The Virginia Dynasty: Four Presidents and the Creation of the American Nation
An Alpheus T. Mason Lecture on Constitutional Law and Political Thought: The Quest for Freedom
Lynne V. Cheney, Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute, and Allen C. Guelzo, Senior Research Scholar in the Council of the Humanities; Director of the James Madison Program Initiative on Politics and Statesmanship, Princeton University
A conversation on The Virginia Dynasty: Four Presidents and the Creation of the American Nation by Lynne Cheney (Viking, 2020). Part of the James Madison Program Initiative on Politics and Statesmanship.
From a small expanse of land on the North American continent came four of the nation’s first five presidents–a geographic dynasty whose members led a revolution, created a nation, and ultimately changed the world. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe were born, grew to manhood, and made their homes within a sixty-mile circle east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Friends and rivals, they led in securing independence, hammering out the United States Constitution, and building a working republic. Acting together, they doubled the territory of the United States. From their disputes came American political parties and the weaponizing of newspapers, the media of the day. In this elegantly conceived and insightful new book from bestselling author Lynne Cheney, the four Virginians are not marble icons but vital figures deeply intent on building a nation where citizens could be free.
Focusing on the intersecting roles these men played as warriors, intellectuals, and statesmen, Cheney takes us back to an exhilarating time when the Enlightenment opened new vistas for humankind. But even as the Virginians advanced liberty, equality, and human possibility, they held people in slavery and were slaveholders when they died. Lives built on slavery were incompatible with a free and just society; their actions contradicted the very ideals they espoused. They managed nonetheless to pass down those ideals, and they became powerful weapons for ending slavery. They inspired Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass and today undergird the freest nation on earth.
Taking full measure of strengths and failures in the personal as well as the political lives of the men at the center of this book, Cheney offers a concise and original exploration of how the United States came to be.
Lynne Cheney has spent much of her professional life writing and speaking about the importance of knowing American history and teaching it well. As chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities from 1986 to 1993, she wrote and spoke about the importance of teaching children about the leaders, events, and ideas that have shaped our world, and she worked to provide opportunities for educators to gain the in-depth knowledge that lies behind outstanding teaching. She has worked to bring tales of the American past to a wide audience, writing articles about history for numerous publications on topics ranging from women’s suffrage in the West to the way Americans celebrated the country’s centennial. She has turned her attention to children and their families, writing six bestselling history books for them, including We the People: The Story of Our Constitution (Simon & Schuster, 2008). She has also written an in-depth biography of James Madison, titled James Madison: A Life Reconsidered(Viking, 2014), which is a New York Times bestseller. Her most recent book is The Virginia Dynasty: Four Presidents and the Creation of the American Nation (Viking, 2020), an exploration of the interconnected lives and accomplishments of America’s first four Virginian presidents. She received her B.A. with honors from Colorado College, her M.A. in English from the University of Colorado, and her Ph.D. in 19th Century British Literature from the University of Wisconsin. The wife of former vice president Dick Cheney, she lives in Wilson, Wyoming.
Allen C. Guelzo is Senior Research Scholar in the Council of the Humanities and the Director of the Initiative on Politics and Statesmanship in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. His award-winning books include Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President (1999), Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America (2004), and Gettysburg: The Last Invasion (2013). He is currently at work on a biography of Robert E. Lee. He has been awarded the Bradley Prize, the Lincoln Medal of the Union League Club of New York City, and the James Q. Wilson Award for Distinguished Scholarship on the Nature of a Free Society. Together with Patrick Allitt and Gary W. Gallagher, he team-taught the Teaching Company’s American History series, as well as courses on Abraham Lincoln (Mr. Lincoln, 2005) on American intellectual history (The American Mind, 2006), the American Revolution (2007), and the Founders (America’s Founding Fathers, 2017). From 2006 to 2013, he served as a member of the National Council on the Humanities. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.