Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Reading Recommendation

I'm now reading a very interesting book which ought to appeal to American history buffs and to those who look for historical parallels to current events - Heirs of the Founders: The Epic Rivalry of Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster, the Second Generation of American Giants, by H.W. Brands.

I was particularly anxious to read this book because of its focus on two of my favorite historical figures: Henry Clay and Daniel Webster.

I've always admired Henry Clay for his skill at negotiation and compromise - indeed, he was known as "The Great Compromiser" for his ability to bring parties together in agreements that neither side loved, but both sides could live with. Compromise, of course, is a lost art in today's "my way or the highway" style of scorched-earth negotiation in which yielding the least inch in debate is considered a craven act of selling out one's principles.

And as a person who loves a good speech and enjoys public speaking, I have also always admired Daniel Webster*, one of the greatest orators our country has ever produced. At a time when we have a president who can barely utter a coherent sentence, we could use a Daniel Webster.

Heirs of the Founders is well-researched and briskly written, and looks at the early formative years of the United States through the lives of Clay, Webster, and Calhoun. We see the roles each of the three men played in beating the drum for and - especially in Calhoun's case - evading responsibility for the needless War of 1812, how they reflected the tensions between those who supported the rights of the individual states and those who continued to advocate for a powerful central government, and how the nation slid gradually toward the cataclysm of the Civil War. If it has a fault, it is that a single book can scarcely do justice to the lives of three such towering figures.

I strongly recommend Heirs of the Founders, engaging and important history and a sad reminder of the kind of giants America once produced, but could never be elected today.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


* Daniel Webster was the hero of the classic short story by Steven Vincent Benet, "The Devil and Daniel Webster," one of my favorites.


John Hill said...

Thanks for the recommendation.
I'll out it on the list.

Duckbutt said...

I'll look out for this one!