cover image The Virginia Dynasty: Four Presidents and the Creation of the American Nation

The Virginia Dynasty: Four Presidents and the Creation of the American Nation

Lynne Cheney. Viking, $36 (448p) ISBN 978-1-101980-04-0

Historian Cheney (James Madison: A Life Reconsidered) delivers an accessible group portrait of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe. Noting that all four were born, raised, and made their homes within a 60-mile radius in Virginia, Cheney contends that they formed “a dynasty whose members led in securing independence, creating the Constitution, and building the Republic.” She attributes her subjects’ political success to their gifts of leadership and judgment, as well as to their coming of age during a “transformative time” when it was possible to imagine a society organized by Enlightenment ideals. Virginia’s unique political, cultural, and geographic make-up also played a key role, according to Cheney, who notes that her subjects, like other “talented” members of Virginia’s gentry class, entered the colonial legislature at a young age, and understood Virginia’s outsize influence over American politics. Charting the dynasty’s evolving dynamics, Cheney sketches the Revolutionary War careers of Washington and Monroe; details internal disagreements over the Constitution, federalism, and foreign policy; and describes group efforts to “clear the way for the next Virginian in line” to the presidency. Though readers well-versed in the era won’t learn much new, Cheney selects anecdotes wisely and writes gracefully. The result is an informative introduction to four of America’s most important founding fathers. (Sept.)