The First Congress

The First Congress

How James Madison, George Washington, and A Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government

Book - 2016
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The little known story of perhaps the most productive Congress in US history, the First Federal Congress of 1789-1791.

The First Congress was the most important in US history, says prizewinning author and historian Fergus Bordewich, because it established how our government would actually function. Had it failed--as many at the time feared it would--it's possible that the United States as we know it would not exist today.

The Constitution was a broad set of principles. It was left to the members of the First Congress and President George Washington to create the machinery that would make the government work. Fortunately, James Madison, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and others less well known today, rose to the occasion. During two years of often fierce political struggle, they passed the first ten amendments to the Constitution; they resolved bitter regional rivalries to choose the site of the new national capital; they set in place the procedure for admitting new states to the union; and much more. But the First Congress also confronted some issues that remain to this day: the conflict between states' rights and the powers of national government; the proper balance between legislative and executive power; the respective roles of the federal and state judiciaries; and funding the central government. Other issues, such as slavery, would fester for decades before being resolved.

The First Congress tells the dramatic story of the two remarkable years when Washington, Madison, and their dedicated colleagues struggled to successfully create our government, an achievement that has lasted to the present day.
Publisher: New York : Simon & Schuster, 2016.
Edition: First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition.
ISBN: 9781451691931
Characteristics: xv, 396 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm


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Aug 04, 2017

Interesting account of the First Congress. Imagine--they were writing from a completely clean slate. Although the members of Congress held vastly differing opinions about many important issues, they were cognizant of the precedent that they would set and were willing to compromise. First up was the Bill of Rights--few, if any, in Congress thought that their passage would amount to much. The author of the book definitely takes the position the Second Amendment was intended to apply only to militias, now known as the Nat'l Guard. Since the book was published in 2016, presumably the author intended to rebut the 5-4 decision in Heller, in which SCOTUS rejected this longheld belief. Other weighty issues were whether the federal govt should assume the Revolutionary War debts of the states, the permanent location of the US Capitol, and the establishment of the financial system designed by Alexander Hamilton incl the National Bank (although the natl Mint had to wait until a later Congress). Congress did take a pass on slavery, a question raised by the Quakers. One shocking fact was the conflicts of interest the Virginia Founding Fathers had in advocating placing the capital city on the Potomac--many, incl George Washington, stood to reap sizable appreciation in nearby properties they owned. This book was consistent with the Washington biography I read that made clear that the Founding Fathers disagreed on what the Constitution meant, possibly raising substantial questions as to today's SCOTUS conservatives' "original intent" doctrine.


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