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From a small expanse of land on the North American continent came four of the nation's first five presidents—a geographic dynasty whose members led a revolution, created a nation, and ultimately changed the world. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe were friends and rivals, they led in securing independence, hammering out the United States Constitution, and building a working republic. But even as Virginians advanced Enlightenment values like liberty, equality, and human possibility, they held people in slavery and were slaveholders when they died. Taking full measure of strengths and failures in the personal as well as the political lives of the men of the Virginia Dynasty, Cheney offers a concise and original exploration of how the United States came to be.