I write about episodes that are not well understood yet are centrally important to America’s development as a nation. My most recent book on James Madison — Madison’s Gift: Five Partnerships That Built America – fits that model. Look at all of Madison’s amazing achievements, including his work on the Constitution, writing the Federalist Papers, creating the Bill of Rights, founding America’s first political party, supervising the Louisiana Purchase, and leading the nation as its first war president in the War of 1812. Yet he’s often ignored in favor of larger, noisier figures, in large part because he tended to work with others toward common goals without worrying about who got the credit. That gift for partnership — with Hamilton, Washington, Jefferson, Monroe, and his wife Dolley — made him a very different kind of leader and one with much to teach Americans today. In November, the National Society of Colonial Dames of America presented me the William H. Prescott Award for Excellence in Historical Writing, for the book.
Then there’s Aaron Burr and his Western expedition, the subject of American Emperor: Aaron Burr’s Challenge to Jefferson’s America. Many wrote of Burr’s Western expeditions after he left the vice presidency in 1804 with a verbal shrug – “ whatever he was up to.” That intrigued me. Burr almost took the presidency from Thomas Jefferson and killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, a story the New York Times was still covering 207 years later. How could his actions be such a mystery? The truth is complex: Burr — the bad boy of the Founding — organized an expedition with many possible outcomes, only to be thwarted by enemies and disastrous luck. He landed in a Richmond courtroom, facing the gallows on treason charges inspired by his nemesis, Jefferson. Chief Justice John Marshall saved Burr’s hide yet left him aching for conquest. The Society of the Cincinnati awarded me their History Prize for 2013 “based on your body of work with particular emphasis on American Emperor.”
My law practice drew me to my first book, The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution. While briefing a case to the Supreme Court, I was knocked out by Madison’s notes from the Constitutional Convention, all 500-plus pages. There was drama, wisdom, and occasional depressing blunders. So I wrote The Summer of 1787. The New York Times liked it, and it hit the Washington Post bestseller list and won the Washington Writing Award for Best Book of 2007.
Looking for another moment when the nation’s fate turned on the Constitution, I wrote Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy. I had defended Judge Walter Nixon in his Senate impeachment trial in 1989. After the Civil War, America’s challenges were immense. How to heal the wounds left by a murderous war, yet protect four million freed slaves? Andrew Johnson, a stubborn racist, fumbled those daunting challenges. The Radical Republicans, fiercely led by Thaddeus Stevens, fought to defend the freedmen’s rights by driving Johnson from office, producing an impeachment trial in which there were no winners. The book explores evidence of bribery in the Senate vote. It received gratifying reviews and made several bestseller lists.
In late August 2013, Kensington Books released my first novel. The Lincoln Deception explores the secrets behind the John Wilkes Booth conspiracy. In 1900, Dr. Jamie Fraser of Cadiz, Ohio hears a deathbed confession from the man who prosecuted the Booth conspirators, then sets off to find the truth about the Lincoln assassination. He’s joined by Speed Cook, the last black man in big league baseball and an assertive “race man.” Fraser and Cook unearth long-neglected facts while pursued by a secret organization that aims to preserve the Lincoln deception. Publishers Weekly has called it “an impressive debut novel.” The Wilson Deception, a sequel set at the Paris Peace Conference at the end of World War I and featuring the same main characters, was released in late September, 2015. Publishers Weekly said of it that “Stewart deftly depicts the mood of an era and the colorful figures who shaped it.”
As a trial and appellate lawyer for more than 25 years, I defended accused criminals, challenged government actions as unconstitutional, and argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. My writing life began as a reporter for the Staten Island Advance and included a decade of monthly columns on the Supreme Court for the American Bar Association Journal . Other writings, a few of which are linked on the “Other Writings” page of this website, include a short story that was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Opinion and commentary have appeared in the Washington Post and its Sunday Magazine, on the Echoes page of Bloomberg View, History News Network, Military History Quarterly, and American Heritage.
I also head the Washington Independent Review of Books, which posts new reviews and book-related content daily. Please check it out — www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com.
SHORT FORM BIO, FOR SPEAKER INTRODUCTIONS:
After practicing law for many years, David O. Stewart began to write history, too. His first book, The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution, was a Washington Post bestseller and won the Washington Writing Award as Best Book of 2007. Two years later, Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy, was called “by all means the best account of this troubled episode” by Professor David Donald of Harvard. The Society of the Cincinnati awarded David its 2013 History Prize for American Emperor, Aaron Burr’s Challenge to Jefferson’s America, an examination of Burr’s Western expedition, which shook the nation’s early foundations. The Lincoln Deception, an historical mystery about the John Wilkes Booth Conspiracy, was released in late August 2013. Bloomberg View called it the best historical novel of the year, while Publishers Weekly said it was an “impressive debut novel.” Madison’s Gift: Five Partnerships That Built America, was released in February, 2015. The Washington Post called it a portrait “rich in empathy and understanding” by “an acknowledged master of narrative history.” His second novel, The Wilson Deception, set at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, was released in late September, 2015. The Washington Post called it ““Another terrific Fraser and Cook mystery [with] a tight, clever finish, worthy of a vintage spy caper or 007’s own playbook.” In November, David received the William H. Prescott Award for excellence in historical writing from the National Society of Colonial Dames of America. He also is president of the Washington Independent Review of Books, an online book review.
Lippincott Massie McQuilkin, New York City
News from Maryland’s finest public official, Nancy Floreen (also my wife), can be found at http://nancyfloreen.blogspot.com. And updates about the real writing talent in the family can be found at my son’s website, www.matt-stewart.com. Matt Stewart’s novel, The French Revolution, was long-listed for the 2011 Indies Choice awards and was listed as a Best Book of 2010 by the San Francisco Chronicle.