Synopses & Reviews
The Founding Fathers, mythologized for their fervor for and dedication to democratic principles, were as heavily mired in partisanship, plagued by petty infighting, and driven by personal gain as, arguably, the most notorious members of todayand#8217;s Congress. In fact, David McKean reveals in this brilliant panoramic history that today's muddled political system is heavily indebted to a tradition begun from the outset, and perhaps to no one more so than Thomas McKean.
Thomas McKean was Americaand#8217;s first political operatorand#151;a man who installed himself at the center of every major political event of his time. In an extraordinary career that spanned almost half a century, McKean represented Pennsylvania and Delaware to the Stamp Act Congress and both Continental Congresses, and was instrumental in the creation of both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. He was one of the first to lobby for independence from British rule, the last to sign the Declaration of Independence, and was briefly the second President of Congress while George Washington was away. For twenty-two years, he served as chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, during which time his rulings would set the precedent for what was to become the American legal system. He was elected Governor of Pennsylvania three times, during which time he fostered a tradition of partisanship in his government. Although lesser known than his friends at different timesand#151;John Adams, George Washington, and Thomas Jeffersonand#151;McKean was among the most prominent of the Founding Fathers, and the only one to serve in all three branches of government.
But McKean was also a difficult, arrogant man whose political beliefs seemed to his adversaries to be expediently flexible. In the 1770s, when the bulk of McKeanand#8217;s constituency in Pennsylvania consisted of radical farmers and artisans who favored political participation regardless of property ownership and independenceand#151;and so McKean did too. It was on this platform he quickly rose to become a populist leader with mass appeal. As political parties began to emerge in the decades following independence, Thomas McKean, like many others, grew increasingly partisan, and fervently believed that political loyalty should play as important a role as competence in both the selection and removal of public servants.
John Adams wrote that the early Founding Father, his colleague in the Continental Congress, was the one of the few and#147;to see more clearly to the end of the business than any others in the whole body.and#8221; by a quintessential DC insider, and inheritor to Thomas McKean's aptitude for nimble politicking, The Revolutionary Life of Thomas McKean offers a complex historical biography of a man who had an invaluable impact on the nature of governance in this country for centuries.
The last signatory to the Declaration of Independence was one of the earliest to sign up for the Revolution: Thomas McKean lived a radical, boisterous, politically intriguing life and was one of the most influential and enduring of America s Founding Fathers.
Present at almost all of the signature moments on the road to American nationhood, from the first Continental Congress onward, Thomas McKean was a colonel in the Continental Army; president of the Continental Congress; governor of Pennsylvania; and, perhaps most importantly, chief justice of the new country s most influential state, Pennsylvania, a foundational influence on American law. His life uniquely intersected with the many centers of power in the still-formative country during its most vulnerable years, and shows the degree of uncertainty that characterized newly independent America, unsure of its future or its identity.
Thomas McKean knew intimately not only the heroic figures of the Revolutionary eraGeorge Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklinbut also the fascinating characters who fought over the political identity of the new country, such as Caesar Rodney, Francis Hopkinson, and Alexander Dallas. His life reminds us that America s creation was fraught with dangers and strife, backstabbing and bar-brawling, courage and stubbornness. McKean s was an epic ride during utterly momentous times.
About the Author
David McKean is director of Policy Planning for the US Department of State. He is the author of three previous books on American political history: Friends in High Places with Douglas Frantz (Little, Brown and Co.), a New York Times Notable Book; Tommy the Cork (Steerforth Press), a Washington Post Book World cover and Best Book; and The Great Decision with Cliff Sloan (PublicAffairs), a History Book of the Month Club selection. McKean is a board member of the Foundation for the National Archives. In 2011, he was a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He previously served as CEO of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation in Boston. Prior to that, McKean was the staff director for the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was chief of staff in Senator John Kerry's personal office from 1999 to 2008. Mr. McKean was a key player in laying the groundwork for the Senator's presidential campaign in 2004 and was a cochairman of the senatorand#8217;s presidential transition team. In 1997 and 1998, he served as the minority staff director for the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. David McKean taught at the Waterford Kamhlaba School in Swaziland from 1981andndash;1982.