Sunday, February 3, 2008

Book review: Founding Brothers by Ellis

TitleFounding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation
AuthorJoseph J. Ellis
Tagsnon-fiction, revolutionary era, john adams, george washington, thomas jefferson, alexander hamilton, slavery, union.
Your reviewEllis has written an entertaining as well as educational book. It takes an unusual form. He takes a verbal snapshot of six moments in time, then filled in the context for that event. That context is necessary... most of us have an insufficient view of the past, thinking we know it better than we do, and looking from our current lens. The most important part of the context we need to understand now is how fragile the US seemed to that first generation. Rightly or wrongly, they saw many issues as having the potential to end the Revolutionary experiment. Ellis calls his chapter on slavery "The Silence". The moment in time was debate in Congress in 1790 over Quaker anti-slave trade petitions. The main upshot was an agreement to not discuss the issue, as it seemed the main issue that would fracture the Republic. And Ellis makes a good case that financially and socially there probably wasn't a workable solution.

Other chapters cover the Hamilton-Burr duel in 1804, Washington's Farewell Address, a dinner with Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison that helped cement a solution on the federal assumption of state debt and the settlement of the nation's capitol on the Potomac, the 1796 Presidential election, and the tumultuous friendship between Adams and Jefferson.

There are wonderful character studies along the way... Hamilton, Burr, Madison, Washington, and most especially Adams and Jefferson. This is the history I love, the stories of people, as well as forces, and how they interplay.

Wonderful book, highly recommended.
PublicationVintage (2002), Paperback, 304 pages
Publication date2002
ISBN0375705244 / 9780375705243

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