The Virginia Dynasty: Four Presidents and the Creation of the American Nation

Viking. Sept. 2020. 448p. ISBN 9781101980040. $36. HIST
As Cheney (James Madison) reminds readers, Virginians and Founding Fathers—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe—were four of the first five presidents of the United States, presiding for 32 of the nation’s first 36 years. It wasn’t a lockstep progression, however. Washington was a Federalist even before the nation had political parties; Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe were Republicans, their positions defined in opposition to Federalist goals. Nor did the four, or any two among them, always get along, although the tensions were set aside once all were out of office. The realities of governing a new country led the three Republicans to reverse positions on key issues at times: Jefferson achieved the Louisiana Purchase, Madison supported reestablishment of a national bank after the War of 1812, and Monroe purchased Florida. Cheney effectively describes how, in these instances, purity of position proved less important than advancing the nation’s interests.
VERDICT Bringing these men together as a group draws attention to how their thought and action unfolded in response to new challenges and dispels any illusion that they were a monolithic bloc. Cheney is an adept writer who makes no wrong steps. Perfect for history buffs, though little new ground is tread.

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