The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington (Young Reader's Edition)

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington (Young Reader's Edition) Book Poster Image
Brits try to assassinate Washington in gripping page-turner.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Benefits a great deal from Brad Meltzer's storytelling skills in presenting a lot of historic detail in a lively narrative that leaves the reader with a much deeper understanding of issues at play -- philosophical, political, personal, lots of mundane reality -- in days leading up to Declaration of Independence and Revolutionary War. Reading level, vocabulary, and concepts may be challenging/too complex for younger readers who aren't already history buffs.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of honor, integrity, courage, loyalty, humility, and earning respect by giving it. Also clever, resourceful thinking, and adapting to the circumstances you've got rather than the ones you wish you had.

Positive Role Models & Representations

George Washington himself has strong principles, works hard to live by them, so he's especially shocked by betrayal, greed, other human failings in those he deals with, but does not sink to their level. Showing true leadership, he makes sure all his men are safe before escaping a perilous situation himself. Some of his friends and supporters show courage, loyalty, resourcefulness -- and many British are also principled, honorable, loyal to their country. Along the way, on both sides, are quite a few thieves, forgers, assassins, and assorted lowlifes.


Aside from actual plot to murder Washington and wreak quite a lot of other mayhem, there's a lot of violence, death, destruction, reflecting the historic events, not just in battle. For example, a public hanging the whole army is forced to watch.


The murderous plot first comes to light when a baker's former girlfriend, now a prostitute being "kept" by a married man, asks him to pass a coded message to the British and he takes it to Washington's officers instead. Much of Washington's army suffers from syphilis.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Washington is a man of strong principles and temperate habits, but to his chagrin and horror his ragtag army does a lot of drunken partying. Much of the plotting and spying takes place in taverns, alehouses, etc. People also drink wine and spirits in their homes (or on their ships). Bragging and plotting in drinking establishments proves the undoing of some people as story unfolds.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The First Conspiracy (Young Reader's Edition) is an adaptation of Brad Meltzer (Ordinary People Change the World) and Josh Mensch's bestselling history of a little-known plot that could have ended the American Revolution before it even began. It tells the story of how a displaced British governor plots from a ship in New York Harbor, aiming to kill George Washington and bring the revolt to a quick halt. As we all know, it didn't work, but despite knowing how it turns out, we get caught up in the excitement, the intrigue, and Washington's sense of betrayal as trusted friends turn against him. While the publisher rates this book for readers 9-12, the complexities of political intrigue, the many characters, the issues, and the vocabulary -- as well as the violence, including a scene where a man is hanged and the whole army is forced to watch -- make it best for a somewhat older reader. Also, the fact that the plot is discovered in a message a prostitute is trying to deliver to the British, coupled with mentions that much of Washington's army was suffering from syphilis, raises more mature issues.

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Kid, 12 years old January 25, 2021

Liked it but found the original a lot better.

Despite the toning down of some aspects and overall simplification of the vocabulary as well as making the story more easy to comprehend I found the young reade... Continue reading

What's the story?

In the spring of 1776, George Washington commands a ragtag, untrained, undisciplined band of rebels who, against all odds, have managed to take possession of New York City. This was much to the chagrin of the British troops stationed there, who fled to Nova Scotia and regrouped, and the British governor, who's ensconced on a ship in New York harbor and determined to get his city back with what proves to be THE FIRST CONSPIRACY against Washington and the fledgling nation. Despite Washington's best efforts to isolate Governor Tryon, the wily Brit manages to recruit allies and gather weapons anyway. Then, just as the ousted British forces set sail to attack the rebels and reclaim Manhattan, Washington learns of a secret plot to kill him and sabotage his forces. Worse, some of his nearest and dearest are in on it.

Is it any good?

This young reader's version of the bestselling history delivers a compelling, detailed narrative of fateful events in 1776. There's plenty of plotting, intrigue, and betrayal awaiting the honorable, humble General Washington. The First Conspiracy co-authors Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch delve into the investigation with terrier-like glee, bringing the era and a raft of colorful characters (heroic and otherwise) vividly to life. But the reading level, vocabulary, and concepts may be too demanding and complex for younger readers who aren't already history buffs. And, partly because we know Washington emerged safely from all this, the frequent drumbeat of suspense-building editorial commentary (à la You won't believe what happens next ...) gets a little annoying, as the story's plenty suspenseful on its own, and full of nuanced consideration of what it was like to live through these times. But in classic Meltzer fashion, this story is a strong testimonial to personal honor, virtue, and determination as essential assets in time of trouble.

"George Washington may not have been born into nobility, but he could learn to be a gentleman; he could work hard to improve himself; he could, through his character alone, earn the respect of anyone he might meet.

"Washington learned to cling fiercely to the personal ideals of honor and integrity. This way, he had something he could rely on within himself."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the American Revolution is portrayed in The First Conspiracy. What did you find especially interesting or surprising about that time that you didn't know? What other stories from the era do you know?

  • The First Conspiracy gives a vivid sense of what it's like to be going about your peaceable life when a bunch of armed ruffians announce they're the new government, you have to do what they say, and they'll kill you if you don't. Does this give you more empathy with people in today's world for which this is a daily reality?

  • Honorable people often fall victim to greed, corruption, and other bad behavior from others as they try to do the right thing. How does Washington emerge victorious from this situation? How does this compare with other stories of people faced with betrayal and plots behind their back?

Book details

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