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Publisher's Summary

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 10 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.
©2016 Fergus Bordewich (P)2016 Tantor
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Critic Reviews

"[T]he colorful machinations of our first Congress receive a delightful account that will keep even educated readers turning the pages." ( Kirkus)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
3 out of 5 stars
By David Kopel on 07-15-16

Often excellent, sometimes flawed

Many interesting facts. Excellent combination of legislative history and biography. Fascinating portrayals of many congressmen, including some who are not well-known today. Too simplistic and too many errors when attempting to contextualize the 1st Congress regarding later developments in constitutional law or US politics.

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Jean on 03-05-18


The author utilized the First Federal Congress Project to write this book. The Project has cataloged nearly all the diaries, letters and newspaper accounts relating to the proceedings of the Congress of 1789-1791. As we discovered with Bordewich’s book, the project is a gold mine for historians. The key actions of the Congress were the ratification of the Constitution and the creation and passage of the Bill of Rights. They also decided on how the government should function, cabinet positions etc.

This book is well written and meticulously researched. Bordewich has the ability to place the reader right into the scene. I felt as if I was suffering the hot cramped meeting rooms right alongside Madison, Adams and Washington debating each Amendment and the Bill of Rights. I found the section about how they determined the amount of power the president should have most interesting. They said they trusted George Washington but what about some president in the future who wants to become a dictator. It became clear to me that the issues that the men wrestled with in 1790 still have resonance today. The book is easily readable and I found it most enlightening. I have read other books by Bordewich and find him great at writing descriptive details.

The book is thirteen hours. Sean Runnels does an excellent job narrating the book. Runnels has won five Earphone Awards and has narrated a number of Audie Award winning audiobooks. He is also an actor.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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