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The First Conspiracy
The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington
Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch
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Flatiron Books
January 8, 2019/ ISBN 9781250130334
Nonfiction / Biography / History

Reviewed by  Elise Cooper

The 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 this plot.

"I wrote this story because it fascinated me and there is little knowledge about it. 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."

This 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 have divided loyalties and shifting allegiances. All are willing to sacrifice their devotion to the highest bidder.

Shocked 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.

Meltzer noted, "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 American Badass. Both he and Washington displayed leadership, loyalty, and knew of the harm betrayal does. The final sentence of the book sums everything up, "In our lowest moments we always find our greatest strengths."

Although 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.

Reviewed 2019