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Mental Maps of the Founders

How Geographic Imagination Guided America’s Revolutionary Leadership


Michael Barone (View Bio)
Hardcover: Encounter Books, 2023.

Mental Maps of the Founders

The Founding Fathers were men of high intellect, steely integrity, and enormous ambition—but they were not all of one mind. They came from particular places in already diverse colonies, and they all sought their futures in different horizons. Without reliable maps of even nearby terrain, they contributed in different, and sometimes conflicting, ways to the expansion of a young republic on the seaboard edge of a continent of whose vast expanses they were largely ignorant.
Mental Maps of the Founders explores the geographic orientation—the mental maps—of six of the Founders. Three were Virginians, who vied to expand their new nation toward different points of the compass. One, a refugee from Puritan Boston to more tolerant Philadelphia, built a commercial and journalistic empire spanning seaboard colonies and the West Indies. Two came from buzzing commercial entrepots of glaringly different character, the sugar-and-slave island of St. Croix in the Caribbean and the stern Swiss Calvinistic city-state of Geneva. These disparate origins informed their foundation and management of a financial and taxation system that enabled the new republic’s commerce to thrive.
Inspired by the many wonderful books about the Founding Fathers, the journalist, map lover, and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics Michael Barone set out to explore the geographical orientation—the mental maps—of the Founders. In a series of reflective essays, Barone shows how the Founders’ mental maps helped develop the contours and character of a young republic whose geographical features and political boundaries were yet unknown.

"A new and ingenious approach to understanding the thinking of the Founders. No one has ever emphasized the geographical awareness of the Founders in quite the way Barone has. A very readable and intriguing book." — Gordon S. Wood, author of Power and Liberty: Constitutionalism in the American Revolution