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Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 17, 2000
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In retrospect, it seems as if the American Revolution was inevitable. But was it? In Founding Brothers, Joseph J. Ellis reveals that many of those truths we hold to be self-evident were actually fiercely contested in the early days of the republic.
Ellis focuses on six crucial moments in the life of the new nation, including a secret dinner at which the seat of the nation's capital was determined--in exchange for support of Hamilton's financial plan; Washington's precedent-setting Farewell Address; and the Hamilton and Burr duel. Most interesting, perhaps, is the debate (still dividing scholars today) over the meaning of the Revolution. In a fascinating chapter on the renewed friendship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson at the end of their lives, Ellis points out the fundamental differences between the Republicans, who saw the Revolution as a liberating act and hold the Declaration of Independence most sacred, and the Federalists, who saw the revolution as a step in the building of American nationhood and hold the Constitution most dear. Throughout the text, Ellis explains the personal, face-to-face nature of early American politics--and notes that the members of the revolutionary generation were conscious of the fact that they were establishing precedents on which future generations would rely.
In Founding Brothers, Ellis (whose American Sphinx won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 1997) has written an elegant and engaging narrative, sure to become a classic. Highly recommended. --Sunny Delaney
From Library Journal
Having considered Thomas Jefferson in his National Book Award winner, American Sphinx, Ellis expands his horizons to include Jefferson's "brothers," e.g., Washington, Madison, and Burr.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
The book dealt with such “behind the scenes” subjects as the reasons for the Burr-Hamilton duel, the 1790 Quaker petition to end the African slave trade, and the formulation of Washington’s Farewell Address. But, the book was highlighted by the evolution of the Jefferson -Adams relationship: from friendship, to abhorrence; and after 12 years of silence, to reconciliation. Ellis guides us through this relationship to their later years. Here, they have put aside their individual differences to reflect, clarify the record, and focus on their places in history. The book ends on a surprising note.
This book was difficult to read. In explaining and analyzing deep and subtle topics, the book’s sentences could be complex and the paragraphs lengthy. I needed to re-read some sections to grasp their meanings. But, the extra time was worth the effort.
After grabbing our attention with page-turning coverage of the famous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, Mr. Ellis focuses on the major issues the new republic faced following the establishment of the Constitution and the inauguration of the first president, George Washington. The immediate pressing issue was the financial status of the United States. With the states facing accumulated debt from the expenses of fighting the Revolutionary War, the debate centered on whether the federal government should assume the debt of the several states. Such a move was opposed by states like Virginia, which paid off its debts responsibly. In exchange for building a capital for the federal government on the Potomac, key supporters from the South agreed to a compromise. So began the accumulation of our national debt and the establishment of a site for the nation's capital of Washington D.C.
Other key issues during the time included ardent relations with France, the establishment of land and naval military forces, and the issue few chose to talk about: slavery. Mr. Ellis dedicates an entire chapter to the mindset the Founding Fathers had when dealing with one of the most polarizing issues at the time. For those of us living with 21st-century hindsight, it may seem obvious and reactionary to say that the revolutionary generation should have struck an immediate blow to the institution of slavery. However, without compromises with members of the South, the constitutional experiment would have ceased to exist. Mr. Ellis titles this chapter "The Silence," implying that the Founders decided this was the most pragmatic way to deal with the issue at the time. Unlike us, they could not foresee this issue being resolved through a civil war over seventy years down the road.
During this key moment in American history, Mr. Ellis does a remarkable job in reminding us that the Founding Fathers were living, thinking human beings who faced the unique and tough challenges that came with establishing a free republic. For readers who want to understand the often-romanticized history of the beginnings of the United States and the men who made it happen, you can't do much better than this book.
Most recent customer reviews
The way that Ellis writes is so easy to understand, and how he presents the situations in the...Read more