Dominion of Memories: Jefferson, Madison and the Decline of Virginia

by Susan Dunn



-Basic Books, 2007

“Virginia at the time of the Revolution was the most powerful state in the Union, producing many of the Founders of the new nation. Over the next several decades how could it have fallen so far so fast? In this remarkable work of history, Susan Dunn has related this tragic decline with a cold eye and clear prose.”—Gordon S. Wood, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Radicalism of the American Revolution and Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different

“This is a tragic tale of Virginia's decline between the American Revolution and the Civil War, from a bastion of political brilliance to a backwater of lost causes. Dunn tells the story with impressive command of the scholarship, a lyrical style, and a rich sense of irony.”— Joseph J. Ellis, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Founding Brothers and His Excellency: George Washington

“Susan Dunn has written a highly readable account of the long road that brought Virginia to secession. Informed by her own commitment to civil virtues, Dominion of Memories will give the reading public a fresh understanding of Jefferson, Madison and the Civil War they were unable to avert.”—Joyce Appleby, author of Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans and Thomas Jefferson

Senator Tim Kaine on Susan Dunn's book, August 2, 2016

Read the Review in Harvard Magazine, March/April, 2008

Read the Review in the Virginia Gazette, June 20, 2007

Read Feature Article in American Heritage

Read the Review in the The New York Times, September 16, 2007

Read the Column in the The Washington Post

Read the Review in the Virginian Pilot, Norfolk, VA., November 4, 2007

“Susan Dunn has brought us an absorbing, poignant and well argued account of how Virginia lost its place at the epicenter of American leadership.”—Michael Beschloss, author of Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789-1989.

For decades, the Commonwealth of Virginia led the nation. The premier state in population, size, and wealth, it produced a galaxy of leaders: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Mason, Marshall. Four of the first five presidents were Virginians. And yet by the middle of the nineteenth century, Virginia had become a byword for slavery, provincialism, and poverty. What happened?  

In her remarkable book, Dominion of Memories , historian Susan Dunn reveals the little known story of the decline of the Old Dominion. While the North rapidly industrialized and democratized, Virginia's leaders turned their backs on the accelerating modern world. Spellbound by the myth of aristocratic, gracious plantation life, they waged an impossible battle against progress and time itself.

In their last years, two of Virginia's greatest sons, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, grappled vigorously with the Old Dominion's plight. But bound to the traditions of their native soil, they found themselves grievously torn by the competing claims of state and nation, slavery and equality, the agrarian vision and the promises of economic development and prosperity.

This fresh and penetrating examination of Virginia's struggle to defend its sovereignty, traditions, and unique identity encapsulates, in the history of a single state, the struggle of an entire nation drifting inexorably toward Civil War.

“By focusing intently on the stresses within a single state, Dunn's is an admirable guide to those perplexed by the eventual sundering of the entire Union.”—Publishers Weekly (3/26/07)

“A lucid, provocative work of historical inquiry…”—Kirkus Reviews (4/1/07)