Heirs of the Founders

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 27 Nov 2018

Member Reviews

Well written but not groundbreaking. I'm fascinated by this period of American history and have read quite a few books about this segment of history and dealing with these men. While Brands' Heirs of the Founders is one of the most readable, it's less cohesive and detailed than it could be.

Clay, Calhoun, and Webster have great stories, and Brands is a wonderful storyteller. He chooses to approach their lives from a topical, usually chronological perspective. This is effective at covering the political drama of the period, but less successful when it comes to getting to know the main characters. At times, it feels like this book was just about this time period of American history, rather than focusing on the three stars. The book is sparse with details about the upbringing, families, and personal lives of the titular characters. Also, in its focus on politics, Clay, Calhoun, and Webster slip into the background at times. I feel like Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams were given about as much press as the others. Another flaw is that Brands tends to wander down rabbit trails a bit. He spends a whole chapter dealing with the (admittedly fascinating) story of Solomon Northrup, just to illustrate the mood of the times.

If you are looking for a very readable book about the political history of America circa 1810-1850, by all means, check this out. However, if you mainly want to learn more about Clay, Calhoun, and Webster, you might be better served looking elsewhere, perhaps to The Great Triumvirate (drier, but more biographical) by Merrill Peterson. I received a digital copy of this book for free from the publisher and was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I express in this review are entirely my own.
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So, I had all kinds of fantastic things highlighted in my ecopy of this book, things I really wanted to share with you. But when you are reading the book right up to the very last minute before the book archives, you don't have access to it to share things. Which is a shame because there was so much in this book that I wanted to share with you.

On the heels of listening to Lin Manuel Miranda's Hamilton, this was the right book at the right time for me. This second generation of American leaders is every bit as interesting as the first generation and certainly deserve their fair share of attention. They faced some of the same battles as that first generation - battles with Britain, battles of egos, and a battle to make a new country of a disparate collection of states. But they are also forced to deal with the unfinished business of that first generation. Is this group of states a confederacy or a union? How does this new country find its place in the world? And what to do about the question of slavery?

You can't write about Calhoun, Webster, and Clay without talking about the other key players of their generation: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, James Madison, James Monroe, and Chief Justice John Marshall. Which means that there are a lot of players to talk about and keep track of and Brands manages to do all of that without losing sight of who and what his book is about.

Unlike George Washington, who reluctantly accepted the presidency, Calhoun, Webster and Clay spent their entire political lives working to put themselves into that position. The maneuverings were fascinating as were the ensuing battles between these players. While all three rose to the heights of the young government, none of them ever reached the goal they so coveted.

What was, perhaps, most interesting about this book for me about this book was how much what is happening in our country currently echoes what was happening in the first half of the nineteenth century. The politicians battled each other endlessly. At least, our current politicians only battle each other with words and not with pistols in duels. The country was hopelessly divided - the South, the West, New England. They battled over the Constitution and states' rights. They battled over taxes. Sound familiar? It all started to feel like we were reliving history right now.

As someone who grew up with the study of the U. S. Civil War as a part of regular life, it's always interesting to me to read accounts of the events that led up to the war. The only problem with reading books like this turns out to be my dad's problem because I'm bound to put the book into his hands to get his opinion on it. This book is no exception. I hope he enjoys it as much as I did and can learn some new things to add to his knowledge of these captivating men. I definitely recommend it for all fans of U.S. history, particular politics.
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HEIRS OF THE FOUNDERS by H. W. Brands is subtitled "The Epic Rivalry of Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster, the Second Generation of American Giants" and focuses on a period of history about which I particularly enjoy reading. These three men were indeed political titans and skilled orators. Brands does an excellent job of relating key events in their lives, including multiple failed attempts to achieve the Presidency. The debate over nationalism versus states’ rights, plus regional differences (East vs. West and North vs. South) of this era (roughly 1810 to 1850, from the war of 1812 to the Missouri Compromise) are highlighted as well.   

A best-selling author, Brands holds the Jack S. Blanton Sr. Chair in History at the University of Texas at Austin; two of his books, The First American (about Benjamin Franklin) and Traitor to His Class (about FDR), were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. Teachers and students of American history will find HEIRS OF THE FOUNDERS to be very readable – almost like a novel. It contains pictures of the three men at various ages and of their homes and offers extensive notes and a comprehensive index.  HEIRS OF THE FOUNDERS received a starred review from Library Journal.
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This was a wonderful history of a political period that's not often discussed in-depth. I vaguely remember covering Webster, Clay and Calhoun in a US History class in high school, but where the textbooks skimmed over their contributions to US history, this book provides a very thorough look into these men and this time period. This was a great read, and very informative overall and would highly recommend to any history fan.
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The debate over what  certain aspects of the Constitution: who has what authority, and how amendments should be interpreted, are not new debates.  The "second generation" of American politicians, including Daniel Webster, John Calhoun, and Henry Clay, were fiercely arguing over how aspects of the Constitution should be applied before the War of 1812.  What rights did the Constitution grant states versus the federal government? How were new states to be brought into the Union?  Tariffs, taxes, and infrastructure were debated in Congress then as they are now.  Through the early 1800s Congress struggled with the idea of states rights, and what was due to individual states and different geographic sections of the country were often even more bitterly divisive than political parties are today.  Clay, Calhoun, and Webster spent forty years fighting to iron out what they saw as flaws or glaring omissions in the Constitution.  Each had personal ambitions that included the White House, each wanted to make lasting impressions on history, and each wanted to ensure the best for their region.  

A well-researched book, Heirs of the Founders works to help readers understand the battles the so-called "second generation" of American politicians fought in an effort to define the new United States of America.  Brands does a good job of leading readers through the different sides and their thinking, as well as emphasizing that then, as now, there were moderates who were willing to compromise to get things done and the more hard line groups who refused any hint of compromise.  The difference being that men like Clay often succeeded in bringing both sides to accept compromises that today rarely happen.  Brands quotes extensively from speeches each of these well-known orators gave but helps us dig deeper behind the scenes to understand what was going on.  I thought he did a particularly excellent job in exploring the complicated, nuanced, and sensitive aspects of national and individual opinions on the issue of slavery.  

Like Joanne Freeman's The Field of Blood, readers know where the country is headed.  Many contemporary Americans were surprised less by the fact that the Civil War happened and more by the fact that it didn't occur at least a decade earlier.  In Heirs we see the men who fought to hold off the break of the Union, but we also see, as they saw, that the extreme regional sectionalism of the first half of the 19th century made it inevitable.
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"The genius of American democracy was its ability to muddle through crises—to accept answers as tentative . . .the genius of Henry Clay was a knack for finding compromise."

This eminently readable biographical history covers the years 1810-65, a period most Americans are entirely ignorant of. By centering the history on three leading figures, Henry Clay, John Calhoun, and Daniel Webster, Brand brings this dynamic, troubled era to life through the lives and careers of the three men, illustrating others they allied with and jousted agaisnt.

Brand takes us through the evolution of the young republic through difficult waters of Federalists versus Republicans, the establishment of a national bank, and war with Britain (and the burning of Washington), the first treason trial (Aaron Burr, who had killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel), the highly contested election of Andrew Jackson (many were afraid of a military man as President), and looming above it all, the question of slavery as the nation began its westward expansion, accelerated by the Gold Rush.

He makes clear how steam power further divided the north from the south, the latter being uninterested in labor saving machinery as slave labor was a fixed cost rather than a variable one. The visual divider for travelers was the Ohio River, the north side busy, the south with few towns and miles of wilderness broken by enormous estates.

Calhoun was bound to slavery and the south; Clay, in compromising, lost any chance of presidency, though he was influential his entire long career; Webster was famed for his oratorical powers without being very adept at tactical thinking.

It’s fascinating to read excerpts from Webster’s speeches, elegant and intelligent, given during a time when Congress debated ideas, referring to close readings of the Constitution. 

The personal costs of jockeying for power in the evolving state get plenty of attention, making this a human story as well as a political history. Not overlooked are the wives of these men, whose social influence was vital to the Washington scene, directly impacting politics. There is also an intriguing section illustrating Washington and Congress from the critical eyes of Harriet Martineau.

Brand brings us up to the final break, as the horrors of slavery—contrasted with the ideas of those who defended it—are brought to the forefront. 

Altogether a colorful, well-researched and grounded look at American history during the first half of the nineteenth century.
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This book covers the transfer of idealogical thought, leadership and political manuvering that took place betweeen the War of 1812 and the Civil War. The book focuses on the three main players throughout this time - Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster. The author provides background on each along with the struggles they encountered while in Congress were they worked together at times and against each other at other times. The book is very well researched and reads more like a novel than dry history. This is one the things that I enjoy about the books by Brands that I have read.

I recommend this book for anyone who wants a definitive book on the issues and politics of slavery in the United States covering the time period of the War of 1812 through the Civil War.

I received a free Kindle copy of Heirs of the Founders by byH. W. Brands courtesy of Net Galley  and  Doubleday Books, the publisher. It was with the understanding that I would post a review on Net Galley, Goodreads, Amazon and my fiction book review blog. I also posted it to my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus pages.

I requested this book as the description interested me and I am an avid reader of american history. I have read several books by the author.
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Brands, as always, provides a readable, moving account of the descendants of the Founding Fathers and the issues they had to grapple with during the early to mid 19th Century. He remains one the eminent historians of our time.
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H.W. Brands has written a readable, engaging history that will interest those who want to know how the debate over slavery led to the Civil War.

Brands begins his narrative with the three men around whom most of the story revolves: John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, politicians whose rhetoric and political rivalries would shape the career of Abraham Lincoln and highlight the North-South divide that eventually tore apart the nation.

The first chapter begins with the discovery of gold in California (miner '49er era) but then goes back in time to the war of 1812. Brand traces this history forward to explain how America got to the point where slavery became the pivot of war. In the south, slaves had become more valuable than land. Southern property owners didn't want to give up the slaves who powered their economy. Northern abolitionists, on the other hand, were equally adamant that slavery not continue.

These competing ideologies butted heads as new states were added to the nation. Would they be slave or free? How would that affect the balance of power between north and south? Often these debates were framed in Congress and for the press of the day by John C. Calhoun (South Carolina), Henry Clay (Kentucky) and Daniel Webster (Massachusetts).

Other notables enter this narrative, such as Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor and Solomon Northrup, the freeman whose abduction and enslavement took place just steps from the Capitol where the white politicians were debating the future of slavery. 

I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. #NetGalley
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This is a very interesting look at a group of people from American history that I knew almost nothing about. Very well researched and wonderfully readable. 
I received a copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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It has been well noted that we Americans know little of our history. As Civics, Government, United States History and Political Science are delivering courses of study today, we can assume that the knowledge vacuum in these areas will only grow.
Heirs of the Founders by H.W. Brands is an attempt to fill in a substantial void in our understanding of how we advanced from our revolutionary beginning to the dangerous precipice edge of discussion in the Civil War. Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun were prominent politicians and orators, one Northerner, two Southerners, who vied to guide America on the path each deemed vital to the new countries survival. By writing of their interactions, strengths, and weaknesses, we learn of what attempts were made to insure national survival. In the end there were no compromises able to permanently diffuse the oncoming split in the country.
The book is both biography and history survey. Events from 1810 to 1865 are noted and the reactions of Clay, Webster, and Calhoun to these events are explained. I do believe that a better appreciation of this interaction would be achieved if the reader has some knowledge of US History of the period. 
H.W. Brands has done his job. He has written a well researched book about a critical time period in US History and the men who lived it.
I received an advance copy of this book from Netgalley. #Netgalley #HeirsOfTheFounders
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I enjoyed this book quite a bit. It is well-researched and relies heavily on primary sources. It's balanced well between the three men it discusses, and tries to show a complete and nuanced view of them as people and as statesmen trying to do their best by their states and their country. It is an interesting view into how differently people viewed the purpose and future of the United States, even from its inception. I recommend it to both academic and public libraries, as the research and historiography is solid but it's still written in a very accessible and readable way. I will be purchasing it for my library.
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I was really intrigued by this book as soon as I saw it. I am a little obsessed with history and these figures were not men I knew a lot about. Nonfiction can be dry and boring, but this book read more like fiction and I both learned a lot and enjoyed it!
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