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Listening to the Silence

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The Great Divide: The Conflict between Washington and Jefferson that Defined a Nation - Thomas J. Fleming

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 explain 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.***