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Extraordinarily Graceful Exits from Power

Nicholas Guyatt: George Washington’s Reticence, 17 November 2005

His Excellency George Washington 
by Joseph J. Ellis.
Faber, 320 pp., £20, March 2005, 0 571 21212 3
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... The current US president likes to talk about his predecessor ‘the first George W.’, but it’s hard to imagine two politicians with more different styles. George Bush invites world leaders to barbeques at his Texas ranch, and gives nicknames to the members of his cabinet. (‘Pablo’ for the hapless Paul O’Neill; ‘Z-Man’ for Robert Zoellick ...

Sing Tantarara

Colin Kidd, 30 October 1997

Secret and Sanctioned: Covert Operations and the American Presidency 
by Stephen Knott.
Oxford, 258 pp., £19.50, November 1996, 0 19 510098 0
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The Long Affair: Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution, 1785-1800 
by Conor Cruise O’Brien.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 367 pp., £25, December 1996, 1 85619 637 2
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American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson 
by Joseph Ellis.
Knopf, 365 pp., $26, February 1997, 0 679 44490 4
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Slave Laws in Virginia 
by Philip Schwarz.
Georgia, 253 pp., $40, November 1996, 0 8203 1831 0
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... In his lifetime an unyielding critic of priestcraft and superstition, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) stands today at the heart of a cult which has been variously described as America’s ‘civil religion’, ‘the religion of the Republic’ and ‘American Shinto’. As individuals and families, Americans worship their own gods, or, more commonly, God in their own way: but collectively, as citizens, they learn the creed, and participate in the rituals of a sacralised American Way of Life ...

Bringing it home to Uncle Willie

Frank Kermode, 6 May 1982

Joseph Conrad: A Biography 
by Roger Tennant.
Sheldon Press, 276 pp., £12.50, January 1982, 0 85969 358 9
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Edward Garnett: A Life in Literature 
by George Jefferson.
Cape, 350 pp., £12.50, April 1982, 0 224 01488 9
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The Edwardian Novelists 
by John Batchelor.
Duckworth, 251 pp., £18, February 1982, 0 7156 1109 7
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The Uses of Obscurity: The Fiction of Early Modernism 
by Allon White.
Routledge, 190 pp., £12, August 1981, 0 7100 0751 5
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... much attention. But everybody who has an interest in 20th-century English fiction should read Mr Jefferson’s book. It is sometimes a bit dull and occasionally ill-written, but it is probably the most important of the batch here under review. Garnett belonged to that now extinct class of person called ‘bookmen’; his wife Constance was a bookwoman, and ...

The Triumph of Plunder

James Morone: Gore Vidal on the venal history of America, 23 September 2004

Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams, Jefferson 
by Gore Vidal.
Yale, 198 pp., £8.99, September 2004, 0 300 10592 4
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... theme of Inventing a Nation might be tagged as tales of avarice. Even the ‘protocolossus’ George Washington shambles onto Vidal’s stage ‘seriously broke’ and grumbling about money. Most accounts point up that he was elected to almost everything (commander of the army, chair of the Constitutional Convention, president of the nation), and gave the ...

An Agreement with Hell

Eric Foner, 20 February 1997

Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution 
by Jack Rakove.
Knopf, 439 pp., $35, April 1996, 0 394 57858 9
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... Virginian who, although never accorded the place in popular memory enjoyed by his contemporaries, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, fathered the Constitution and offered the most compelling rationale for ratification. More than any other figure, Madison inspired the movement to replace the Articles of ...

The Embryo Caesar

Eric Foner: After Hamilton, 14 December 2017

The Burr Conspiracy: Uncovering The Story of an Early American Crisis 
by James E. Lewis Jr..
Princeton, 715 pp., £27.95, November 2017, 978 0 691 17716 8
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... sea. Given the primitive state of transportation and communication in the early republic, Thomas Jefferson anticipated that two or more independent nations would eventually come into being, though he hoped they would live in peace, unlike the countries of Europe. One political leader who apparently tried to act on the idea of establishing a new nation in the ...

Cool Brains

Nicholas Guyatt: Demythologising the antebellum South, 2 June 2005

Conjectures of Order: Intellectual Life and the American South 
by Michael O’Brien.
North Carolina, 1354 pp., £64.95, March 2004, 0 8078 2800 9
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... The Founding Fathers of the United States were mainly Southerners: between them, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison can take credit for drafting the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, winning the Revolutionary War, and preserving America’s independence through its turbulent early decades ...

Is he winking?

Joseph J. Ellis: Benjamin Franklin, 20 March 2003

Benjamin Franklin 
by Edmund S. Morgan.
Yale, 339 pp., £19.95, October 2002, 0 300 09532 5
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... When Thomas Jefferson was introduced as the new American Ambassador to France in 1784, legend has it that the French minister asked if he was Benjamin Franklin’s replacement, and Jefferson replied that he was merely Franklin’s successor; no one could replace him. Whether or not the story is true, it conveys Franklin’s stature as the only serious rival to George Washington for the title of America’s greatest hero of the age ...

Farewell to the Log Cabin

Colin Kidd: America’s Royalist Revolution, 18 December 2014

The Royalist Revolution 
by Eric Nelson.
Harvard, 390 pp., £22.95, October 2014, 978 0 674 73534 7
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... Sargent Shriver, who was married to Edward Kennedy’s sister Eunice, replaced Eagleton as George McGovern’s running mate. The Shrivers’ daughter Maria was later First Lady of California as the wife, subsequently estranged, of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Edward Kennedy thought his moment had come in 1980, when an opportunity seemed to open to ...

The Corrupt Bargain

Eric Foner: Democracy? No thanks, 21 May 2020

Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College? 
by Alexander Keyssar.
Harvard, 544 pp., £28.95, May, 978 0 674 66015 1
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Let the People Pick the President: The Case for Abolishing the Electoral College 
by Jesse Wegman.
St Martin’s Press, 304 pp., $24.50, March, 978 1 250 22197 1
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... being unaware of this possibility, because it hadn’t happened since 1888. But twenty years ago George W. Bush squeaked into office with a five vote majority in the electoral college even though Al Gore outpolled him by half a million votes. Then in 2016 Hillary Clinton received nearly three million more votes than Donald Trump but still lost by a ...

Enter Hamilton

Eric Foner, 5 October 2016

American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804 
by Alan Taylor.
Norton, 704 pp., £30, November 2016, 978 0 393 08281 4
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... of the Jim Crow era, and more recent hucksters and demagogues including Joe McCarthy and George Wallace. Not to mention more respectable types such as Richard Nixon, whose ‘Southern strategy’ offered a blueprint for mobilising white resentment over the gains of the Civil Rights movement. (That ‘respectable’ and ‘Nixon’ can be included in ...

Drink hard, pray hard and simply vanish

Jack Rakove: The history of the American revolution, 5 April 2001

Becoming America: The Revolution Before 1776 
by Jon Butler.
Harvard, 324 pp., £19.50, May 2000, 0 674 00091 9
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Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans 
by Joyce Appleby.
Harvard, 322 pp., £17.95, May 2000, 0 674 00236 9
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... and the first President; Madison, the federal republic’s premier constitutionalist; and Jefferson, the aesthete and slaveowner who somehow became the prophet of equality, improvement and betterment. Yet their region was tied to the peculiar institution of slavery, as they were themselves, and their legacy did not divert the South from its defensive ...

The Cruiser

Christopher Hitchens, 22 February 1996

On the Eve of the Millennium: The Future of Democracy through an Age of Unreason 
by Conor Cruise O’Brien.
Free Press, 168 pp., £7.99, February 1996, 0 02 874094 7
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... the Declaration of Independence is the supremely sacred scripture of the American civil religion. Jefferson’s role as the man who wrote down the scripture is analogous to the role of the Prophet Muhammed taking down the Blessed Koran at the dictation of an angel of God ... The effect of the cult of ...

Hogshit and Chickenshit

Michael Rogin, 1 August 1996

Washington Babylon 
by Alexander Cockburn and Ken Silverstein.
Verso, 316 pp., £31.95, May 1996, 1 85984 092 2
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... William Jefferson (‘Bill’) Clinton is not the man from Hope for nothing. And the major story in the American media this election year recounts his resurrection from the politically dead. Indeed, Clinton’s rise is matched in American history only by the equally spectacular fall of George (‘Desert Storm’) Bush, the collapse that put the Arkansas Governor in the White House in the first place ...

Mendacious Flowers

Martin Jay: Clinton Baiting, 29 July 1999

All too Human: A Political Education 
by George Stephanopoulos.
Hutchinson, 456 pp., £17.99, March 1999, 0 09 180063 3
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No One Left to Lie to: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton 
by Christopher Hitchens.
Verso, 122 pp., £12, May 1999, 1 85984 736 6
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... own confession, was incapable of telling a lie, and it is not too much to say that the story of George Washington and the cherry tree has done more harm, and in a shorter space of time, than any other moral tale in the whole of literature.’ It is safe to assume that the Oscar Wilde of ‘The Decay of Lying’ would feel far more at home in the America of ...

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