It is [the subjects'] words, as much as their actions, that take pride of place in the book, as Brands vividly re-creates the delivery of their speeches (complete with cheers, shouts and pregnant silences) and quotes extensively from their essays and letters ... In a fast-paced narrative with snappy short chapters, Brands, the author of 30 books on American history, recounts the three men’s thinking and scheming as they rode the ups and downs of antebellum politics ... Despite Brands’s unease with the genre, then, one might wonder whether this engaging political biography inadvertently expands Founders Chic.
In the lively and learned joint biography Heirs of the Founders, H.W. Brands does his best to squeeze drama from the period between America’s epochal struggles ... Mr. Brands has produced a narrative that pulsates vigorously, sometimes even over-heatedly ... Mr. Brands memorably sketches the personality of each titan over time ... Mr. Brands handles the apogee of each of his key characters with flair.
Brands does not challenge current interpretations of American politics in the first half of the 19th century or the roles played by his protagonists. A gifted storyteller, he provides a traditional narrative that sets the context and then, in no small measure, allows them to speak for themselves ... That said, Brands does not adequately address a fundamental question about oratory.
This book inspires thoughts of America's present political situation at every turn ... The author's easy prose and superior, simple organization makes this work an engrossing, entertaining, and educating read on issues important then that echo today in the modern debate on the limits of federal government power.
Large chunks of the lives and careers of Clay, Calhoun and Webster are missing here. Brands mentions that Clay was elected House Speaker in his very first term in Congress. How? Why? I'd love to hear more about it... but Brands never fills in the details. The book also leans heavily on excerpts from floor speeches and journal entries. Perhaps Brands would have been better off writing about Henry Clay, the subject who comes most alive in these pages, and simply made Calhoun and Webster major recurring characters. The book still brings to life a transitional era of American politics when the scope and power of the federal government was unknown, as were the boundaries of the United States. It also details the, at times, delayed and meandering, but ultimately inevitable, march toward catastrophe that a half-slave and half-free country found itself in.
It is a lively, vivid, and thoroughly researched account of a time when discord gripped the nation and wouldn’t let go. Through it all, this trio managed to agree and disagree civilly. Brand quotes his subjects liberally, as is their due ... Brands mentions that Calhoun is a Yale graduate, but he neglects to include the controversy surrounding the renaming of Calhoun College in February 2017, one of the university’s residential colleges. The author, however, does document the reasons that protesters found the school’s honoring of Calhoun so appalling. Calhoun was not simply a slaveowner and advocate for the right of rebellion: He argued that slavery...was a 'positive good' for the enslaved as well as their owners.
Fortunately for us, historian and biographer H.W. Brands has given us a peek into [the Old Senate Chamber] by chronicling the voices that resonated there in pre-Civil War America ... In many ways, Heirs of the Founders is a portrait not only of the men at the center of American politics during the early 19th century, but of the republic itself ... Brands fleshes out three flawed giants, each driven by ambition, each hoping to snare the presidency.
The author’s return to the 'great man' school of history is somewhat problematic, since those presumed great men of American history are mostly white and seldom women. Still, the approach has virtues in making for a neat, character-driven history of the sort that nonspecialist readers like to read, in the manner of Douglas Brinkley, Steven Ambrose, and other popularizers. ... A lesser work from Brands but a solid introduction to a post-revolutionary generation whose members, great and small, are little remembered today.