A very different account of the putting together of the American system of government. This is the sort of stuff your high school American History (if you had such a class) textbook glossed over, and it’s fascinating to see, in such detail, how it all came together. Oh sure, there’s some mention of Washington the general, and the various battles, and the multitude of issues the British Empire was facing at the same time, but that’s not where the heart of this book lies.
I suppose I never really realized there was a functioning American government meeting continuously since the beginning skirmishes at Concord and Lexington, tasked with finding a way to bring these thirteen very different colonies together as a whole. And although originally it wasn’t much more than a means of supplying and directing the rebel rag tail army, the colonists quickly realized that they had to reach out to other nations to find legitimacy and recognition. And what a better way to start than to send out Benjamin Franklin to Paris, John Jay to Madrid, and John Adams to the Netherlands, all three countries traditionally antagonistic to Britain. And since the three Americans couldn’t stand being together in the same room very long, this worked out well for all concerned.
Meanwhile, back at home, the war was won (Britain decided defending sugar was a better bet than tobacco), and the original Articles of Confederation were proving to be ungainly and not conducive to binding the states together. Enter James Madison, the ultimate policy wonk. He researched all the federal government systems going back to the Romans, trying to figure out a way to balance the large states against the small ones, the agricultural (i.e. slave-owning) states against the manufacturing ones, and even the states that needed to export against those that didn’t. He didn’t get everything he had hoped for (sure wish he didn’t have to concede on the Senate) but a considerable part of it. The one item there was no argument on whatsoever was no established government sponsored religion. That nonsense was right out the door – the ex-colonists knew all too well where that led. Also a shout out to Alexander Hamilton for his brilliant realization that a functioning nation needs two things – a national army and a national bank/currency, and fought to make that happen.
So a challenging read that goes deep into the weeds of creating a government, but very illuminating.