I write about episodes that are not well understood yet are centrally important to America’s development as a nation. Take Aaron Burr and his Western expedition, the subject of American Emperor, Aaron Burr’s Challenge to Jefferson’s America. Too 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 activities be such a mystery?
Some spoke of Burr creating a new American empire. Others said he aimed to join a government expedition to Mexico, or to lead a frontier settlement. The truth is even more complex: the ambitious Burr — the bad boy of the Founding — organized an expedition with at least five 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. Our greatest judge, Chief Justice John Marshall, saved Burr and vindicated America’s values, yet left Burr aching for conquest. Sometimes close to delusion, his adventures were like those of no other American. The notice that I will receive the Cincinnati History Prize for 2013 from the Society of the Cincinnati stated that my selection was “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 read Madison’s notes from the Constitutional Convention, all 500-plus pages. I was knocked out by the drama, wisdom, and occasional depressing blunders of the fifty-five Framers. So I wrote The Summer of 1787. The New York Times liked it, and it hit the Washington Post bestseller list, won the Washington Writing Award for Best Book of 2007, and made several “best books” lists for 2007.
Looking for another moment when the Constitution determined the nation’s fate, I wrote Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy. My interest in impeachment began with defending 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 September 2013, Kensington Publishing will release my debut 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 uncover the truth about the Lincoln assassination. He’s joined by Speed Cook, the last black man to play major league baseball and an assertive “race man.” Fraser and Cook unearth long-neglected facts about the conspiracy, pursued by a secret organization that will stop at nothing to stop them and to preserve the Lincoln deception.
I am now working on a non-fiction project that examines the extraordinary achievements and partnerships of James Madison. Unlike most leaders, Madison had a gift for working with leaders across the ideological spectrum: Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and (of course) his wife Dolley. For thirty years, Madison stood at the center of America’s Founding, yet he fades from view in many histories. I hope to offer a new slant on this pivotal figure. I hope the book will be published in the second half of 2014.
As a trial and appellate lawyer for more than 25 years, I have defended accused criminals, challenged government actions as unconstitutional, and have 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 for the American Bar Association Journal on the Supreme Court. I write frequently on legal topics; a few of those pieces are linked on the “Other Writings” page, along with a short story that was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Opinion and commentary have appeared in the Washington Post, 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 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 a Davis-Kidd Bestseller and was called “by all means the best account of this troubled episode” by Professor David Donald of Harvard. David’s latest work is American Emperor, Aaron Burr’s Challenge to Jefferson’s America, an examination of Burr’s Western expedition, an undertaking that shook the nation’s foundations at a time when those foundations were none too solid. American Emperor was a particular basis for the Society of the Cincinnati to award David the 2013 Cincinnati History Prize. David’s debut novel, The Lincoln Deception, an historical mystery about the John Wilkes Booth Conspiracy, will be released in late August 2013. David 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.