When Thomas Jefferson
took the oath of office for the presidency in 1801
, the United States 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 setting the nation's important precedents, in organizing the public finances
, and in attempting - though with minimal success - to compel respect for the American republic from the powers of Europe. The historical era bounded by those first years is brilliantly represented 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, military - the authors keep in view not only the problems the new nation faced but also the particular individuals who tried, with mixed results, to solve them. They intersperse their account with subtly perceptive (and sometimes delightful) character sketches, not only of the great central figures - Washington and Jefferson, Talleyrand and Napoleon Bonaparte - but also of various lesser ones, such as George Hammond, Britain's frustrated minister to the United States, James McHenry, Adams's hapless Secretary of War, a pre-Chief Justice version of John Marshall
, and others. They weave these lively profiles into an analysis of the major controversies of the time in an effort to recover something that is now two centuries out of reach, the psychology of a generation of nation-builders, not all of it attractive.
Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, founded the Democratic-Republican Party and was the third President. John Marshall served as Chief Justice on the Supreme Court longer than anyone else and authored the decisions that established the court's primacy on constitutional questions. The secretaries of the Treasury, since the first secretary Alexander Hamilton, have held positions of influence in the cabinets of most presidents.