Nancy Isenberg is Professor of History at Louisiana State University and the author of books and articles on American politics and culture.  Isenberg teaches courses on gender, film and legal history.


Recent Works

- Madison and Jefferson

  1. -Fallen Founder

  2. -Mortal Remains

  3. -Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America

Author, Historian

Madison and Jefferson

Random House, 2010

James Madison and Thomas Jefferson were Virginia country gentlemen practicing hardball politics in a time of intolerance. Setting aside the near-mythological story of our nation’s creation, MADISON AND JEFFERSON tells an unvarnished truth, replacing the merely beautiful and high-principled with the gritty, often nasty political reality of the first decades of United States history.

As inspired allies, the third and fourth presidents set the course for permanent political partisanship as they steered in an expansionist direction. This book untangles a rich legacy, explaining how history made Jefferson into a national icon, leaving Madison a relative unknown when it was Madison who initiated the presidency of George Washington and orchestrated Jefferson's rise. In 1796, when Jefferson urged Madison, then at the height of his congressional career, to seek the presidency, Madison turned the tables on him and lured Jefferson away from the quiet of his mountaintop plantation to battle John Adams.

Rescuing the under-appreciated Madison from oversimplified portraits past, MADISON AND JEFFERSON is an intense narrative of high stakes competition that goes far in explaining why we are a politically divided people today.

Fallen Founder

Viking, 2007

Finalist for the Los Angeles Times biography prize

In historic memory, Vice President Aaron Burr is generally thought of as an “enigmatic” politician and the one “amoral” founder, whose life serves as a counter-narrative to that of supposedly greater Revolutionaries. But FALLEN FOUNDER demonstrates just how flawed the historical imagination can be.

Burr was in fact an astute politician, no better and no worse than those to whom he is compared—whether we are speaking of the man he famously killed in a duel, Alexander Hamilton, or the president under whom he served, Thomas Jefferson, who, on flimsy evidence, accused him of treason. Burr was a liberal-minded Princeton graduate. As a young volunteer, he braved Canadian snows in the Revolution, eventually rising to the positions of state attorney general and U.S. senator from New York. His competition with Hamilton arose when he defeated Hamilton’s father-in-law in their Senate race; for nearly a decade he patiently withstood Hamilton’s insults—and yet ironically it is Hamilton’s words about Burr’s alleged unfitness for office that history most often cites.

As biography, FALLEN FOUNDER does not set out to make Burr “look good,” but to see him as he was and, in doing so, do away with sloppy history.

Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America

University of North Carolina Press, 1998

Winner of the SHEAR book prize (Society for Historians of the Early American Republic), 1999

The origins of the women’s rights movement in the United States cannot be confined to the famous gathering in Seneca Falls in 1848. This book takes in the people, events, and ideas in circulation prior to and after Seneca Falls that together reflected a broad feminist critique with lasting influence.

Understanding citizenship in gendered as well as constitutional terms, early feminists fought for more than just voting rights. Politicized women saw marriage as dependency, through which the female was automatically divested of her legal capacity and at the mercy of even the most incompetent or profligate of husbands. Antebellum feminists wrote about such hot-button social issues as prostitution; they critiqued patriarchy as manifest in churches as well as in the family; they developed antiwar and antislavery opinions. In sum, they protested laws and customs that denied them what they warranted in a democratic republic: a political voice and coequality of the sexes.