumen, drafting the Constitution and the Bill of Rights with a sound sense not seen in the other important Framer figures Ellis discusses. I also adore Hamilton as a fiery underdog. Overall, the story of how the Articles were cast aside, and how the Constitution was first whispered about in letters, then proposed, then debated on and finally adopted is interesting . . . but I feel like Ellis may have done a disservice to the real material debate at hand. What about paper money -- a huge issue in Rhode Island's refusal to ratify -- which Ellis does not broach at all? Why does he not pay closer attention to the Progressive / Beardian arguments, looking at the class divides at the time, at the indebted farmers versus mercantile city folk?

Ellis' books are so compelling because they look at how the personalities at the top strive and succeed to build a long-lasting and fruitful nation out of nothing. (And he does this with a masterly writing style worthy of the topic.) But perhaps he should also pay attention to the American people too, and show us the extent to which they contributed to the making of this country. ( )
  Gadi_Cohen | Sep 22, 2021 |
Ellis' book "The Quarte​t" ​is a great​ historical​ review of the development of the U.S. Constitution, and​ of​ the key players involved, notably George Washington, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison. Ellis gives ​a background of the American Revolution, and ​of ​the defects of the Articles of Confederation in effect at the time. He then proceeds to describe how a ​Convention to revise the Articles of Confederation evolved into a rejection of the Articles, and the drafting of a brand new Constitution. At the time, each Colony, or State, was and acted independently, and the notion of becoming a unified federal nation was unlikely and unwanted by most. But a few of the founding fathers, recognizing the need for a ​stronger and ​more unified national government, were able to shift the ​direction of the Convention to produce a Constitution, changing the direction of the Country.

Even though I'm familiar with the Constitution, I learned a lot more about it when reading this book. For example, the notion of the ​Electoral College always seemed rather odd. Thinking of it in today's world, why wouldn't the ​President being elected by popular vote​? Ellis provides some ​information on how representative were selected at that time, and why it all made sense in that period of our history.

At that time, citizens were unlikely to know much about anyone from ​outside ​their immediate region, and the general population was generally not well enough informed to make decisions at a national level. One method to choose broad based leaders would be for the local citizens to elect representatives from their immediate area, and have that group of representatives get together and then choose leaders for the next higher elective body, and so on. For example, for ​some ​state elections, local citizens might choose representatives for the State House, and members of the House might choose individuals to serve in the State Senate, and Senators might then choose who would serve as Governor. When drafting the Constitution, the founding fathers recognized that the local farmers and merchants wouldn't know much about leaders from other States, and would have little basis to choose a President. It was thought for those times, knowledgeable Electors selected by each State would be in a better position to know, meet, and choose a suitable person to serve as President. And thus the Electoral College was conceived.

Another area I found interesting was the ideas of several of the founding fathers regarding whether the Constitution would or should be a "living" document, or whether the words of the Constitution ​were intended to be interpreted exactly as written​ for all time​. We hear that argument being made today, especially at Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for Supreme Court nominees. Some Senators and Court nominees are considered strict constructionists, believing that the Constitution and laws must be judged in accordance with the words​ as written​ in the Constitution and ​according ​the intent of the founding fathers, and fear that too loose or liberal interpretation of the Constitution leads to the Judiciary making law through interpretive reading​s​ of the Constitution. Others feel that the Constitution, as written over two hundred years ago, cannot possibly cover all situations in a modern society as technology, ​society, ​and norms evolve over time​. For them​, the Constitution must be considered as a "living document", interpreted ​in accordance with the original meaning ​but updated to fit the reality and norms of the day.

Ellis provides some background on what the founding fathers, the writers of the Constitution, might have to say on that subject. Some were fearful of a strong National Government, and wanted power to reside and remain in the States. Others felt that strong and independent States, and a weak National Government, made the country weak and unmanageable, as demonstrated by the ​years under the ​Articles of Confederation. Ellis notes that ​James ​Madison didn't get his way in all regards in the ​drafting of the ​Constitution, but was satisfied with its ambiguity, reasoning that future generations would interpret and settle on its meanings, since it couldn't be fully done in 1788.

Ellis also noted that Thomas Jefferson lived for almost forty years after the Constitution was written​, and frequently discussed the Constitution during those years. According to Ellis, Jefferson thought the nature of Constitution to be temporary, and that future generations would update or make their own based on their thoughts and needs. In conversations with Lafayette regarding the French Revolution and Constitution, ​Jefferson described Constitutions as being temporary political frameworks which should be revised every twenty years to reflect the needs of new generations. He urged following generations not to look ​only ​at original intent and ​as being ​beyond change. Jefferson and his peers knew they didn't have all the answers, and stated that laws and institutions must progress with the human mind and keep pace with the times.

If nothing else, it's interesting to think about how the Country, and the world, has changed since the drafting of the Constitution. At that time, slave-holding was still being practiced, Native Americans were ​being forced off their lands, women were denied the vote, and there was no such thing as a large standing army, civil rights, a national bank, income taxes, or any of today's modern technologies. All in all, ​Ellis' book reminds us that ​the framework of the Constitution was well conceived​, allowing it to continue to be the law of the land under such widespread and profound changes. ( )
  rsutto22 | Jul 15, 2021 |
Not sure if I still have. ( )
  MarianneAudio | Aug 14, 2020 |
Ellis places you in history. He gives you the time, personalities, the unimaginable task of creating a nation. How with these prime movers a nation was formed. It is amazing that it was accomplished. ( )
  Klatooo | Feb 8, 2020 |
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(Preface) The idea for this book first came to me while listening to twenty-eight middle school boys recite the Gettysburg Address from memory in front of their classmates and proud parents.
On March 1, 1781, three and a half years after they were endorsed by the Continental Congress, the Articles of Confederation were officially ratified when the last state, Maryland, gave its approval.
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Certain I am that unless Congress speaks in a more decisive tone; unless they are vested with powers by the several states competent to the great purposes of War . . . , that our cause is lost. . . . I see one head gradually changing into thirteen.
George Washington to Joseph Jones
May 31, 1780
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"The prizewinning author of Founding Brothers and American Sphinx now gives us the unexpected story--brilliantly told--of why the thirteen colonies, having just fought off the imposition of a distant centralized governing power, would decide to subordinate themselves anew. The triumph of the American Revolution was neither an ideological nor political guarantee that the colonies would relinquish their independence and accept the creation of a federal government with power over their individual autonomy. The Quartet is the story of this second American founding and of the men responsible--some familiar, such as George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison, and some less so, such as Robert Morris and Governeur Morris. It was these men who shaped the contours of American history by diagnosing the systemic dysfunctions created by the Articles of Confederation, manipulating the political process to force a 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"--

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