Synopses & Reviews
For decades, the Commonwealth of Virginia led the nation. The premier state in population, size, and wealth, it produced a galaxy of leaders: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Mason, Marshall. Four of the first five presidents were Virginians. And yet by the middle of the nineteenth century, Virginia had become a byword for slavery, provincialism, and poverty. What happened? In her remarkable book, Dominion of Memories, historian Susan Dunn reveals the little known story of the decline of the Old Dominion. While the North rapidly industrialized and democratized, Virginia's leaders turned their backs on the accelerating modern world. Spellbound by the myth of aristocratic, gracious plantation life, they waged an impossible battle against progress and time itself. In their last years, two of Virginia's greatest sons, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, grappled vigorously with the Old Dominion's plight. But bound to the traditions of their native soil, they found themselves grievously torn by the competing claims of state and nation, slavery and equality, the agrarian vision and the promises of economic development and prosperity. This fresh and penetrating examination of Virginia's struggle to defend its sovereignty, traditions, and unique identity encapsulates, in the history of a single state, the struggle of an entire nation drifting inexorably toward Civil War.
For a Time the Commonwealth of Virginia led the nation. Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Marshall--each came from the state. For thirty-two of the first thirty-six years of the existence of the American republic, a Virginian held the office of President. And yet by the middle of the nineteenth century, Virginia was little more than a byword for slavery, provincialism, and poverty. What happened? In Dominion of Memories, historian Susan Dunn chronicles the precipitous decline of the nation's most promising state. While the North rapidly industrialized and democratized, Virginia lay captive to a firmly entrenched political elite that turned its back on the accelerating modern world. Two of Virginia's greatest sons, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, both observed and exemplified this divergence. Towards the end of his life, Jefferson became first and foremost a Virginian as he retreated from his earlier cosmopolitism in favor of an agrarian ideal. Madison, on the other hand, rejected this vision and warned Virginians that their burgeoning parochialism would lead ultimately to disunion. This enthralling examination of the competing claims of country and homeland encapsulates in the history of a single state the struggle of an entire nation drifting inexorably towards Civil War.
The rise and fall of the Old Dominion-the decline of Virginia and the splintering of the new republic
About the Author
Susan Dunn is Professor of Humanities at Williams College. She is the author or editor of numerous books, including Something That Will Surprise the World: The Essential Writings of the Founding Fathers; and Jeffersons Second Revolution: The Election Crisis of 1800 and the Triumph of Republicanism. She lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts.