The First Congress: How James Madison, George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government

An Alpheus T. Mason Lecture on Constitutional Law and Political Thought: The Quest for Freedom

September 21, 2016
Bordewich event poster

Fergus M. Bordewich, Author, The First Congress: How James Madison, George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government

In The First Congress, Bordewich tells the astonishing story of the most productive Congress in American history. When the members of the First Congress met in New York, in 1789, the new nation was still fragile, riven by sectional differences, hobbled by competing currencies, crushed by debt, and stitched together only tentatively by the new Constitution. The Constitution provided a set of principles but offered few instructions about how the government should operate, leaving it to Congress and the president to create the machinery of government. As James Madison put it, "We are in a wilderness without a single footstep to guide us." Had Congress failed in its work, the United States as we know it might not exist. Along with Madison, powerful men such as Roger Sherman, Oliver Ellsworth, Elbridge Gerry, and Robert Morris often clashed, sometimes savagely, but ultimately they forged a consensus that gave strength and credibility to the new government. Bordewich brings alive the passions and conflicts of these extraordinary men, who, along with President George Washington and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, breathed life into the Constitution.

Fergus M. Bordewich is the author of several books, among them America’s Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in history. His articles have appeared in many magazines and newspapers. He lives in San Francisco. Visit him at FergusBordewich.com.

Video:

The First Congress: How James Madison, George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government

Location:

Lewis Library 120

Photo Album:

  • Fergus Bordewich on the First Congress
  • Fergus Bordewich on the First Congress
  • Fergus Bordewich on the First Congress