New York Times Best-Selling Author, J.D., PhD, All-around Swell Guy

The Jeffersonians

The Visionary Presidencies of Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe >

A long, insightful look at three Founder presidents.

Before Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, America’s only consecutive trio of two-term presidents were Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, a fact of no significance except to trivia buffs, but that earlier “Virginia dynasty” has proved irresistible to scholars. History professor Gutzman, who has written biographies of both Jefferson and Madison, describes their administrations, which extended from 1801 to 1825, a period during which Jefferson’s Republican Party (radical for the time) drove the Washington-inspired Federalists to extinction, governed a one-party nation for a few years, and then retreated as a more numerous and democratic electorate came to dominate. Despite America’s spectacular expansion during this period, Gutzman (and most modern historians) does not give any of its three administrations high marks. Jefferson peaked during the Revolution with the Declaration of Independence and his 1777 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, but his conduct as president won America little respect in the dog-eat-dog world of the Napoleonic Wars. Relying on moral suasion and trade embargos to fend off outrages from Britain and France proved disastrous, and he left office under a cloud. Madison, Jefferson’s closest friend, more scholarly and perhaps more politically astute, labored under the disadvantage of playing second fiddle for more than 20 years. Lacking Jefferson’s charisma and continuing his unwise policies—especially his fierce government frugality—left the U.S. unprepared for the War of 1812. Unlike most historians, Gutzman gives Monroe equal time. Hardly a scholar but an experienced politician, he was president during eight postwar years, dealing unimaginatively but not disastrously with several looming problems, including slavery, banking, and the loose cannon that was Andrew Jackson. Political histories are rarely page-turners, but Gutzman, clearly a scholar who has read everything on his subjects, writes lively prose and displays a refreshingly opinionated eye for a huge cast of characters and their often unfortunate actions.

Outstanding historical writing.

‐ Kirkus Reviews