The Quartet

  • by Joseph J. Ellis
  • Narrated by Robertson Dean
  • 8 hrs and 25 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

From Pulitzer Prize-winning American historian Joseph J. Ellis, the unexpected story of why the 13 colonies, having just fought off the imposition of a distant centralized governing power, would decide to subordinate themselves anew.
We all know the famous opening phrase of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address: "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this Continent a new Nation." The truth is different. In 1776, 13 American colonies declared themselves independent states that only temporarily joined forces in order to defeat the British. Once victorious, they planned to go their separate ways. The triumph of the American Revolution was neither an ideological nor a political guarantee that the colonies would relinquish their independence and accept the creation of a federal government with power over their autonomy as states.
The Quartet is the story of this second American founding and of the men most responsible - George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison. These men, with the help of Robert Morris and Gouverneur Morris, shaped the contours of American history by diagnosing the systemic dysfunctions created by the Articles of Confederation, manipulating the political process to force the calling of the Constitutional Convention, conspiring to set the agenda in Philadelphia, orchestrating the debate in the state ratifying conventions, and, finally, drafting the Bill of Rights to assure state compliance with the constitutional settlement.
Ellis has given us a gripping and dramatic portrait of one of the most crucial and misconstrued periods in American history: the years between the end of the Revolution and the formation of the federal government. The Quartet unmasks a myth and in its place presents an even more compelling truth - one that lies at the heart of understanding the creation of the United States of America.


What the Critics Say

"A brilliant account of six years during which four Founding Fathers, 'in disregard of public opinion, carried the American story in a new direction.' In a virtuosic introduction, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Ellis maintains that Abraham Lincoln was wrong. In 1776 - four score and seven years before 1863 - our forefathers did not bring forth a new nation...Ellis reminds us that the 1776 resolution declaring independence described 13 'free and independent states.' Adopting the Constitution in 1789 created the United States, but no mobs rampaged in its favor...Ellis delivers a convincing argument that it was a massive political transformation led by men with impeccable revolutionary credentials.... This is Ellis' ninth consecutive history of the Revolutionary War era and yet another winner." (Kirkus)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A Wonderful Gem

My high school history classes covered the American Revolution and American History from 1789 to the events which were current at the time. While the Articles of Confederation was discussed, and the reasons for the failure of the central government mentioned, little time was actually given to the process through which the US moved from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution or through the ratifying process. The most time that was spent on this period, and it was precious little, was a discussion of the importance of the Federalist Papers and Alexander Hamilton, probably because this school was in New York State. This book remedies that lack in a short and complete fashion.

Mr Ellis is a noted historian and he has turned his considerable talents to a complete description of why the Articles failed, the state that failure left the central government in and the process through which the four main proponents of a more powerful and centralized government, Washington, Hamilton, Jay and Madison, moved the process to its ultimate success. He also describes the difficulties involved in gaining ratification and the main opponents of the ratification effort as well as the motives of many of those strongly opposed to the new government system. Most central to this opposition were George Clinton and Patrick Henry and they figure prominently in the discussion of how the opponents first tried to stop the adoption of the Constitution and then tried to reverse the acceptance. While we know how things turned out, the description of the events themselves and the trials of those involved was both very interesting and informative.

I have read many books on this period of American History but most were concerned with why the American Revolution occurred, the events of the war, the struggle for a peace treaty with Great Britain and the events after the adoption of the Constitution with the remainder being biographies of many of those involved (Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Adams and others). While all of those books covered either the period leading to the adoption of the Articles of Confederation or the events following the adoption of the Constitution, none of them were dedicated to the time period between the two and none were as clear as to the motives and actions of the participants as this book.

Mr Ellis has also provided us with an analysis of what he believes was intended by the text of the Constitution by those involved and compares that with what is currently referred to as Original Intent. This is a short section and seems more like a political discussion than is warranted in a normal book on historical events, but it is short and does not mar the rest of the book. He also provides 3 appendices with the complete text of the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

The book, at 8 hours, is not long, but it is 8 hours I found well spent. The narration by Robertson Dean is first class and I found this book to be well worth 5 stars.
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- Mike From Mesa "MikeFromMesa"

A Compelling Reminder

George Washington, aghast at the failure of Congress to properly feed and fund his ill-equipped army during the fight with the British, lamented, “We have become a many headed monster, a heterogeneous mass that never will nor can steer to the same point.” Loosely affiliated under the Articles of Confederation, the 13 states each pursued their own agendas.

Pulitzer winning historian Joseph J. Ellis tells the story how this heterogeneous mass was made to steer to the same point. Ellis reveals how four men George Washington, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison conceived and promoted a new political framework built on the Constitution. Ellis shows how during the years 1783 to 1789 these four men called for the constitutional convention, set the agenda, orchestrated the debates and drafted the Bill of Rights.

Some historians have viewed the Constitution as a betrayal of the American Revolution. Ellis, however, reminds us that democracy was viewed skeptically in the 18th century; he prefers to see the effects of the quartet as “a quite brilliant rescue” of revolutionary principles.

The book is well written and researched. Ellis has a way of taking a lot of information and turning it into easy readable prose. This is a book to keep in your reference library. Robertson Dean narrated the book.
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- Jean "I am an avid eclectic reader."

Book Details

  • Release Date: 05-12-2015
  • Publisher: Random House Audio