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Blood of Tyrants: George Washington & the Forging of the Presidency

Blood of Tyrants: George Washington & the Forging of the Presidency

4.5 34
by Logan Beirne

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Blood of Tyrants reveals the surprising details of our Founding Fathers’ approach to government and this history’s impact on today. Delving into the forgotten—and often lurid—facts of the Revolutionary War, Logan Beirne focuses on the nation’s first commander in chief, George Washington, as he shaped the very meaning of the


Blood of Tyrants reveals the surprising details of our Founding Fathers’ approach to government and this history’s impact on today. Delving into the forgotten—and often lurid—facts of the Revolutionary War, Logan Beirne focuses on the nation’s first commander in chief, George Washington, as he shaped the very meaning of the United States Constitution in the heat of battle.

Key episodes illustrate how the Founders dealt with thorny wartime issues: Who decides war strategy? When should we use military tribunals over civilian trials? Should we inflict harsh treatment on enemy captives if it means saving American lives? How do we protect citizens’ rights when the nation is struggling to defend itself? Beirne finds evidence in previously-unexplored documents such as General Washington’s letters debating torture, an eyewitness account of the military tribunal that executed a British prisoner, Founders’ letters warning against government debt, and communications pointing to a power struggle between Washington and the Continental Congress.

Vivid stories from the Revolution frame Washington’s pivotal role in the drafting of the Constitution. The Founders saw the first American commander in chief as the template for all future presidents: a leader who would fiercely defend Americans’ rights and liberties against all forms of aggression.

Blood of Tyrants pulls the reader directly into the scenes, filling the void in our understanding of the presidency and our ingenious Founders’ pragmatic approach to issues we still face today.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In a briskly paced work, Beirne (Olin Scholar, Yale Law Sch.) seeks to unpack the approaches to leadership that were employed in the founding of America as he explores the wartime executive powers and actions of George Washington. Did Washington's approach to military leadership influence his—and therefore later presidents'—attitudes to the presidential role of commander in chief? Beirne divides his work into six sections exploring different aspects of Washington's practical and philosophical views and his experiences with national security issues while serving as commander of the Revolutionary forces. (In his brief introduction and epilog, he draws explicit parallels to leadership challenges in a post-9/11 world.) Beirne writes about Washington's views and actions as leader in a way that is not overly parochial or dense, but he confuses terms, such as commander in chief, which cannot apply to Washington prior to his presidency, and regularly uses anachronisms. He further goes astray by veering into hagiography, presenting questionable leaps of logic, dubious stock characterizations of historical figures, and a general portrait of Washington as an infallible figure of perpetual and unquestionable wisdom, a characterization lacking nuance and detracting from Beirne's central narrative and conclusions. VERDICT This flawed study of Washington can only be recommended to those with a strong interest in studying the military leadership and history of the Revolutionary War period.—Ben Neal, Sullivan Cty. P.L., Bristol, TN
From the Publisher

"[T]here is almost no tale told of the Revolution that does not find its way into 'Blood of Tyrants,' provided it is juicy enough."

Wall Street Journal

“Gripping. Relevant. Revolutionary. This page-turning historical thriller is packed with fresh factual narratives that draw the reader into the scenes to show how the United States earned its stripes. The wisdom of 1776 was never more crucial than today.”

Amy Chua, Yale Law School professor and best-selling author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Day of Empire, and World on Fire

"In this fast-paced narrative, Logan Beirne vividly explains something every American should know, but which few of us really understand. Blood of Tyrants is a lively account of how George Washington's service as wartime commander-in-chief of the Continental Army cemented our commitment to the principle of civilian supremacy, yet also laid the basis for the presidency that the Constitutional Convention created only a few years after Washington resigned his command. It is both a great read, and deeply informative."

Jack N. Rakove, American historian, author, professor at Stanford University, and Pulitzer Prize winner.

"[T]he important political lessons of the past are given a fresh new perspective. . . . Beirne’s genealogical and personal interest in history, politics and the military makes for an enjoyable read."

Washington Times

“What can we learn about America’s proper comportment in today’s dirty wars from a long-dead, white male, slave-owning aristocrat of the 18th century? A lot, it turns out. Logan Beirne’s paean to Washington’s wartime wisdom and belief in constitutional government is a timely, insightful, and much-needed reminder of why America does best at war when it honors rather than erodes its founding principles.”

Victor Davis Hanson, senior fellow in classics and military history at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, and author of Carnage and Culture and A War Like No Other

“What are the constitutional powers of the president in time of war? Do his war powers grant him authority to establish military tribunals, torture enemy prisoners, and override Congress in the determination of military strategy and operations? As Logan Beirne demonstrates in this fresh and stimulating history of the American Revolution, Commander-in-Chief George Washington confronted these questions and established precedents that have continued to shape presidential war powers down to our own time.”

James McPherson, Princeton University professor emeritus, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom, and best-selling author of Crossroads of Freedom

“There was more to the founders than noble sentiments and fine words–they were revolutionaries, who fought for and won America’s freedom on bloody battlefields. Blood of Tyrants tells this gritty story smartly and compellingly –and plumbs it for practical lessons for the toughest issues of our times.”

Adam Cohen, Time Magazine journalist and author of Nothing to Fear: FDR’s Inner Circle

“Blood of Tyrants strips away the fantasy and lays bare the violence and political intrigue needed for the American Revolution to succeed. Lurid, horrifying, scandalous. I could not put it down.”

William Eskridge Jr., Yale Law School professor, author of The Republic of Statutes, and descendant of George Eskridge, the godfather of George Washington

“This myth-defying book tells how our first commander in chief dealt with the hard issues of war, including military commissions, the rights of Americans, and the interference of Congress. Those who want an unvarnished account of how a great leader handled nasty and messy problems of war: prepare to be shocked, amazed, and educated.”

Hon. Michael W. McConnell, Stanford Law School professor, director of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center, and former federal judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

Product Details

Encounter Books
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Meet the Author

Logan Beirne is an Olin Scholar at Yale Law School. Prior to this appointment, Logan practiced as an attorney with the law firm of Sullivan&Cromwell in New York City and was a Fulbright Scholar at Queen’s University. He received his JD from Yale Law School, where he was a Coker Fellow and awarded the Edgar M. Cullen Prize for his constitutional scholarship. Logan has served on the boards of directors for multiple charities and is admitted to the New York and Connecticut Bars.

Logan’s passion for the Revolution is in his blood—he is directly descended from Revolutionary War patriots and his family tree includes the “Father of the Constitution,” James Madison. Some of Washington’s papers were discovered in Logan’s ancestor’s storage chest.

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Blood of Tyrants: George Washington & the Forging of the Presidency 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
Kory_Langhofer More than 1 year ago
Blood of Tyrants is scandalous and exciting, full of sensational Founding Era stories you've never heard before--all painting George Washington in a new light. Any reader with an interest in the Founding Fathers, or war powers and the role of the President, will be very glad to read this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Logan Beirne has a wonderful felicity with language, as is fitting for a book studying an era known for its florid prose.  Each paragraph in BLOOD OF TYRANTS springs to life with vivid vocabulary and an energetic attitude.  Yet at the same time, Logan's language and his selection of colorful anecdotes all illustrate important points about Washington's style as a leader and general.  Moreover, legal scholars will find the book a useful reference point for a founding-era vision of the "Commander in Chief" concept and clause.  Aficionados of the Revolution, members of the George Washington fan club, and national-security originalists will all find the book a worthwhile and entertaining read.
GregDolin More than 1 year ago
Well written, clearly presented, fascinating view of the history of our founding. This is not your usual boring and dry history book. The events come to life, but more importantly they illuminate the answers to the very questions we are continuing to ask today as the country continue to face both internal and external threats. A treat both for serious scholars and anyone simply interested in a gripping true story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A must-read for anyone who savors history or modern politics. And this well-written book is so funny and engaging, it will hold the interest of someone who doesn't typically read history (think juicy tales of torture, scandal and political intrigue with none of the dryness that too often accompanies such serious topics). The revelations in this book are highly relevant to contemporary debate and will surely have a major impact on the way we view the presidency.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Logan Beirne's masterful work Blood of Tyrants first raises and then answers a crucially important question for understanding the nature of presidential authority -- What Would George Washington Do? Relying on a rich stock of primary source materials, Logan takes his readers on a thought-provoking and highly relevant journey back to the American Founding. George Washington was undoubtedly the model of presidential authority at the time the Constitution was drafted. The precedents he set -- both politically and militarily -- are pertinent to many of the challenges we face today. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in fully grasping the lasting legacy of George Washington's tenure as commander-in-chief.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Every once in, a book comes along that challenges the reader or scholar to think beyond the confined years of the subject and consider its lasting impact. Logan Beirne has presented us with such a book in Blood of Tyrants: George Washington & the Forging of the Presidency. Washington has had a well examined life, if one considers the sheer amount of volumes on his life and Presidency. And one could be forgiven if they have begun to become wearisome at the many pedestrian biographies that fill the bookstore shelves. This is definitely not your usual book on Washington- this is so much more. Beirne is not giving the reader a chronological biography or even an overview of Washington at war. What he does is provide a much needed volume that connects Washington’s experiences and growth during the Revolutionary War and connects them not only to the creation of the office of Presidency (the Founders had modeled the office on GW), but also underlines how Washington is still relevant today. Beirne presents Washington’s experiences (and in some cases inexperience) as our first military commander-in-chief in a different and candid way. The author strips away the marble from the statuesque Washington that most people are familiar with- distant and cold, a kind of demi-god who helped to shape our country. Within the pages of the book we have a more realistic and immediate man, a man of duty and character, but of heart and passion. We see Washington as he dealt with bickering civic leaders, troubling bureaucracies, spies and even betrayal. We are able to observe him deal with the real problems and tragedies of war. The readers witness the messy problems, the impossible choices, the tragedies of the Revolution as well as the triumphs. We learn more about how Washington navigated both the politics and the realities of “boots-on-the-ground” warfare and how it impacted the people of the country. Then the book presents how Washington shaped the office of the President and established precedents that still have ramifications today. Beirne makes an excellent case for considering not just the intent, but the actual experiences and decisions of Washington and the Founders in terms of better understanding the Constitution. Ultimately, Beirne challenges the reader to consider today’s violent and difficult world in light of the world of the Founders – and to see that perhaps we not only seek the same answers and solutions, but also the same quality and character of our leaders. As a History instructor, I was intrigued by the nature of the organization of the book – as it took Washington and his experiences topically. It would be an asset to include several chapters, if not the whole book, as reading for an American Revolution, Constitutional History or even Political Science course. In my experience, I assigned a segment of the book for one evening’s class that sparked a long discussion on the nature of the Presidency, precedents in office, Washington’s experiences and his farewell advice to the American people. It isn’t often that I am able to do that with a segment of a book as the average non-history major doesn’t often like navigating texts or dry academic history. The secret is that no one really enjoys the banalities of dry academic writing- students and instructors prefer excellent and engaging academic writing. And Beirne’s style is just that; engaging, crisp and enjoyable just to read. This book is a worthy addition to any library and is a must for the shelf of any historian, history buff, constitutional scholar, or anyone with an interest not only in American history, but also those with an interest in America’s future. Blood of Tyrants: George Washington & the Forging of the Presidency is highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Blood of Tyrants is truly a fantastic read. The depth and detail with which Beirne describes everything from the battle scenes to the mistresses of the British generals is terrific, and the chapter takeaways comparing key issues to what Americans are experiencing today were outstanding. A must read of any American History buff.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Logan Beirne's book Blood of Tyrant paints a vivid and refreshing picture of the American Revolution. He ask an obvious, yet often overlooked, question of what would our founding father's do? And not just any founding father, but the father of our country, the commanding general of the revolutionary army and our first president... Mr. Beirne frames the question along modern day events and  forces the reader to think of the precedents George Washington established that have continue to shape presidential war powers today. The book is well written and researched and provides a long list of amazing sources. 1400 Footnotes! I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anybody interested in George Washington, presidential war powers, the American Revolution or if you just want to read a book on the beach.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Bloody of Tyrants" is a fantastic and timely study of the first Commander in Chief, George Washington. While new and interesting books about the Founders seem to appear with some frequency, this is the first one I have read that focuses exclusively on Washington--not just the General, but--the Commander in Chief. Given the importance and, frankly, vagueness of that term in Article II of the Constitution, Beirne's study is invaluable for those who seek a fuller understanding what the Framers themselves meant by that term when included it in the Constitution, and how the American people at the Founding understood it when they voted to ratify it. What really makes "Blood of Tyrants" a great read, though, is the fact that it's actually a great read. Beirne doesn't just serve up a dry helping of originalist history: he tells a compelling story about the first President. Fascinating historical color is peppered throughout the book. In turn he revises and augments the historical legends we've come to know about Washington. This is the rare book that is both highly informative and a lot of fun. I highly recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read!  This book really delves into the history of our nation in a way most other books do not. It gives one a better understanding of the principles and tenets on which our nation was built. Very entertaining.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Required nonfiction book for every American! Excellent writing!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
amybooksy More than 1 year ago
Blood of Tyrants tells of our Founding Fathers' government and how it relates to our government today. I admire the author's research he had to do for this book. I did find it to be interesting, eye opening, and educating. If you want to know more about our Founding Fathers, this is the book for you. 4 stars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Such a good read!  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Surprising, exciting, and insightful!  Just had to buy several copies.  A must-read for my history loving grandparents.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a read! I bought this book as a Christmas present for my brother and started flipping through it before wrapping. I could not put it down! I am not typically into history, but this book made serious topics into a compelling narrative! 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent read.  A must read.  Historic, full of facts, and entertaining. I definitely  enjoyed tis book and recommended.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not for him...Ran back to camp.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a book to be reckoned with. Reading this stirs up all one's lost interest in governmental history without the boredom that went with it. His writing style is lively, fluid and factual without being sterile. His descriptions draw vivid images of our forefathers hard at work freeing themselves from British rule, but not in the way our high school textbooks describe it. This Revolutionary War is fraught with unique and interesting descriptive anecdotes and side notes. It's like going back to History class but with a twist - this history is fun, relevant, and has a direct impact on modern day politics. Blood of Tyrants shows you why George Washington is often referred to as the "Father of Our Country." Without George Washington, there would be no Constitution, no independence from British rule, no Union. Additionally important, what does it really mean to be "Commander in Chief?" How it began with the election of George Washington to the Presidency and how it relates in our contemporary government today. Interestingly enough, General Howe's concubine was responsible for George Washington's eventual success in battle, and Mary's wine helped save Army troops from slaughter. There is a real significance at West Point in the making of history as the first fort. While these are all unique reasons to read Beirne's Blood of Tyrants, more than that, the reader will get a new education from his "inside looking out" version of the founding of America. I particularly found interesting his description of George Washington, along with our other forefathers, both physically and intellectually. It changed my opinion of what I had previously understood about them. You will also enjoy reading about the formation of the Continental Congress and the "fly on the wall" look at their approach to drafting the first Constitution of the United States of America. The description of the sacrificial lamb that provided the parchment for the first drafting of the Supreme Law of the Land, the Constitution that the initial Delegates signed, really brings home the importance of what our Constitution truly stands for. When and why was it really drafted? What you thought you knew will quickly fade and a new found knowledge will take its place. I truly enjoyed this book, and for those who enjoy historical reading, this is it! And, even if you think you don't, it will change your mind.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read nearly every book about the Founding Fathers, and this book stands out. Beirne has a unique talent of weaving together a gripping narrative, while offering the reader a treasure trove of knowledge. I would highly recommend this book to all students of history, and those who want to know how our Republic was establshed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Every historical text book should read like this. The in depth historical value brings forth lesser known facts of our nations first leader. This book makes young understand why the American People wanted George Washington to be that leader.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent book, USA citizen must read.
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