Dominion of Memories: Jefferson, Madison, and the Decline of Virginia

Susan Dunn, Author . Basic $26.95 (310p) ISBN 978-0-465-01743-0

Whatever happened to the great Commonwealth of Virginia? Dunn (Jefferson's Second Revolution: The Election Crisis of 1800 ) investigates how Virginia fell from being the most advanced and vibrant of the 18th-century American states to being among the new country's most stultified and parochial. Dunn points out that four of the first five American presidents were Virginians, and it was often supposed in the early Republic that, in the words of one politician, the Old Dominion had hatched "a systematic design of perpetually governing the country." By the 1820s, however, the commonwealth's once thriving economy had shuddered to a halt, its aristocratic planters were defaulting on their considerable debts, many lived in poverty and visitors from the industrializing, bustling Northeast noticed that everything was dirty and dilapidated—even Monticello and Mount Vernon. Dunn attributes Virginia's downfall to a combination of its ruling elite adhering to a "gentlemanly" way of life, its obsession with states' rights and the retention of slavery. These factors, Dunn says, fostered an atmosphere of indolence and tedious provincialism that condemned the Old Dominion to the status of a has-been champion musing nostalgically on the pleasures of the past. By focusing intently on the stresses within a single state, Dunn's is an admirable guide to those perplexed by the eventual sundering of the entire Union. (June)

Reviewed on: 03/26/2007
Release date: 05/01/2007
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 320 pages - 978-0-465-00679-3
Paperback - 310 pages - 978-0-465-00356-3
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