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The plot to make a nation

In American Creation (Alfred A. Knopf, 2007, 283 pages), Joseph J. Ellis described crucial stages in the formation of the United States, from the Declaration of Independence to the Constitutional Convention to the development of political parties. The result, he writes, is “the triumph of representative government bottomed on the principle of popular sovereignty, a market economy fueled by the energies of unfettered citizens, a secular state unaffiliated with any official religion, and the rule of law that presumed the equality of all citizens.”

Now, in The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789 (Alfred A. Knopf, 290 pages, $27.95), he...