Pages Menu

Categories Menu

Posted on May 4, 2009 in Books and Movies

Triumvirate – Book Review

By Richard N Story

Triumvirate: The Story of the Unlikely Alliance That Saved the Constitution and United the Nation. Bruce Chadwick. Sourcebook Inc., 2009, 352 pgs, illustrations, end notes, index.

Triumvirate focuses on the three men most famous for the ratification of the new Constitution: Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison.

The United States fought and achieved a great victory over the British Empire to secure its independence. But the great victory was nearly ruined and the infant nation stillborn due to a badly flawed initial system of governance emplaced by the founding fathers in the Articles of Confederation used as the blueprint for the new government. The largest problem with the Articles was that the National Government was inferior to the state one. In fact, even the tiniest state could and did block the national from getting anything done. Rhode Island was notorious for this.

{default}

It was soon realized that another Congressional Committee would be needed to redo the Articles of Confederation. But what really happened was that instead of just reediting the Articles, the convention, behind closed doors in Philadelphia, wrote a completely new document which became known as The Constitution of the United States. Writing a new constitution was the easy part. The hard part was getting it ratified by nine of the thirteen states so that it would be adopted as a whole for the entire United States of America.

Triumvirate focuses on the three men most famous for the ratification of the new Constitution: Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison. These three men, under the pen name of Publius, wrote the most famous series of essays on the need for adopting the Constitution: The Federalist Papers. The people who were opposed to the Constitution as written were called, naturally enough, the Anti-Federalists.

The debate for most of the Anti-Federalists was not that the Constitution wasn’t needed, but it needed to have protections built in. The main complaint by most of the Anti-Federalists was that no bill of rights was expressly stated in the Constitution. It is rather comical to read how New York State demanded the right to keep and bear arms in light of the current policies concerning the Second Amendment today. Or how New York City threatened to secede from New York State and become an independent state if they did not ratify the Constitution. But the triumvirate in the book had a major player who worked behind the scenes to get the Constitution ratified: George Washington.

The book Triumvirate tends to center on three key battleground states in the fight for the Constitution: New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Many Americans today believe the debates over the Constitution were orderly, civil and of the "loyal opposition" kind, but in reality they were as nasty, brutish and violent as any of the political debates in the United States before and since. Yes, the leaders were urbane men with manners and civility, but the foot soldiers in the movement were much less refined. There would be serious doubts about the Constitution passing in those states, and if they failed, the whole Government and nation of the United States could fail.

Technically speaking, Triumvirate is grammatically free of errors and generally well written. However, at times the narrative veers from a narrow focus on the subject of the book to highlight areas that, while interesting, are not fully needed. Also, the author talks about how important getting the first nine states to ratify the Constitution was, but these are not commented upon other than remarking that Virginia and New York would be the ninth and tenth, depending on who voted and ratified first.

The illustrations are all interesting despite the fact that two seem to have been chosen less for the relevance to the narrative than for rounding out the illustrations (John Adams and Dolly Madison). The author, Bruce Chadwick, has written eight books on history including several works on early American history and George Washington and I am sure Triumvirate will be a major hit for Mr. Chadwick. With a list price of $24.99 this book is highly recommended for any student of history or anybody interested in early American politics.

ACG Intel

Triumvirate: The Story of the Unlikely Alliance That Saved the Constitution and United the Nation

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *