Monday, October 9, 2017

Joseph J. Ellis. Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789. Vintage, 2016. 320 p. $16.

Joseph J. Ellis is an American historian who won the Pulitzer prize in 2001 for Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation.

There was a fundamental change in the motivation for the Revolutionary War and the arguments related to the formation of the United States by the drafting and ratification of the Constitution. Ellis calls this second movement the second American Revolution. The so-called founding fathers had to address a few significant problems to keep the Revolutionary spirit alive—most importantly a fair, national taxation for the support of the Revolutionary army.

 The quartet of leaders that Ellis examines—George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay—were tasked with finding ways to unite the states in a revolutionary cause that inherently contradicted the Revolutionary spirit that motivated them to fight against the British: concern over personal liberty from a centralized government that taxed them without adequate representation. So the United States had to come together in a way that established a national government without undermining individual liberty—at least to the point that enough states would ratify the Constitution in time for the Revolutionary army to withstand the British invasion.