Books look at U.S. political conflicts of past and present

By Ted Ayres | May 31, 2024

“Founding Partisans: Hamilton, Madison, Jefferson, Adams and the Brawling Birth of American Politics by H.W. Brands (Doubleday, 2023, 451 pages, $32.50)

“Oath and Honor: A Memoir and a Warning” by Liz Cheney (Little, Brown and Company, 2023, 372 pages, $32.50)

Have you noticed that 2024 is an election year? Even if I wanted to forget, my mailbox and the television provide multiple reminders on a daily basis. I confess that my outlook and emotions today are much different than when I voted for a president for the first time in 1968.

I recently finished two books that provide perspective on partisan politics and the process of electing a president. One author deals with the earliest days of our democracy, and the other offers insights relevant to the current political environment.

Dr. H.W. Brands, a professor at the University of  Texas, has written more than a dozen biographies and histories. His latest, “Founding Partisans,” covers the contentious early years of our nation.

The Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Adams, sought to make the federal government more robust. The Anti-Federalists, led by Thomas Jefferson feared the encroachments on liberty that a strong central government would bring. 

The ultimate Founding Father — George Washington — warned against excessive partisanship in his Farewell Address, saying “demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame lest, instead of warming, it should consume.”

But the reins of power did pass peacefully when Jefferson defeated the Federalist candidate and incumbent, President John Adams, in 1800.

As Brands writes: “Jefferson took pride in ‘the revolution of 1800,’ as he called the change of government produced by the election of that year. ‘That was as real a revolution in the principles of our government as that of ’76 was in its form, not effected indeed by the sword, as that, but by the rational and peaceable instrument of reform, the suffrage of the people.’” 

Brands is adept at using the words spoken and written by the Founding Fathers to convey his own interpretation. I am always amazed about the amount of correspondence and communication that took place in early America — and grateful that these writings have been preserved. They provide for compelling reading.

Liz Cheney’s book, “Oath and Honor,” provides a modern-day viewpoint. Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, represented Wyoming in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2017 to 2023. She served as vice chair of the Select Committee to investigate the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

It’s no secret that Cheney is a fierce critic of former President Trump, who was largely credited for her losing her seat. She includes her own remarks from one Select Committee meeting:

“Our Constitution, the structure of our institutions, and the rule of law — which are the heart of what makes America great — are at stake … We must get to the objective truth and ensure that January 6th never happens again.”

I appreciated her behind-the-scenes accounts of members of Congress, their staffs, members of the Executive branch and other Washington insiders.

These two books provide context on the political environment of our country today. Both books emphasize the importance of an informed, concerned electorate.

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