Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The First Congress (Fergus M. Bordewich)

Fergus M. Bordewich’s The First Congress details the initial two year period of American government after the ratification of the Constitution in 1788.  The book is rapidly paced and chronicles the work that The Founding Fathers undertook in creating, framing, and shaping the three branches of American government.

Given the political gridlock that dominates 2016’s politick, the amount of legislation and debate that the 95 Senators and Representatives undertook is breathtaking -- establishing a national capital city, a national bank, and the judiciary; approving George Washington’s first cabinet appointments; and developing a framework to repay debts incurred during the American Revolution.  This was all accomplished in an era without political parties, with some of the legislators undertaking their own political evolutions during the first two years in response to their shifting thinking or adjusting to the will of their constituents.

Bordewich gives considerable depth to the emerging relationship between Congress and the Presidency and the internal debates that made up the First Congress.  Many of those debates are still raging today with regards to the role of the federal government versus that of the states and various other interpretations of the Constitution.  He also spends time discussing the role of the first lobbyists and how their “taking up petitions” created the divisions that would ultimately lead to partisanship and increasing divides in our country in subsequent decades.

Any civics student, historian, or aspiring politician should read this book as it hearkens back to an era where our elected officials were able to accomplish much in a short amount of time.