January 8, 2019
First Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer
brings to life a spy thriller that actually happened.
This non-fiction historical mystery delves into a plot
to assassinate General George Washington, exposing the
spies, killers, counterfeiters, and traitors and how
those in the still-forming government addressed the
is Meltzer's first non-fiction book, written with writer
and documentary producer Josh
Mensch. It tells of a hidden event that took place
during the most critical period of America's birth.
The heart of the book takes place after Washington's
arrival into New York City in early 1776. After having
to flee to a British ship docked in New York's harbor,
the Governor of New York, a Loyalist, William Tryon
devises a treacherous plan to kill the US General. He
enlists the help of the city's mayor, David Mathews,
and some in the civilian population that has divided
loyalties and shifting allegiances. All are willing
to sacrifice their devotion to the highest bidder.
by these rumors Washington decides to assemble an elite
band of soldiers, the Life Guards, to protect him. In
addition, he along with another Founding Father John
Jay established the secret Committee of Intestine Enemies,
designed to uncover the traitors, learn their plans,
and stop them. The clandestine operations showed how
Jay regarded the importance of counter-intelligence,
and the Life Guards can be considered the precursor
to the Secret Service.
a non-fiction story, it reads like a spy novel with
a sense of immediacy and peril. Readers will be astonished
that this "First Conspiracy," was but a footnote
in American history until now when the authors bring
it to the forefront.
Cooper: How did you find out about the story?
Meltzer: I discovered the story a decade ago. I
wondered if the secret plot to kill George Washington
was real or nonsense. After looking into it, I found
it was true and was blown away by it. I even went to
the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian
Joseph Ellis who knew of the story. He told
me it was ‘A true mystery that very few Americans
know,' and that it might be tricky to research. This
is an amazing rabbit hole to jump down.
Grand Central / Hachette
Cooper: Why not write it as a fictional thriller?
I did use it in one of my thrillers, The President's
Shadow. There is a page where I mentioned the exact
plot. But, I wanted to do more with this incredible
story. After five years it was still in my brain, so
I knew I had to write a book about it. Usually, I would
take some real detail and expand on it. But this was
all real and so very fascinating.
You also break some of the myths about the early years
of the Revolutionary War?
The myth says we were a ragtag army who held hands and
came together to defeat the powerful English. But in
fact, we were not unified but acted just like today.
For example, our Massachusetts regiment hated our Connecticut
regiment who hated our Virginia regiment. They were
all different with dissimilar beliefs and customs, including
wearing different uniforms. I show this in an amazing
scene in the book. Someone from the Virginia regiment
meets someone from the Massachusetts regiment who starts
to make fun of the Virginia uniform. A fight breaks
out until George Washington rides on his horse and picks
them up, emphasizing the need for a team. If ever there
was a metaphor for where we are as a culture there it
was. He helped build the United States by holding us
together. The book delves into getting rid of the myth
that we were all together and shows how hard fought
it was to get us together.
Do you think Washington's leadership helped bring us
He knew if there was no discipline there was going to
be problems. He wanted the men not to gamble, drink,
or fight amongst each other. Just look at the Battle
of Brooklyn where we got our butts kicked. The British
outfought us, had better training, and better experience.
What Washington did was adapt. In the middle of the
night, he plotted that daring escape on the East River.
He refused to get into any boat until all the troops
were rescued. I think that was one of the defining moments
where we came together.
How would you describe Washington?
He never gave up. The one word that exemplifies him:
honor, honor, honor. He had integrity, humility, and
would put others before himself. What we are missing
today is a leader who finds more of what we had in common
than what separates us, something Washington did best.
He is a doer who had a depth of character.
How would you describe John Jay?
He created a secret organization within our government
that came out of the plot to kill Washington. He is
an incredible investigator who did interrogations to
collect information. He actually built a counter-intelligence
operation by using civilians to ferret out information
about the traitors. He built an entire system for the
government to protect itself. I call him the original
How would you describe the British
General William Tryon?
He is an evildoer. As a villain, he could come out of
any of my thrillers. There is a scene in the book where
he and Washington enter New York at the same time. All
the people were cheering Washington and not him.
What is the theme?
Leadership, loyalty, and the harm betrayal does. It
is summed up in the final sentence of the book, "In
our lowest moments we always find our greatest strengths."
President Bush wrote a blurb-was this recent?
It was about a year ago. What is very special to me
is that he wrote about our first President, while he
was our oldest living President. He wrote, "A wonderful
book about leadership-and it shows why George
Washington and his moral lessons are just
as vital today. What a book. You'll love it." This
is a book about everything President
Bush did, including counter-intelligence
since he was also the CIA Director. I considered him
a dear friend.
to Thank Brad Meltzer for joining us at MyShelf.com!