The First Congress
The September 26, 2016 copy of the Weekly Standard carries a review of Fergus Bordewich’s The First Congress: How James Madison, George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government (Simon & Schuster, 2016):
“The men who drafted the Constitution rightly earned our eternal praise. In 1787, they met in Philadelphia, where they pondered, debated, and haggled for four months. James Madison, George Washington, and the rest scrapped the Articles of Confederation and replaced it with a new governing document.
“The Constitution they enacted is a remarkable document, but parchment was not enough to meld together the disparate states and peoples. A government had to be stood up to make good on the Constitution’s promises to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” This challenge fell to the first Congress, convened between 1789 and 1791—and whose achievements were incredible….
“Readers of The First Congress cannot help but come away with a realistic perspective on Madison, Washington, and the other Founders. They were, as the subtitle notes, “extraordinary” in the strict sense—most were more educated and successful than the average American. But they were not gods on Olympus: They were riven by parochialism, self-interest, and petty personal animosities. And they had basic philosophical differences over the authority of the federal government and the nature of the union.
“What made them extraordinary is how they got beyond these fundamental differences and got things done. “I have launched my barque on the federal ocean,” said Delaware’s John Vining, “and should she arrive at her destined port with her invaluable cargo safe and unhurt, I shall not regret . . . she may have lost some small share of her rigging. Which may be considered a cheap purchase for the safety of the whole.” They took hard votes and cut deals because that is what governing demands. Had they not, America would not be the world’s longest-living, and most stable, republic—and preeminent power.”