Founders’ Son

Basic Books, 2014 | 368 pages

For Abraham Lincoln, the road to the future always began in the past—America’s, and his. As a boy he admired George Washington as a champion of liberty. As a young man, he found in Thomas Paine lessons about religion, which he ultimately abandoned, and about how to win arguments, which he retained for the rest of his life. At the height of his career he embraced Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence as a statement of principle (an “apple of gold,” he called it, quoting the Bible), and the Preamble to the Constitution, which named the people as beneficiaries and guardians of freedom…. Other books on Lincoln have noted his interest in the founding fathers and how he looked back to them, but here for the first time a historian of the founding looks ahead to Lincoln.

Read More

James Madison

Basic Books, 2011 | 304 page

August 24, 1814 began as a typical summer day in Washington: bright and cloudless, promising heat and humidity as the day wore on. For years, James Madison, the president, had fled high summer in Washington and other low-lying cities for the healthier air of his inland home in the Virginia Piedmont. But this August his presence was required in the capital. America had been at war with Britain for two years. Mr. Madison’s War—he had asked Congress to declare it—had been fought along the Canadian border; against Indians on the frontier; on the high seas. Now the war was coming home.

Read More

Right Time, Right Place

Basic Books, 2009 | 272 pages

I was happy with what I had done, and when Bill [Buckley] asked me to lunch at Paone’s, I expected that he would be happy too, perhaps propose another idea. He did have another idea, but it was not what I expected.

We sat, we ordered. Bill came to the point. He had decided, he said, that I would succeed him as editor in chief of National Review, when it came time for him to retire. Bill owned all the stock of the magazine; that would then become mine. He would roll the news out gradually. I would have to become a senior editor, in a year or so; later I would serve as managing editor.

If I do not remember many details of this lunch, it is because I was overwhelmed….

Read More

George Washington on Leadership

Basic Books, 2008 | 269 pages

America’s greatest leader was its first—George Washington. He ran two start-ups, the army and the presidency, and chaired the most important committee meeting in history, the Constitutional Convention. His agribusiness and real estate portfolio made him America’s richest man. He was as well known as any actress, rapper, or athlete today. Men followed him into battle; women longed to dance with him; famous men, almost as great as he was, some of them smarter or better spoken, did what he told them to do. He was the Founding CEO.

Read More

What Would the Founders Do?

Basic Books, 2003 | 261 pages

Who cares what the founders would do? Who believes that the experiences, opinions, or plans of men who lived two hundred years ago could have any relevance to our problems? Who imagines that the founders could answer our questions?

We do. I have heard it with my own ears. Over the past decade, I have given hundreds of talks about the founding fathers, on radio and TV, and to live audiences. Every time there is an opportunity for Q&A, there is at least one question of the form, “What would Founder X think about current event, or living person, Y?” No subject is too trivial, no problem too difficult.

Read More

Gentleman Revolutionary

Free Press, 2003 | 272 pages

One of the channels for his advice was Mme de Flahaut, who was still, despite her connection with him, Talleyrand’s mistress. Morris and Adèle mingled their lovemaking with politics. At one midday tryst at the Louvre, Adèle said she hoped to exert a moderating influence on Marie Antoinette through the queen’s physician, who was one of the regulars at the Flahaut salon…. “Enfin, mon ami,” Adèle said, “vous et moi nous gouvernerons la France” (Then, my friend, you and I will govern France). “The kingdom,” wrote Morris in his diary that night, “is actually in much worse hands.”

Read More

Rules of Civility

University of Virginia Press, 2003 | 90 pages

[Rule #] 9 Spit not into the fire, nor stoop low before it, neither put your hands into the flames to warm them, nor set your feet upon the fire, especially if there be meat upon it.

Today we have stoves and central heat. But the basic point—don’t monopolize amenities, or spoil them for others—remains valid.

Read More

America’s First Dynasty

Free Press, 2002 | 256 pages

John Quincy [Adams]’s postpresidential career would last more than nineteen years, almost as long as his father’s. Unlike his father, John Quincy could not redeem any of that time by corresponding with a once-loved and worthy rival, because he did not believe any of his rivals were worthy, nor had he ever loved them. They were scoundrels, every one. He collected Washington gossip about their pratfalls with a miser’s avidity, and his diary glitters with malicious pen portraits and Homeric catalogues of enemies. In one entry he reckoned up thirteen public figures who “from the day that I quitted the walls of Harvard…used up their faculties in base and dirty tricks to thwart my progress in life and destroy my character.”

Read More

Alexander Hamilton, American

Free Press, 1999 | 240 pages

There are three modes of leadership. The highest is inspiration: rare, sometimes false, but impossible to live without. Next is demonstration—honestly sharing all your reasons with all comers; explaining where they come from, and where they lead. Lowest is flattery, which either fools both the leader and his followers, or fools no one, but is indulged, because followers and leaders are too tired to think of anything else. Hamilton seldom rose to the highest level, and would not sink to the lowest. His greatest rivals, such as Jefferson, inhabited all three, especially the first and the third; hence their success.

It is not just Hamilton’s problem.

Read More

Founding Father

Free Press, 1996 | 240 pages

Moral biography has two purposes: to explain its subject, and to shape the minds and hearts of those who read it—not by offering a list of two-hundred-year-old policy prescriptions, but by showing how a great man navigated politics and a life as a public figure. Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans was very popular with eighteenth-century Americans; they knew something about the power of example that we have forgotten. When he lived, Washington had the ability to give strength to debaters and to dying men. His life still has the power to inspire anyone who studies it.

Read More

Way of the Wasp

Free Press, 1990 | 171 pages

The WASP character is the American character. It is the mold, the template, the archetype, the set of axes along which the crystal has grown….If America had been settled and founded by Frenchmen or Spaniards, as it might well have been, or by the Austrian Empire or the Ashanti Empire, to be purely hypothetical, it would be a different place now. And a worse one. This book will make that case.

Read More

The Outside Story

1986 • Doubleday |

The roads of Iowa are laid out by ruler. Driving them is like driving on graph paper. A turn is a major event; it rotates the whole state ninety degrees. Road signs, when they appear, give a little shock like marquees: BUMP. Every so often, there is a dark fur tuft, whipped in half; or trucks going the other way suck you over. The only other sights in midwinter are fields trimmed with gray sheets of water.

 
Iowa has joined New Hampshire as an all-season resort for politicians…

Read More