When Thomas Jefferson took the oath of office for the presidency in 1801, America had just passed through twelve critical years, years dominated by some of the towering figures of our history and by the challenge of having to do everything for the first time. Washington, Hamilton, Madison, Adams, and Jefferson himself each had a share in shaping that remarkable era--an era that is brilliantly captured in The Age of Federalism.
Written by esteemed historians Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism gives us a reflective, deeply informed analytical survey of this extraordinary period. Ranging over the widest variety of concerns--political, cultural, economic, diplomatic, and military--the authors provide a sweeping historical account, keeping always in view not only the problems the new nation faced but also the particular individuals who tried to solve them. As they move through the Federalist era, they draw subtly perceptive character sketches not only of the great figures--Washington and Jefferson, Talleyrand and Napoleon Bonaparte--but also of lesser ones, such as George Hammond, Britain's frustrated minister to the United States, James McHenry, Adams's hapless Secretary of War, the pre-Chief Justice version of John Marshall, and others. They weave these lively profiles into an analysis of the central controversies of the day, turning such intricate issues as the public debt into fascinating depictions of opposing political strategies and contending economic philosophies. Each dispute bears in some way on the broader story of the emerging nation. The authors show, for instance, the consequences the fight over Hamilton's financial system had for the locating of the nation's permanent capital, and how it widened an ideological gulf between Hamilton and the Virginians, Madison and Jefferson, that became unbridgeable. The statesmen of the founding generation, the authors believe, did "a surprising number of things right." But Elkins and McKitrick also describe some things that went resoundingly wrong: the hopelessly underfinanced effort to construct a capital city on the Potomac (New York, they argue, would have been a far more logical choice than Washington), and prosecutions under the Alien and Sedition Acts which turned into a comic nightmare. No detail is left out, or left uninteresting, as their account continues through the Adams presidency, the XYZ affair, the naval Quasi-War with France, and the desperate Federalist maneuvers in 1800, first to prevent the reelection of Adams and then to nullify the election of Jefferson.
The Age of Federalism is the fruit of many years of discussion and thought, in which deep scholarship is matched only by the lucid distinction of its prose. With it, Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick have produced the definitive study, long awaited by historians, of the early national era.
"No historian, or pair of historians, is likely to do again what they have done....A truly remarkable book--a blockbuster of more than 750 pages of text plus 175 more pages of notes and index. It is not length that makes the book remarkable but its character and scope....All the great characters of the period are insightfully portrayed in beautifully crafted vignettes....Sometimes in just a few pages or a few lines Elkins and McKitrick capture more about these
characters than biographers have in whole volumes, and with more humor."--Atlantic Monthly
"Scholarly, engrossing, and complex"--The New Yorker
"An impressive achievement. Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick have produced an original, scholarly and sparkling account of this nation's first crucial decade under the Constitution. The book combines meticulous historical analysis with a sweeping narrative in which the founding fathers emerge as believable people--at crucial moments wise, vain, petty, ambitious, confused, imaginative, courageous, self-righteous, passionate and stubborn."--Los Angeles Times
"Reading this magnificent work of scholarship is like taking a lesiurely stroll through one of the msot turbulent eras in the history of our nation....A fresh synthesis of the tumultuous years culminating in the election of 1800....This is a densely textured and detailed book. Virtually every issue, event or character that enters the story is examined with a scholarly thoroughness that will insure the volume's success as a reference tool for some time to
come."--The New York Times Book Review
"A rare work that should appeal to lay readers and scholars alike. Its assessments of men and motives are shrewd, even biting, but balanced, and it recounts events and choices with admirable care."--The Chicago Tribune
"Two renowned historians apply their talents to the history of the United States during the administrations of George Washington and John Adams. It's all here--Hamilton's financial plans, the capital fight, the Jay crisis, the Quasi-War. But the book is much more than a mere chronicle of the parties and politics of the period 1789-1801. The authors thoroughly embed their account in the political culture of the time. They explore America's dominant republican
ideology more fully here than in any other source, making the book this generation's standard interpretive study....It will reward even seasoned professionals with its insights, coverage, and reflections."--Library Journal
"Skillfully written and intensively researched."--Milwaukee Journal
"Among the many wonders of The Age of Federalism, Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick's panoramic record of the ermgence of modern politics in the US, is how these noted historians reconcile such contradictory accounts of America's national origin. By treating the messy business of politics as equal to the high-toned struggles over constitutional philosophy, the authors allow readers to see how grand ideals cohabited with narrow self-interest in the
minds of the Founders. One finishes this book with the sense that the men who created the American political order were both larger than life and tragically flawed, sometimes far-sighted geniuses and sometimes blundering fools....[A] splendid book."--The Christian Science Monitor
"Any notions that the era from 1788 to 1800 lacked for consequence are thoroughly dispelled by this utterly absorbing account....Here are fresh readings of familiar figures from John Adams to George Washington, invigorating interpretations of items from 'The Federalist Papers' to the XYZ Mission, reflective ideas on the nature of the democracy and the psychology of those who built it....This is profoundly insightful, instructive and entertaining political
history."--The State, Columbia, South Carolina
"This magisterial, detailed history of the early American republic through 1800 reminds us that the 'Founding Fathers' were revolutionaries, full of volatile passions that cemented or shattered friendships and shaped their cultural orientations....Full of vibrant portraits of the Federalists and their opponents, this outstanding, provocative chronicle sheds much new light on the emergence of American partisan politics."--Publishers Weekly
"Magnificent....A first-rate piece of scholarship and a fine rendition for generalists, covers the 1790s, from the First Congress (oft likened to a second constitutional convention) to the 'revolution' of 1800....The era here bursts with intellectual animation, a rare example of authors writing authoritatively and adeptly for two audiences. Let's hope Elkins and McKitrick appear again on history's pro-am tour."--Booklist