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

by Joseph J. Ellis

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Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
Joseph J. Ellis has a real knack for writing early American history. This was an intriguing book with lots of fun details about the players and the issues of the day. I have read a great deal about these folks and yet picked up a better perspective and bits of information I had not had before. The political/government issues with which they struggled are still alive today but for different reasons and different perspectives. Our unique government structure is still a combination of a confederacy of States and a nation and that poses policy impediments and structural impediments to dealing with all of the competing issues and powers. Any study of history of the quality of this book is a worthy exercise for even us "moderns". ( )
  DonaldPowell | Feb 5, 2019 |
From the guy who brought us the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Founding Brothers” comes this “sequel,” as it were, to the American Revolution, telling the tale of how 13 separate and fiercely independent states were grudging prodded into forming a centralized government, which centralized government became the foundation upon which the United States of America was constructed.

Ellis's contention is that the Revolutionary War was just the first, arguably lesser step, in the process of forging our new nation. Sure, we were free of England, but we were also – despite having just fought a war together - very much a confederation of separate states, and would have stayed that way had it not been for the nation-building impetus of The Quartet: Washington, who witnessed at first-hand during the war the political and financial dysfunction of a “confederation of states,” each of which remained free to construe “federal” demands for $$ and troops as requests rather than requirements (and who routinely dismissed those requests as inconvenient, delaying the outcome of the war by years); Jay, who as a diplomat and financier understood that the “United States” would soon be the laughing stock of Europe if each state continued to conduct its own financial and foreign policy; Madison, the scholar, who perceived that the current “confederation of states” – unless united – must surely suffer the fate of all other such loose confederations and collapse into chaos; and Hamilton, the visionary, who saw that the United States might become a formidable power if the states were could just be brought into harness under a centralized system. Ellis isn’t trying to be controversial – anyone who has studied the American Revolution at a college level would, I believe, unhesitatingly agree with his hypothesis; his point is that most Americans who haven’t studied the American Revolution at the college level probably don’t realize just how close we came to never becoming a nation at all.

The American Revolution has been the subject of some pretty entertaining fare: David McCullough’s 1776, a certain hip-hop musical, etc. While Ellis is a competent storyteller, however, writing to entertain isn’t his métier, at least not here: this never stops sounding like the extended version of a scholarly paper. You can practically underline the hypothesis of each chapter and number off the supporting details. As a scholar myself, I didn’t have a problem with this approach: in fact, the organizational structure proves quite helpful in keeping sorted the “subplots” that inevitably become entangled in the larger tale – and these subplots are voluminous, given that the “quartet” were trying to herd 13 fiercely independent and stubborn entities – each characterized by a wholly unique set of local personalities, perspectives, and priorities - towards an outcome towards which most of them were stubbornly opposed (suborning local/states rights to an overarching federal structure). How each state was maneuvered into ratifying a Constitution to which most of them remained opposed may have something to do with awakening patriotism, as many Americans probably believe, but - Ellis convincingly argues - a LOT more to do with the shrewd political instincts of these gifted men.

Ellis’s scholarly prose, by keeping readers at a distance, tends to dampen some of the emotional intensity of the drama being played out in these pages. But I believe he more than makes up for this by presenting us with a narrative that cuts through generations of accumulated mythology, hagiography, and historical misinterpretation to present the events as they actually happened. And if Ellis never quite achieves the storytelling genius of a Joyce Kearns Goodwin, his historical interpretation of events shares Goodwin’s conviction that, at critical junctions in our nation’s history, we were saved not by luck or by divine intervention, but by the determination, conviction, and political shrewdness of gifted political leaders. ( )
  Dorritt | Jan 4, 2019 |
A clear and concise book focusing on the creation and ratification of the US Constitution. As you would expect, "The Quartet" highlights the four Founders (Washington, Madison, Jay, and Hamilton) who were at the head of getting the Constitutional Convention off the ground, seeing the resulting document to fruition, then encouraging the various states to ratify it. Ellis' writing at times was a bit too academic for my tastes, but the information therein more than made up for the several times I had to re-read rather long winding sentences. ( )
  Jarratt | Oct 1, 2018 |
Another great book on the Founding period by Joseph Ellis. I have read most of his books at this point, and they never disappoint. This book looks at four of the major figures of the period who were most responsible for promoting the idea of a nation as opposed to separate colonies and states. The four were George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay. It also looked at other important figures like Robert Morris and Gouvernor Morris who played key roles. The overall thesis of the book that most of the leaders and states had no interest in becoming a nation was not entirely new, but it was presented in a thought-provoking way and there were many nuggets of information that were new for me. Recommended for any lover of the period. ( )
  msaucier818 | Apr 9, 2018 |
well written and good ( )
  annbury | Dec 29, 2017 |
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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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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385353405, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:52 -0400)

"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"--… (more)

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