A conflict between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson? Most Americans are unaware of this historical reality. History tends to cast the early years of America in a glow of camaraderie, but there were many conflicts between the Founding Fathers-and none more important than the clash between Washington and Jefferson. In The Great Divide, acclaimed historian Thomas Fleming examines how the differing temperaments and leadership styles of Washington and Jefferson shaped two opposing views of the presidency and the nation, and how this rift profoundly influenced the next two centuries of America's history and resonates to the present day.
At the dawn of the American republic, the Founding Fathers, once united in their common pursuit of freedom, split ideologically. Thomas Jefferson's distrust of monarchical tendencies led him to oppose the more pragmatic and Federalist George Washington. Caught between these two men was James Madison, a confidant of Washington who co-wrote The Federalist with Alexander Hamilton before becoming Jefferson's most brilliant ally though Madison returned to his Federalist convictions at the end of his life. Fleming (A Disease in the Public Mind) finds this divide at the heart of every subsequent American political battle, but his book about this era is more polemic than analysis. Fleming has nothing but praise for Washington, whom he sees as a flexible, shrewd, and selfless chief executive. The same cannot be said for Jefferson; the author misses no opportunity to illustrate Jefferson's hypocrisy, arrogance, paranoia, duplicity, and self-pity. Fleming's blatant bias for the Federalists does a great disservice to the issues at hand, reducing a critical disagreement about American governance to a one-sided rant. Despite its imbalance, Fleming's book remains moderately enlightening in its impassioned defense of Washington's presidency, and more entertaining for its interest in the pettiness and foibles of our oft-lionized founders. B&w images.