Monday, April 30, 2018

The Quartet, plus a few more

"There is as much intrigue in this State House as in the Vatican, but as little secrecy as in a boarding school."

                                       -  John Jay to Lafayette, 1779,  from The Quartet by Joseph Ellis

Somebody dropped off this book at the library, and as anything by Joseph Ellis must be good, I am reading it. Aside from the fact that even then, intrigue at the Vatican seems to have been well-known, I am amazed at the state of the colonies at that time.  "In the year since the war had ended, a majority of candidates elected to serve in the Congress had declined, or just failed to show up, and on fourteen occasions no business could be conducted for lack of a quorum. More dispiriting than any clash of opinions was the pervasive indifference that rendered argument itself impossible."  The book is about how this nation actually came to be a union of states, because after the war, there was little interest in any sort of unity here. Mr. Ellis attributes the change of attitude to four men, mainly: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, with supporting roles played by Robert Morris, Governeur Morris and Thomas Jefferson.

"Before he departed for Paris, Jefferson was interviewed by a visiting Dutch nobleman, who asked his opinion of the current American government. The members of Congress are no longer, generally speaking, men of worth or distinction. For Congress is not, as formally, held in respect; there is indeed dread of its power, though it has none."

It's hard to believe, but I do.


  1. Interesting! I don't know a lot of American history but one would think that in theory everyone would have been keen to begin the great work of making a United States. However, from what I know of European history, most people are so exhausted after waging war that they don't seem to care what happens next.

  2. It seems the thing they were keenest on, Clare, was being free of Britain, and being free for each state to go their own way. But for the vision of these men, things would have degenerated, according to Joseph Ellis. He's written several books on that era and I get the feeling that he's just so immersed in it - he knows so much.

    1. Thank you, Lisa. I understand that now.

    2. No offense, of course. ;-) Nothing personal about wanting to be free of the British. :D