Martin Van Buren (1837-1841)

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Book: Martin Van Buren

Author: Edward Morse Shepard

1. Date- Few casual fans of the project will be salivating at this rare relic from 1894. The writing style is firmly in yesteryear with a heavy emphasis on public works. This was high time for presidential biography that barely even mentions a private life while exploring the minute details of a public one. Put simply, it is a perfect illustration of how far the presidential biography has evolved. For better or worse there is no insinuation of impropriety, no emphasis on shady dealings and no real insight on his family life. Throwaway sentences accompany his early childhood life. This “Jesus-style” narrative leads a modern reader to believe he was born. He may have even lived a full life. However, it was on to the good stuff. Though scope is further explored in the next section, it is important to understand that most if not all works from the 1890s were expected to be depicted in this manner and a deep probing into Martin Van Buren “the man” would have swept this work to the dustbin or given it the brand of personal quackery. A far more interesting aspect of the date for this entry is the emphasis on moral implications. While this era is reflected upon through the slavery debate, the lasting wounds of patronage and the “spoils system” were still fresh. Almost in tandem in the frank discussion of slavery and its lasting legacy, the spoils system arrives in tow. This is not surprising given the author but the pervasive nature of the practice along with the subsequent damage it did to the American physique is heavily the reader’s thrust for objective discussion. While a Jefferson biography or even a tour of Monticello features the obligatory talk about slaves, Shepard seems to feel more than obligated to mention the spoils system. This is perhaps the most glaring example that this book is written in 1894 and not 1994. This fear stemming from slavery shows the inevitable downfall of being too close to your subject.

Grade: C+

2. Scope- As briefly discussed above, this is clearly and distinctly a work on Van Buren the public official and not the man. Though there is some discussion about his hometown of Kinderhook, this work almost always uses it to describe the Albany Registry or other directly public acts. It is not meant to explore what made the man tick. There is barely any mention of the fact that he was the son of a slaveowner, the first president born post-revolution and still the only president to hold English as a second language, speaking Dutch throughout his formative years. Barely 25 pages into his work, Shepard puts Van Buren as a state senator of New York, nearly halfway through his 12 year marriage to Hannah Hoes. For a discussion of his public views and career, Shepard’s narrative is solid. Despite no mention of his private life, his public is covered in full blister following Van Buren’s steady and sure accumulation of power. In this sense his scope is total, giving due coverage to his presidency and ex-presidency. Unlike most of his predecessors, Van Buren was more than a contender and at times assumed candidate to go back to the first place in the nation. The tales of his ultimate shortcoming in this regard bring this presidential biography to its strength. In fact, ironically, Shepard’s work on President Martin Van Buren really peaks in his discussion of the ex-president. The pace is perfect, the extenuating and contextual information is placed soundly, and the work that dulls along in an average way suddenly gets excellent. However, there are more misses in this work to overcome the lackadaisical yet complete scope.

Grade: B

3. Author- Perhaps no finer man at the turn of the 20th century could have written about the Empire State’s ultimate executive. When Shepard penned this work in 1894, 30+ years after Van Buren’s death, New York had thrived in post-war America. Despite the fact that skyscrapers and modern New York were still years away, Shepard had the unique perspective to see Van Buren as the political mastermind from Kinderhook. His critique of Van Buren’s dealings in the spoils system are hardly shocking as Shepard’s resume includes Chairman of the Brooklyn Civil Service Board and years of support to reform-minded Democrats. This bias does become apparent and makes some of the objectivity choppy as Shepard struggles to make excuses for Van Buren’s supposed impropriety. After his work on Van Buren, Shepard, this relic of Tammany Hall, became the consummate peacemaker, often being tapped to heal party divisions and antagonism, tasks that all too regularly fell to Mr. Van Buren himself. In a curious yet interesting insight on Shepard’s touch of brush with presidential life, the elder politician ran into a deadlock for his US Senate nomination in 1911. The leader of the “insurgent” Democrats? Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The man who was elected president in 1933, almost 100 years to the day that Vice President Van Buren was sworn into office. In 1894, the first authoritative biography on Martin Van Buren had the right man for the mission.

Grade: A-

4. Length- Though clocking in nearly at 400 pages, Shepard’s work would easily fall quite short of that number had a modern publisher done the work. Reprints often have the work at 200-225 pages which firmly places this work in the short biography category. That is not to say there is anything lacking in the story. In true short biography form, this work goes from issue to issue quite rapidly but often giving enough information to progress the narrative. For a short work there are also many times that issues are explored specifically and then lightly revisited later. In this sense Shepard’s writing style shines as the purposely crafted brevity removes all dangers of a lagging work. This speed read would be perfect for a modern reader with the extreme caution that this work is indeed from 1894. There is much political reality that is assumed to the reader and there is no time to fill in modern eyes. Shepard expects you to be caught up to 1894 because he does not have the space to bring you up to speed. As long as you know that going in, you’ll be fine. If not, this short work may be done quickly with an awful lot of head scratching as the result.

Grade: C+

5. Mission- Without a clear introduction or specific statement of purpose, Shepard allows his work to speak for itself. It is clear that he hopes to inform as well as extol in this volume as slavery and spoils system clearly weigh on the moral fiber of late-19th century readers. Both topics receive extensive attention all within the chronological evolution of Van Buren the political with almost a total lack of Van Buren the man. From start to finish, the work moves at a brisk pace as the events seem to affect the man and then suddenly the reverse. Shepard does an excellent job of showing how the progressive and ahead of the curve nature of Van Buren slowly but surely fell behind. Shepard creates a story about a man struggling to keep his political fortitude while the nation slowly unraveled to Civil War. Perhaps fittingly, the story ends in the heat of the Civil War, just as Van Buren does. There is nothing left to tell. Shepard assumes the audience already knows that story. Assumption can be dangerous. As for assumption in this mission, it hurts the overall effort as determined as it seems.

Grade: B-

James Madison Crib Sheet

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Vitals!

Name: James Madison, Jr.

Lifespan: March 16, 1751 – June 28, 1836

Home State: Virginia

Served as President: 1809-1817

Vice President: George Clinton (1809-1812); none (1812-1813); Elbridge Gerry (1813-1814); none (1814-1817) 

Spouse: Dolley Madison

Historian Rank: 13

Why you may LOVE him…

James Madison is rightfully considered “The Father of the Constitution.” No single man deserves more credit for the painstakingly thorough compromise, dealing and negotiation that led to the United States Constitution. Long before the idea of even a Constitutional Convention was a foregone conclusion, Madison stood at the forefront on a mission to save his country from a mess. After completing the classic document, he exuded qualities of a statesman, teaming up with his philosophical foes John Jay and Alexander Hamilton, penning political classics in The Federalist. In a modern age where compromise and across-the-aisle divulgence is a dirty word, Madison frequently made strange bedfellows, simultaneously representing a staunch federal view while being seen as a champion for state’s rights. After forming the modern United States government, he served as Secretary of State during the grand Louisiana Purchase and rode his popularity to the Presidency himself. As president, he overcame the bitter snickering of “Mr. and Mrs. Madison’s War,” by standing firm in the War of 1812 while fairly or unfairly riding the war’s end to a windfall of popularity. When he died in 1836, Madison rightfully looked back at a thriving University of Virginia which he ushered into greatness ten years after the death of his mentor Thomas Jefferson. He also saw a solid economy he had a  hand in forming for early 19th century America. Always the public figure, one can hardly go a mile in southern Virginia without seeing a testament to this American great.

Why you may HATE him…

Madison is either naive, a hypocrite or both. Not because he owned slaves while he extolled the virtues of equality. Not because he oversaw the Louisiana Purchase that conflicted with his constitutional views. Not even because he fancied himself a pragmatist despite the British a few miles away and burning DC to the ground. Madison did more to create his own oblivion than any other founder with the exception of Jefferson. An exhaustive list is unnecessary but a few examples can inspire hatred. When his nation almost went to war in 1798, he and Jefferson did not rally around the flag. Through the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions the two men went against their government, advocating the infant theory of nullification and secession. “We didn’t mean that!” they may have argued. It is hardly plausible that two educated men could have believed otherwise. The result was decades of southern hostility to the Federal government especially at times of war and ironically no more present than in the War of 1812. In fact, the Resolutions were used as a precedent for the Northern Secession movement before a general named Andrew Jackson bailed him out. During that war he has the awful distinction of being the only President to helplessly flee DC as a foreign foe burned the White House to the ground. An inept tactician, the War of 1812 was mismanaged from the start and mercifully ended two years later as barely a stalemate. His private life also exposed his seemingly endless inconsistencies. Once again, the unfortunate reality of slavery rears its ugly head. In a world where historians struggle to find Madison consistent, he appears more and more opportunist as scholars dig deeper. One could argue that he was a man of his times and we shouldn’t hold him to an impossible moral standard. Yet, Madison lived long enough to experience the rise of abolition. In fact, Madison held onto the mistaken notion of the relocation American Colonization Society even when it was dated and antiquated as an idea. Madison, like his other slaveholding brethren, loved to appear to be against slavery, yet actively sought to expand and increase his slave holdings throughout his life. While Jefferson spent eight years hiding the presence of slaves around the White House, Madison and his wife Dolley brought them out into the open, holding lavish parties all with slave labor. He was exposed to ideas about the freedom of slaves, considered the resolutions during the Convention, and wrote extensively on the subject. However, this “Father” made a decision. His slaves were not 3/5ths as his infamous compromise suggested. They were always his property.

Final Verdict in Five Words: A father important and inconsistent

Andrew Jackson (1829-1837)

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This is Volume Two of Remini’s work. For discussion of Volume One follow this link -> https://andrewcordisco.wordpress.com/2014/01/26/andrew-jackson-1829-1837-2/

Book: Andrew Jackson: The Course of American Freedom, 1822-1832 Volume 2

Author: Robert V. Remini

1. Date- Appearing four years after the completion of Volume One, the second Volume of this epic tome centers on the corruption and denigration of government of the 1820s. The narrative harps on corruption almost throughout the work, frequently using it as a contrast to the reform-minded movement that accompanied the Age of Jackson. It is surely no coincidence that this was the angle chosen by a post-Watergate biography sullied by a brush with national crisis. The date of this volume is crucial to understanding the mindset and approach to the Presidential position as one prone to corruption, shady behavior and the subversion of popular will. Remini may not even notice the constant focus on corruption but this work is truly a product of the nation’s malaise and a reader must be prepared for that state of mind to appreciate the statement Remini is making. This does not mean the work is not modern. It is. However, the full power of the message may not hit on someone not well versed on Nixon and what his revealed corruption said about the government. In 1981 the statement is profound, in the 2010s it is merely a scary thought.

Grade: B

2. Scope- While the first volume described an early Jackson up until his middle aged years, this volume’s scope covers the pinnacle of Jackson’s growth. Specially, the time period of 1822-1832 encompasses as Jackson’s meteoric rise that starts in Tennessee concludes in the Presidential chair. Centering on this crucial decade of mostly 1820s politics until the bank fight of 1832, brings the scope much more focused than the previous work. As the middle volume in the trilogy the scope does a good job of bridging the gap between the political novice fresh from military fame to a grand statesman ushering in an emerging America. In order for the effect of Jackson to be truly felt, the biographical nature of Jackson needs a context of the times which Remini does pretty darn well. As a middle volume the scope brings along the narrative but also clarifies the themes from the earlier volume.

Grade: A-

3. Author- For a discussion on Remini, reference the entry from Volume One.

Grade: N/A

4. Length- This middle volume is the shortest of the three, clocking in just over 500 pages. However, the similar length is misleading. Volume two is much more independent than volume one, almost functioning as its own work on the rise of Jackson and the nation that facilitated his capstone of growth. The length of the work here slows down the narrative in juxtaposition of the rapid pace of Volume One. Where the two works are almost identical in length, this work covers 40 fewer years of Jackson’s life centering on just ten years. Vol. 1 (1767-1821) and Vol. 3 (1833-1845) exceed the middle work by a considerable amount. For someone attempting the Project at a quicker pace there are certainly more serviceable one volume works that cover this period, but in no other effort will the rise of Jackson be covered more succinctly than in this work.

Grade: A

5. Mission- Remini named this volume “The Course of American Freedom” to try to show Jackson as the statesman that identified America as corrupt and attempted to free the disenfranchised. “Freedom” here is also meant to be ironic as the hero of Freedom removed Indians and had slaves toil his plantation. The term “freedom” is on historical terms and greatly at odds at what would manifest freedom in the modern world. Quite the contrary, the image of Jackson as a liberator is shown in the background of expanding suffrage, assaults on the monied elite and the general propensity that the President represented the people at large. Envoking freedom also accomplishes the mission of Remini to show an emboldened America far at odds with the hobbled nation after the War of 1812. As a volume that not only introduces the reader to an ascendant Jackson, it satisfies its mission to identify it with the rise of 19th Century America. For his contemporaries, Jackson championed freedom at a level and intensity previously thought unthinkable.

Grade: A-

Andrew Jackson (1829-1837)

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Book: Andrew Jackson: The Course of American Empire, 1767-1821 Volume 1

Author: Robert V. Remini

1. Date- As a polarizing and gigantic figure among the Presidents, it is no shock that Jackson is treated with dozens of biographies. These range from works completed while he lived through this current decade. Despite all of this, it is this three volume epic that stands tall as the standard in Jackson biography. The first installment appeared in April 1977. It covers the birth of Jackson through his tenure as Florida’s governor after becoming a national (and international) celebrity following the War of 1812. The date published here is not the strength of the work and certain events are seen through a post-Watergate lens particularly sensitive to aggrandizement and secrecy of power. Though it is tough to blame Remini, this overwhelming reality and feeling about secrecy does permeate through the work.The theme of a steady corrosive process of government is present which makes the date that this is published subtly yet enormously influential to the tone of the book. Without a doubt, this salient tone may be lost on the modern reader attempting the Project.

Grade: B+

2. Scope- There is perhaps no way to criticize this scope except the fact that it is too in depth. Remini does not choose sides or tell the reader what parts of Jackson’s life are important. It is essentially an all-encompassing piece covering every aspect of Jackson’s life from his troubled beginnings through the dark days of his military command. Specifically in this first volume, almost half of Jackson’s life is covered and it seems every significant development is touched on and emphasized with due attention. Remini does not do the obvious with his scope. He does not flash forward to President Jackson even when the parallels of earlier decisions seem to foreshadow the elder man. The scope of this volume is laid out in the title and events after 1821 are seldom referenced and the scope remains superbly under wraps.

Grade: A

3. Author- Robert V. Remini became the preeminent Jackson biographer starting in his early 50s. However, this is not the first time he delved into this subject. In 1967, he published works on Jackson specifically covering the Bank crisis of the 1830s. Prior to this, he had a very successful career in academia topping out as chairman of History for the University of Illinois at Chicago starting in 1965. His works would continue to expand his already exhaustive research and his future works will be discussed in the Author section of successive volumes. Needless to say, Remini is without equal when it comes to dedication to one President.

Grade: A

4. Length- As a single volume, this work would fall squarely in the medium length biography. Alas, this is only volume one. Taken together, the three volume work covers nearly 1,500 pages. Some biographies on Presidents are considered longer than average when they are compared to Volume One’s 500+ pages. This work is an exhaustive study, leaving very few, if an ,significant moments out of the story and going very deep into the causes of each event. For a reader or student attempting the President’s Project rapidly or at a brisk pace, this work is not recommended. The benefit of Jackson is that many works have been written before and since Remini’s work that capture the cradle to grave narrative in substantially fewer pages. For the person wanting to get the most thorough and scholarly attempt at Jackson, this book is for you.

Grade: A

5. Mission- Remini’s mission is straightforward and clear. In a league, with voluminous works on Jackson, he wanted to create a comprehensive, no holds barred look at the man with little judgment by the author. He succeeded. In the painstakingly large amount of research, there are few attempts to exert judgment or criticism into Jackson’s actions or feelings. What makes Remini’s mission so successful is that he has done the research and is able to present facts to the reader with ample amount of time to critically look at the man without the author deciding. To be able to judge figures from yesteryear the reader is rarely given all of the facts because of sheer limited space in a book to tell the complete story. In the Project, no work comes closer to revealing the whole truth and nothing but the truth like Remini’s first volume.

Grade: A

Andrew Jackson (1829-1837)

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Book: American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House

Author: Jon Meacham

1. Date- Coming amidst the 2008 Presidential election, Meacham’s book was hailed as a work covering one of the most dynamic presidencies in history. Jackson holds a special place in the American story, gracing the twenty dollar bill and glaring down Lafayette Square. The result is that there is a plethora of Jackson biographies available to those attempting the Project ranging from brief surveys to in-depth masterpieces. The biggest advantage of this particular work is it is the most recent of the “cradle to grave” narratives. For the time being, this is the most up to date biography on the seventh president.

Grade: A

2. Scope- Through seeking to be an updated and fresh “biography,” this work weighs extensively on the presidency of Jackson. There is coverage throughout his life to be sure, but the first 40 pages briskly cover a turbulent Revolutionary coming of age, a heroic flair at New Orleans, and then a failed Presidental bid. Barely a tenth through the work, Jackson is decades into his life and already sworn in as President. On the opposite side of the life balance, the post-presidency and death narrative are mere footnotes, barely clocking in at 20 pages. There is nothing wrong with Meacham writing a work about the dramatic and thrilling Jackson Presidency, but in calling it a biography of Andrew Jackson, the man falls very short of a complete portrait.

Grade: C

3. Author- Mr. Meacham brings a fresh and relatively youthful approach to this Presidential biography. Under 40 when completing this work, Meacham holds such lofty titles as Executive VP of Random House and former Editor-in-Chief of Newsweek. As an authority on contemporary views, Meacham writing a biography of the 19th century President initially raised questions. These questions were quickly squashed and culminated with a Pulitzer Prize victory. His take on Thomas Jefferson is featured in Art of Power and can be reached earlier in this blog via https://andrewcordisco.wordpress.com/2013/03/19/thomas-jefferson-1801-1809-2/.

Grade: B

4. Length- This work fits perfectly for an individual attempting to complete the Presidents Project with shorter biographies. Despite being lean on the pre- and post-presidencies, this work definitely covers the life of Jackson in a comprehensive fashion and never gets too dense or too scholarly for the average reader. It is simply a well-written work that never feels overly long or grandiose. It does not approach the length of the Jackson epics that have come before it, but it never claims to be them and instead strives to be the shorter companion with all the important events covered.

Grade: B

5. Mission- Early in the introduction, Meacham claims that he is not attempting a history of the Jacksonian Era nor the antebellum era in particular. Indeed, however, the lack of total biographical coverage concludes with a work that feels like a history tome more than a biographical piece. In fact, the title of the work mentions Jackson’s oversized personality in the White House. Many of the events of that time period are covered in great detail, suggesting that perhaps Meacham’s main mission was to create more of a history book above all else, even above his actual goal of a biography.  The result is not a total success nor failure of a biography but a work that hovers between the two genres that creates an ultimately unfulfilled mission overcome by an overall extraordinary piece.

Grade: A-

John Quincy Adams (1825-1829)

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Book: John Quincy Adams

Author: Harlow Giles Unger

1. Date published- Although period pieces have touched on Adams and his public works, this is the first 21st century biography of Adams. On the other extreme is the Seward work written just after Adams’ death. Unger’s 2012 work is very recent and presents the most up to date work of the “Son of the Founding Father.” Unger’s  perspective adds depth to the story of Adams for a multitude of reasons, some of which may  change how a reader may view his public life. For example,  Adam’s staunch support of abolition, especially at the end of his life, puts him on the right side of history.  An  antebellum or southern 19th century biography would  not fondly give this due praise. Adams’ “extreme” view for his time led to the Gag Rule, which is roundly frowned upon today, but still has  historical significance. This work also benefits from perspective of the Amistad defense of the 1840s.  The Amistad case is chronicled in JFK’s Profiles in Courage and the Steven Spielberg 1997 film Amistad. Both works show Adams to be a staunch, courageous and bold Congressman juxtaposed to the seemingly less savory view of the modern day Congress. Whereas an uneventful presidency is relegated to the dustbins of history, modern readers may indeed find Adams and his  great achievements worthy of high adulation.

Grade: A

2. Scope- For a proper Adams scope to be accomplished the almost incessant public life of Adams must be touched upon. With few other examples, Adams’ public career spanned vast to the extreme, from his early childhood viewing of the American Revolution through the Napoleon turmoil and finally the omnipresent Civil War that finally exploded a decade after his death. Unger lays out his work in a complete, albeit brief, cradle to grave narrative that seems to touch on this constant thread of political significance and American relevance. The sad unfortunate fact for John Quincy Adams is that his presidency is but a footnote in an otherwise sterling career that included a teenage spot on Russia’s main stage, to Secretary of State, and to leading Abolitionist as a nine-term Congressman. As stated in the original mission of the Presidents Project, the ideal book has extensive coverage of the Presidency. Despite a lackluster and mostly uneventful presidency, Unger only uses about twenty pages for the the Sixth Presidency. For those seeking a study of the presidency and the actions of a President, this work falls short of that mission. However, what Unger lacks in his study of the Presidency, he more than makes up for it in the study of the impact a non-President can have on American history.

Grade: B-

3. Author-When asked why he decided to write about John Quincy Adams, fellow three named author Harlow Giles Unger simply mentioned he had run out of Founders. As in the Monroe work that was also selected for the Project, “Americas Most Readable Historian” offers the most accessible and most current take on figures of the Revolutionary Era. No other modern author offers complete biographies written at such an accessible length and style. His decision to delve into John Quincy Adams brings him later chronologically that most of his works that have included looks at Washington, Hancock and Monroe. The result is a sure and solid grasp of the issues of the Revolutionary day, especially the fragile post-war construction of political parties and the first US Presidential Administrations. By shifting the narrative into context of the contemporary issues, Unger shows his excellent grasp of the era. The maiden voyage to the Jackonian Era, however, can be a little more unsure for Unger and it shows in a less complete take of the issues and their modern significance. Much like Adams himself, the man of the Revolution can leave Antebellum or Civil War buffs unsatisfied. Consequentially, the long life of Adams falls just short of a complete study.

Grade: B

4. Length- Apparently being a “readable” historian and author means a brief and fast paced study through the subject. In a style of other Unger books, John Quincy Adams, touches on everything concisely and sufficiently in the midst of barely dwelling on subjects for long periods. The result is one of the shorter works of the Project and a textbook example of a short biography at just over 300 pages. The length will leave those looking for John Quincy Adams the man woefully absent as the fast paced narrative never stops until it reaches its conclusion. Truthfully, for Unger to remain in his short biography style he did need to proceed in this fashion, but for someone like Adams who, without exaggeration, endured a 70 year career for his country, an exception could have been made. At no point does an issue or event in the Adams life seem to be overwhelming or especially significant. As a result, the work is a jack of all trades but a master of none.

Grade: C

5. Mission- Unger attempted to put Adams in his rightful place as a witness to the Early Republic. As his states in his preface and in subsequent interviews he indeed witnessed Revolutionary War battles firsthand. He also received his first diplomatic promotion from George Washington which led him on a career that ended in the same room as Abraham Lincoln. This span touches on some of the most significant moments and decisions that formed the nation. Unger attempted to put Adams as a main player in the issues of the day while showing his readers that his career never stopped until he literally died in Congress. For Unger, the mission is rarely to make profound statements on the character or integrity of his subjects. His mission always seems to be an unblinking C-Span style look at public actions and lets the reader decide morality. His unblinking and single focus again reaches his mission in a clockwork and decidedly trademark style of Mr. Unger.

Grade: B+

James Monroe (1817-1825)

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Book: James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity

Author: Harry Ammon

1. Date published- When Ammon published this biography in 1971, James Monroe was largely defined by the doctrine that famously bore his name. Ammon did not elaborate or break new ground in his private life but wrote a standard account for his public works. However, this biography is now 40 years old and while the factual assertions remain solid and in most cases relevant to modern readers, the test of time can be seen in the pages. Published during a Nixon presidency and a lengthy war in Vietnam, Ammon’s work reflects a confusing time in America’s history attempting to rise above its subordinate past onto the world stage. More recent works are available to readers who want fresh perspective in worldview and American mood. However, this work encapsulates a great deal of reflection and distance from contemporary feeling despite being five decades old. Not the most recent work, but definitely one far enough from the events to have perspective.

Grade: B

2. Scope- As mentioned in the first post of the blog, the primary goal of the Presidents Project is to study the presidency through biography, a slow burn history of America. The tricky aspect of this work is that Ammon covers the presidency extremely well, but not in chronological order and with a great deal of overlap. Curiously, most if not all of the pre-presidency is a concise and methodical chronology of Monroe’s rise to power. His post-presidency unfolds the same way. Interestingly, Ammon abandons this layout when it comes to the presidency. Here, Ammon unfolds his presidency not month by month but topic by topic. The result is no doubt a thorough coverage, but an interesting case where overlap is common and not always to reinforce points. It feels as if the author is telling a story, gets to the best part and decides it is better to go down a list of topics rather than let them unfold as they did over time. The result is at times topics discussed late in his second term followed by an early term issue in the following chapter. This disjointed structure nonetheless encompasses a complete scope even if it does not feel that way at times.

Grade: B

3. Author- Harry Ammon has admittedly evaded attempts at further inspection. The biographical background is none too well known. He was Professor Emeritus of History at Southern Illinois University when he completed this work in 1971. Two years later he returned to this time period but only to cover the Genet Affair and certainly not a biography style work. As a detached professor there does not appear to be any overwhelming bias. The detached feeling makes for a work authored from an objective stance indicative of Ammon’s Ivy Tower background. Ammon does not seem to take a position with only a faint defensive deposition of Monroe’s foes and aims to let the facts speak for themselves.

Grade: B

4. Length- The length of this work leads this book toward being a standard long biography of James Monroe. Not overly long just at 700 pages, this work never feels like the standard epic it would become due to its unmatched presence among Monroe biographies. It is certainly not a quick read, with many dense aspects of policy and minute detail into specific areas. As a solid contrast to Unger’s more concise work, Ammon’s is the choice for those looking for a more extended look at the 5th president. The amount of content in the presidency can bog the work down at times, but length does not have a negative bear on the work overall.

Grade: B

5. Mission- Ammon mentions quite simply in the introduction and throughout the book that creating Monroe in the Revolutionary context is his goal in the book. It is remarkably focused on his public works at the expense of little to no private look at James Monroe the person. In fact, next to nothing is mentioned of his family or personal relationships and rarely if they did not have a practical utility in explaining a public moment in Monroe’s life. It seems Ammon was reaching for a straightforward chronological account of Monroe’s long and storied career and his role in American history and not a personal account of Monroe’s life. In that respect, he rarely strays from his mission despite changing his layout once reaching the presidency. The result is an overly thorough look at Monroe the Public Servant and a hazy look at Monroe the Man.

Grade: B+