The momentous story of how George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams navigated the crises of the 1790s and in the process bound the states into a unified nation
Today the United States is the dominant power in world affairs, and that status seems assured. Yet in the decade following the ratification of the Constitution, the republic's existence was contingent and fragile, challenged by domestic rebellions, foreign interference, and the always-present danger of collapse into mob rule.
Carol Berkin reveals that the nation survived almost entirely due to the actions of the Federalist leadership -- George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams. Reacting to successive crises, they extended the power of the federal government and fended off foreign attempts to subvert American sovereignty. As Berkin argues, the result was a spike in nationalism, as ordinary citizens began to identify with their nation first, their home states second.
While the Revolution freed the states and the Constitution linked them as never before, this landmark work shows that it was the Federalists who transformed the states into an enduring nation.
In this distinctive new interpretation of the events of the 1790s, Berkin (The Bill of Rights), professor emerita of history at Baruch College and the CUNY Graduate Center, portrays the decade not as the era that inaugurated American party politics but as the seedtime of American nationalism. The difference is an academic nuance that may be lost on many readers of this nonetheless enjoyable and lively survey. The Federalists are the book's leading characters, those whom historians often harshly blame for holding pent-up democracy at bay. By contrast, Berkin credits them with creating, through "the hard work of governance," Americans' enduring attachment to the nation, even while they maintain their loyalties to their individual states. She builds her case around the decade's four well-known crises: the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791 1794, the Genet and so-called XYZ affairs of 1793 and 1798, and the tumult around the Alien and Sedition acts and the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions of 1798 1799. Alexander Hamilton plays a central role, as do George Washington and other Federalists. Of course, the Federalist Party disappeared, and the tensions between state and nation have never abated. Berkin allows readers to better see how the nationalist side of this struggle took form.