From New York Times bestselling historian H. W. Brands comes the riveting story of how America's second generation of political giants--Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John Calhoun--battled to complete the unfinished work of the Founding Fathers and decide the shape of our democracy.
In the early days of the nineteenth century, three young men strode onto the national stage, elected to Congress at a moment when the Founding Fathers were beginning to retire to their farms. Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, a champion orator known for his eloquence, spoke for the North and its business class. Henry Clay of Kentucky, as dashing as he was ambitious, embodied the hopes of the rising West. South Carolina's John Calhoun, with piercing eyes and an even more piercing intellect, defended the South and slavery. Together this second generation of American founders took the country to war, battled one another for the presidency, and tasked themselves with finishing the work the Founders had left undone. Above all, they sought to remedy the two glaring flaws in the Constitution: its fudge on where authority ultimately rested, with the states or the nation; and its unwillingness to address the essential incompatibility of republicanism and slavery. They wrestled with these issues for four decades, arguing bitterly and hammering out political compromises that held the union together, but only just. Then, in 1850, when California moved to join the union as a free state, "the three great men of America" had one last chance to save the country from the real risk of civil war. But by then they were never further apart. Thrillingly and authoritatively, H. W. Brands narrates the little-known drama of the dangerous early years of our democracy.
About the Author
H. W. BRANDS holds the Jack S. Blanton Sr. Chair in History at the University of Texas at Austin. He has written a dozen biographies and histories for Doubleday, two of which, The First American and Traitor to His Class, were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in biography. The General vs. the President was a New York Times bestseller.
“They were called ‘The Great Triumvirate’—three senators whose rivalries, alliances, and work in the tumultuous battles of the 19th century profoundly influenced the course of American history. H. W. Brands tells the story of Clay, Calhoun, and Webster with verve and clarity, reminding us of a bygone age when giants truly walked the floor of the United States Senate.” —Jon Meacham, author of The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels
“H. W. Brands has brought us a searching and excellent account of three legendary Americans whose leadership and rivalries did so much to shape the period of our history between that of the Founders and the Civil War. Heirs of the Founders should remind those of our own time how important Clay, Calhoun, and Webster are to the nation we live in today.” —Michael Beschloss, author of Presidents of War
“H. W. Brands, with his characteristic combination of sweep and eye for detail, tells the story—always exciting, often inspiring, ultimately tragic—of the titans who tried to guide the handiwork of the Founding Fathers through the turbulent first half of the nineteenth century. He weaves a cautionary tale for our own time of troubles.” —Richard Brookhiser, author of John Marshall: The Man Who Made the Supreme Court
"Brands uses the life stories of three consequential early-19th-century American politicians—all with unfulfilled aspirations to become president—to show how tensions inherent in the founding fathers’ vision of the country led to the calamity of the Civil War . . . This fascinating history illuminates rifts that still plague the country today." —Publishers Weekly
"An engrossing and revealing account of personal rivalries that played out on a national scale." —Booklist