Praise for The First Congress: How James Madison, George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government

PRESS RELEASE | Q & A with Fergus M. Bordewich

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The First Congress chosen as a featured selection at the History Book Club and Military Book Club and the Library of Science.

“There is no better book about the inception of the United States Congress than Fergus Bordewich’s The First Congress. In his fast-paced narrative, Bordewich brings back to life the “practical, impatient, and tired politicians” who transformed the parchment of the US Constitution into the flesh and blood of a national government. A gifted storyteller and discerning analyst of political motivation, Bordewich mines to spectacular effect the recently completed twenty-volume Documentary History of the First Federal Congress. Anyone curious about the origins of today’s much-maligned national legislature will marvel at this hair-raising story of stunning political creativity.”—Richard A. Baker, US Senate Historian Emeritus and co-author of The American Senate: An Insider’s History

“Bordewich engagingly revive[s] the forgotten story of the nearly 18 months that New York was the nation’s first capital.”NY Times

“Bordewich’s account is well worth reading and brings to life the First Congress and its members. Gracefully written… Bordewich provides a balanced assessment of the many achievements of the First Congress, while not overlooking its shortcomings.”Wall Street Journal

“Some Americans excuse current problems of ineffectual governance by claiming that the population is too diverse, the country too complicated and modern life too varied to permit efficient government. Those who think this way should read Fergus M. Bordewich’s new book... the smart money in the late 18th century laid odds that the American experiment in republican government would be faltering and thus temporary. Bordewich skillfully shows how and why, at the end of the beginning, they were wrong.”Washington Post

“As distant as they appear to us in their knee breeches and cocked hats, the members of the First Congress fell to the same horse trading, pork barreling, foot dragging, committee referring, and interest peddling as the members of the 114th Congress are reviled for indulging in today. Yet, as Bordewich adds, ‘despite their competing interests and personalities, they would perform a feat of collaborative creativity that has rarely been rivaled.’ And, Bordewich cannily observes, the issues they wrestled with in 1790 still have resonance today: ‘sectional rivalry, literal versus flexible interpretations of the Constitution, conflict between federal power and states’ rights, tensions among the three branches of government, the protection of individual rights, the challenge of achieving compromise across wide ideological chasms, suspicion of “big money” and financial manipulators, hostility to taxation, the nature of a military establishment, and widespread suspicion of strong government.’ ”Washington Monthly

“Popular historian Bordewich delivers an entertaining description of how ‘[the first Congress] transmuted the Constitution from a paper charter and a set of hopeful aspirations into the machinery of a functioning government.’… Far less edifying than the Constitutional Convention but equally crucial, the colorful machinations of our first Congress receive a delightful account that will keep readers turning the pages.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Bordewich's highly readable and sweeping account of the First Federal Congress focuses on its critical first and second sessions. Readers get to watch its members create the federal government and flesh out a bare bones Constitution that left the hard ball and controversial decisions to Congress. The author is the first to mine the comprehensive primary sources gathered over the course of half a century by the now-complete First Federal Congress Project.”—Kenneth R. Bowling, co-editor, First Federal Congress Project, and Adjunct Professor, George Washington University

“Bordewich expertly conveys the excitement of how the first U.S. Congress created a government. This engaging and accessible book sheds new light on the meaning of constitutionality. It will fit into any collection.”
—Margaret Kappanadze, Elmira College, Library Journal

“Fergus Bordewich paints a compelling portrait of the first, critical steps of the American republic, a perilous time when Congress – a body that has proved naturally contentious and short-sighted – had to be wise, and it was. The First Congress deftly blends many voices and stories into an elegant and gripping tale of a triumph of self-government.”—David O. Stewart (Madison's Gift: Five Partnerships That Built America and The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution)

“Fergus Bordewich reminds us, with solid research and sprightly prose, that once upon a time Congress worked and leaders of the new nation understood that true patriotism requires that legislators actually get things done and keep the Government open for business. This book should be required reading for every member of Congress.”—Paul Finkelman Senior Fellow, University of Pennsylvania Program on Democracy, Citizenship, and Constitutionalism

“Bordewich’s noteworthy exploration of the foundation for a working constitutional government provides an important perspective on American history.”Publishers Weekly

“Bordewich expertly conveys the excitement of how the first U.S. Congress (1789–91) created a government… This engaging and accessible book sheds new light on the meaning of constitutionality.”Library Journal

“The story of how these flawed but brilliant men managed to put the theory of the Constitution into actual practice and create a functioning government is the subject of Fergus M. Bordewich's fascinating The First Congress.”Chicago Tribune

“Bordewich’s worthy contribution to popular history shows us how a combination of high-minded determination, vote-trading and back-room deals created ‘muscular and enduring institutions’ that could adapt and thrive for more than 200 years.”Miami Herald

“In time for Presidents Day, the author focuses on the two-year session of the very first Congress in which the groundwork of our government was forged. Among their accomplishments: approving the Bill of Rights and creating the courts system.”Ft Worth Star Telegram

“The Capitol building might not be sitting as the center of a city built along the Potomac and Anacostia rivers if a senator didn’t stand to make a nice profit.That’s one of many nuggets contained in the book, where Bordewich explores the tense debate and horsetrading that allowed the new legislative body to lay the foundation for government in 1789 and 1790, from the constitutional amendments that became the Bill of Rights through to the making of the first treaty with Native Americans.”Roll Call