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The Great Divide: The Conflict between…

The Great Divide: The Conflict between Washington and Jefferson that…

by Thomas Fleming

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Wow. And I thought I wasn't an admirer of Thomas Jefferson!

Thomas J. Fleming contrasts the views of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson as to the powers and responsibilities of the President of the United States, the powers Congress and of the judiciary branch of the government, and the rights of the states versus the federal government. And theoretically this might have been a measured, balanced examination of the opposing visions of two key figures in our nation's history on how best to promote freedom, contentment, and prosperity for the new nation. But... nope! Fleming gives a nod to this idea, particularly in his conclusion, but for the greater part of the book he is passionately partisan in his presentation: Washington was a god, and everything he ever did, said, and thought was noble and wise and prudent, while Jefferson was a hypocritical, back-stabbing, ideologue.

As I mentioned, Fleming admires Washington, and he blames Jefferson for the way that Washington's political skills, diplomatic acuity, and prudent leadership have been overlooked in favor of a view which sees him as a military leader whose presidency was bland and nonpartisan. In fact, he blames Jefferson for a whole Lot of things. Did I mention that he hates Jefferson? I mean just absolutely loathes him with a burning passion. He describes the various things Jefferson does, and also the (boneheaded) actions and ideas of his minions, Madison and Monroe, with incredible venom. I felt kind of guilty enjoying his diatribes as much as I did, and I think any reader expecting a fair presentation of the Jeffersonian view of things would be justifiably outraged, but, as I said, I'm really not a Jefferson fan. Sometimes his invective became so wild that it was actually funny, though I think a little more restraint might be wise if he expects to be taken seriously as a historian. But then, I'm not a scholar, so what do I know?

Anyway, I found this pretty entertaining. I give it 3 ½ stars, and am rounding up to 4 because sometimes his rants about Jefferson's dumbassery got so outrageous that I laughed out loud (I listened to the audio book version of this), and that's surely worth a half star! ( )
  meandmybooks | Jul 26, 2016 |
In the typical history of the United States that most students get we are taught that George Washington was the general who led the colonies to freedom during the American Revolution and the first President of the United States. We are also taught that Thomas Jefferson drafted the Decleration of Independence and served as our third president. Very little, however is taught about the politics of these two men, and the wide gulf it created between not only them but amongst all of the prominent politicians of the era. This book attempts to do just that, and in the process explaining the origin of the partisan politics that still paralyze the federal government today.

This book was very successful in showing how and why the Constitution was conceived following the failure of The Articles of the Confederation approved by The Second Continental Congress. We are shown how this was the turning point in the development the political ideology of Washington, who favored a strong federal government, military, and economic support, and Jefferson, who favored States rights, and a hands-off approach. Throughout Washington's and Adam's terms in office, these two men clashed, and manuvered behind the scenes to garner support. After Washington's death, Jefferson served his own two terms, and worked diligently to undo all that Washington accomplished. Fleming uses a thorough selection of personal correspondence, newspaper editorials, and the publications the time to give a detailed account of the events in the first 28 years of the Constitution, including James Madson's terms served as the fourth President. In fact, so much of the book was spent on Madison, a,man torn between Washington and Jefferson, that I really feel this book was a portrait of three men, not just the two. The book concluded with an examination of how the politics of these two men continue to influence the U.S. government.

In all this was a satisfactory introduction to the politics surrounding the early years of the U.S. government. However, I felt that the author showed some very clear biases in favor of Washington. The book was sprinkled with snide comments about Jefferson and his political ideologies that I don't think belong in a serious history. I found it really detracted from the book. This, along with a few references to other unnamed and apparently prominent historians with whom he disagreed really dragged the book down for me. I prefer my history to be more unbiased and without the constant presence of the author in the words. Without these niggling problems, I whole heartedly recommend this book as an introduction to the Federalist and Jeffersonian politics that came to define the era and echo down the centuries, where they are still in play today.

***Note, I received a free galley in return for a fair and unbiased review of this book.*** ( )
  Mootastic1 | Jan 15, 2016 |
Another excellent entry by Fleming in his works on the Revolution and the early days of the republic. Few authors exceed Fleming's facility with historical narrative. His sources are a judicious mix of primary and secondary resources. The conflicts among the founding generation always make for fascinating reading, but while the story of Jefferson's feud with Hamilton is oft-told, I don't recall as detailed and explicit an account of the parallel feud between Jefferson and Washington. Fleming's work pays just tribute to Washington the politician in the highest sense of that term. The only flaw I would attribute to the author is a tendency to pronounce with certainty as to the thoughts and reactions of his various characters without being able to document his opinions. But this does not detract from his power to entertain while informing. Unless you are a hardcore partisan of Jefferson and his collaborators, (hello Mr. Madison and Mr. Monroe), you can't help but enjoy this work. ( )
  citizencane | Aug 11, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0306821273, Hardcover)

History tends to cast the early years of America in a glow of camaraderie, when there were, in fact, many conflicts between the Founding Fathers—none more important than the one between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Their disagreement centered on the highest, most original public office created by the Constitutional Convention: the presidency. It also involved the nation’s foreign policy, the role of merchants and farmers in a republic, and the durability of the union. At its root were two sharply different visions of the nation’s future.

Acclaimed historian Thomas Fleming examines how the differing characters and leadership styles of Washington and Jefferson shaped two opposing views of the presidency—and the nation. This clash profoundly influenced the next two centuries of America’s history and persists in the present day.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:21 -0400)

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