The distinguished historian Willard Sterne Randall will discuss his new book The Founders' Fortunes, an illuminating financial history of the Founding Fathers, revealing how their personal finances shaped the Constitution and the new nation.
In 1776, upon the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Founding Fathers concluded America’s most consequential document with a curious note, pledging “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” Lives and honor did indeed hang in the balance, yet just what were their fortunes? How much did the Founders stand to gain or lose through independence? And what lingering consequences did their respective financial stakes have on liberty, justice, and the fate of the fledgling United States of America?
In this landmark account, historian Willard Sterne Randall investigates the private financial affairs of the Founders, illuminating like never before how and why the Revolution came about. The Founders’ Fortunes uncovers how these leaders waged war, crafted a constitution, and forged a new nation influenced in part by their own financial interests. In an era where these very issues have become daily national questions, the result is a remarkable and insightful new understanding of our nation’s bedrock values.
Willard Sterne Randall is a Distinguished Scholar in History and Professor Emeritus at Champlain College. Prior to academia, he worked for seventeen years as an investigative reporter—during which he garnered the National Magazine Award, the Hillman Prize, the Loeb Award, and the John Hancock Prize—eventually pursuing advanced studies in history at Princeton University. As a biographer and lecturer, he specializes in the history of the Founding Era.
“The adage ‘follow the money’ was as true in the Revolutionary era as in our own. By examining the dollars-and-cents (or pounds-and-pence) side of events, Willard Sterne Randall offers a refreshing perspective on the nation’s founding. Translating values into our own currency gives us an appreciation of, for example, Ben Franklin’s $110,000 salary (in today’s dollars) as postmaster general; or Martha Custis’ nearly $4 million fortune when she married George Washington; to say nothing of the staggering British national debt of $20 trillion. The Founders’ Fortunes is an eminently readable book with the sharp vignettes and incisive character portraits that bring history to life.”—Jack Kelly, author of Valcour: The 1776 Campaign That Saved the Cause of Liberty
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