The full title of this extraordinary text is “The Quartet:  Orchestrating the Second American Revolution – 1788 – 1789”. (1) The author, Joseph J. Ellis, has dug deep into the existing historical record (2) to provide a vivid narrative of how we became a nation and who were the key players that made that happen.

Maybe you’re one of those folks who grew up with the idea that after we won the Revolutionary War with England, the thirteen colonies promptly came together, formed the United States and elected George Washington, president. In fact, this scenario is far from the truth. Rather, as Ellis is able to convincingly demonstrate, each colony (and the populace in general) envisioned thirteen separate, independent nation-states with no national government. Indeed, the idea of a “national government” was in bad odor because it smacked of the very monarchy that the colonists had just liberated themselves from. How then did all this change? How did we become a nation build upon a republican democracy with states possessing rights not assigned to the new federal government?

To go any further will this review would spoil your reading of “The Quartet”; and reading this book is what is highly recommended. It runs to just over 300-pages and is eminently readable. If you really want to understand our national history from its nascence and credit the four men who managed to turn a population away from the thirteen nation-states model, then this book is a must.


  1. Ellis, Joseph, J. “The Quartet:  Orchestrating the Second American Revolution – 1788 – 1789.” New York:  Alfred Knopf; 2015.
  2. The historical record is substantial and includes the minutes of the Constitutional Convention as well as numerous preserved letters that passed back and forth between Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Jay.