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Publisher's Summary

From New York Times best-selling historian H. W. Brands comes the riveting story of how, in 19th-century America, a new set of political giants battled to complete the unfinished work of the Founding Fathers and decide the future of our democracy

In the early 1800s, three young men strode onto the national stage, elected to Congress at a moment when the Founding Fathers were beginning to retire to their farms. Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, a champion orator known for his eloquence, spoke for the North and its business class. Henry Clay of Kentucky, as dashing as he was ambitious, embodied the hopes of the rising West. South Carolina's John Calhoun, with piercing eyes and an even more piercing intellect, defended the South and slavery.

Together these heirs of Washington, Jefferson, and Adams took the country to war, battled one another for the presidency, and set themselves the task of finishing the work the Founders had left undone. Their rise was marked by dramatic duels, fierce debates, scandal, and political betrayal. Yet each in his own way sought to remedy the two glaring flaws in the Constitution: its refusal to specify where authority ultimately rested, with the states or the nation, and its unwillingness to address the essential incompatibility of republicanism and slavery.  

They wrestled with these issues for four decades, arguing bitterly and hammering out political compromises that held the Union together, but only just. Then, in 1850, when California moved to join the Union as a free state, "the immortal trio" had one last chance to save the country from the real risk of civil war. But by that point, they had never been further apart.

Thrillingly and authoritatively, H. W. Brands narrates an epic American rivalry and the little-known drama of the dangerous early years of our democracy.

©2018 H. W. Brands (P)2018 Random House Audio

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  • Jean
  • Santa Cruz, CA, United States
  • 12-04-18

Excellent

I have read and enjoyed a number of historian H. W. Brands’ books. This book is about the “Great Triumvirate” as they were known. The great orators from Massachusetts, Daniel Webster (1782-1852), John Calhoun (1782-1850) of South Carolina and Henry Clay (1777-1852) of Kentucky. These three great men were principal legislators in the post Jacksonian debate over slavery and States Rights. They were the key players of the Missouri Compromise of 1850. None of the men lived to see the Civil War.

The book was well written and meticulously researched. The book is easy to read and understand for a lay person. Each of these men played key roles and served in various positions in the government during their years of service. What I enjoyed the most was listening to the debates between the three men over various issues over their years in office. These three men were the greatest debaters of their era. If you are interested in United States history, you must read this book.

The book is fourteen hours and fifty-five minutes. Eric Martin does an excellent job narrating the book. Martin is a well-known audiobook narrator and voice-over artist. He has won many Earphone Awards and was a 2015 Audie Award Finalist.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Heirs of the founders<br />

Not only John Calhoun, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster the main characters in this,historical story, but a kidnapped free black man also of that time who's story also provided background on these days a decade before the civil war. very interesting how the statesmen compromised to bring forward means to deal with the slavery problem, yet still maintained their own philosophy and position on slavery!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • David
  • STAMFORD, CT, United States
  • 12-18-18

Refresher Course

“Heirs of the Founders” covers a lot of early 19th Century history, from the War of 1812 to the Missouri Compromise to the annexation of Texas to the Compromise of 1850. But there wasn’t a lot of new material or insight. It felt like a review of things I’d learned in high school.

The lives of John Calhoun, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster provide the framework, but some of the other figures are more intriguing. John Quincy Adams, after his presidency, returned to the House of Representatives as a visceral foe of slavery. The deep feeling of his quoted speech on abolition was more moving, to me, than the political rhetoric of Calhoun, Clay and Webster. Hot Andrew Jackson and cool John Tyler may have had as much influence, in their ways, as the title figures. H.W. Brands digresses at one point to recount at length the life of Solomon Northup of “12 Years a Slave.” That’s an important story, but here it felt like filler.

Clay, Calhoun and Webster were intense, brilliant and persuasive legislators, and this is good serious history. Much of the book is taken up with lengthy quotes from their speeches and letters. But that does not make for compelling listening, especially in the car.

I enjoyed some of Brands’ earlier histories, like The First American (Ben Franklin) and The General vs. the President (MacArthur/Truman). With my high expectations, I was disappointed by this thorough but often plodding book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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great book.

Comprehensive treatment of this period in our history. Story has great relevance for our current political situation

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Great context for origins of the Civil War

Performance was great!
The subject matter is very important for having an idea about the build up of tension since the founding that led to the civil war (and the origins of secession as an idea).