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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.

"Michael Barone’s Mental Maps of the Founders focuses on this spatial sense among key members of the revolutionary generation. By ‘mental maps,’ Mr. Barone intends more than a regional affinity. He means a ‘geographical orientation’—the perspective that place confers. He argues that, for the Founders, it shaped ‘what the new nation they hoped they were creating would look like and be like.’ Mr. Barone, a distinguished journalist and political analyst, develops his theme through a series of six biographical portraits.... The Founders’ geographical visions, as Mr. Barone shows, informed their sense of how America’s distinctive regional cultures might fuse into a common whole." — Adam Rowe, The Wall Street Journal

"A rather interesting geographical and geopolitical analyses of six men from the founding generation. For all that has been written of these men, or at least almost all of them, Barone’s perspective is taken literally from the ground up. Barone demonstrates masterfully the mental mapping that both of these men applied to the new nation through domestic and foreign policy, and how their view of the world, whether in politics or economics, still affects modern Americans.... What Barone achieves in his book is a convincing argument that the Founders knew the land: its forests, hills, mountains, streams, rivers, and coastline. It was this knowledge of America’s rough terrain, its rich soil, and its climate that enabled the Founders to envision ways to defeat the nation’s enemies, sustain its population, and become an economic power. It also informed them of the importance of westward expansion as well as the importance of protecting its coasts from European powers, along with the entire Western Hemisphere." — Dustin Bass, The Epoch Times

"Mental Maps of the Founders offers valuable insight into the practical wisdom of the men who made America.... Barone is at his best when actually discussing the Founders’ fascination with geography as both an intellectual pursuit and political quantity. The book’s strongest chapters are those dedicated to the three Virginians, who, more than Barone’s other subjects, actually gave a lot of thought to maps, land, and geography.... An important reminder of the oft-neglected practical dimension of America’s creation... By showing that the Founders were worried about porous borders and scheming foreign powers—and indeed, that they shaped not just our national identity but our physical nation in response to these concerns—Michael Barone highlights the enduring relevance of the American Founding, and reminds us that it is impossible for us to understand our country as it is without considering the men who first mapped it out in their minds." — Tim Rice, Washington Free Beacon

"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

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