The Quartet by Joseph Ellis

The QuartetReview by Eric

I didn’t choose this title, but when having it brought home from the library coincided with an author interview about this book on PA Books. It has great scholarship and a concise narrative; more truthful than liberal or conservative. This would seem a timely book given current events and currents, but truthfully, it would have been a timely book at any point in American History after 1800 or in the future after our own time.

The basic premise is that the American Revolution of 1775-1783 was not an American Revolution, but rather a war for Independence from Great Britain fought by thirteen separate States. Ellis asserts that there was no one nation, but thirteen nations. The Treaty of Paris ending that conflict enumerates this. It is the constitutional Convention of 1787 and the subsequent struggle to ratify said document that constitutes the creation of a framework for national governance with the concept of a national identity not really beginning until after 1815.

This book is about the creation of our one nation. Ellis posits that there is no real unified nation concept until after the US Civil War. Just as at Valley Forge when thirteen armies walked in and only one walked out six months later, the Constitution was about thirteen separate nations combining into one. Even before, under the Articles of Confederation, South Carolina had threatened secession . . . largely over issues of slavery. Clothe it in cloth of states’ rights or localism . . . it was about maintaining a status quo and slavery.

I digress . . . this is a great book with great scholarship and vignettes, which add and illuminate rather than detract. The author is correct that the Founding Fathers lived in a foreign land and intended not static structures, but a form for argument. They built a framework of adaptability, because they knew that human beings were not (and are not) angels. Easily one of the best books about this seminal era.

Check availability on The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution 1783-1789 by Joseph Ellis

About the reviewer: This review was submitted as part of participation in Escape the Ordinary, our adult summer reading program. Thank you, Eric!