Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation
Joseph J. Ellis
In this landmark work of history, the National Book Award—winning author of American Sphinx explores how a group of greatly gifted but deeply flawed individuals–Hamilton, Burr, Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, Adams, and Madison–confronted the overwhelming challenges before them to set the course for our nation.
The United States was more a fragile hope than a reality in 1790. During the decade that followed, the Founding Fathers–re-examined here as Founding Brothers–combined the ideals of the Declaration of Independence with the content of the Constitution to create the practical workings of our government. Through an analysis of six fascinating episodes–Hamilton and Burr’s deadly duel, Washington’s precedent-setting Farewell Address, Adams’ administration and political partnership with his wife, the debate about where to place the capital, Franklin’s attempt to force Congress to confront the issue of slavery and Madison’s attempts to block him, and Jefferson and Adams’ famous correspondence–Founding Brothers brings to life the vital issues and personalities from the most important decade in our nation’s history.
to extend his hand across the gap that existed between Quincy and Monticello, then write more than two letters for every one of Jefferson’s? Two overlapping but competing answers come to mind. First, there was a good deal of unfinished business between the two men, a clear recognition on both sides that they had come to fundamentally different conclusions about what the American Revolution meant. Adams believed that Jefferson’s version of the story, while misguided, was destined to dominate the
ominous charges that the whole assumption proposal was a plot to lure the states into some Faustian bargain in which they lost the political semblance of childlike innocence, an innocence in fact already abandoned, wisely so, when the Constitution was ratified. Assumption was not a plot to destroy the political integrity of the states; it was a plan to consolidate their debts and nationalize the economy for the benefit of all. Hamilton simply took it for granted that the new government created by
prepared with their response, which turned out to be the fullest public exposition of the proslavery position yet presented in the United States. In fact, virtually every argument that southern defenders of slavery would mount during the next seventy years of the national controversy, right up to the eve of the Civil War, came gushing forth over the next two days.31 Jackson spoke first and held the floor for about two hours. He could not believe that a dignified body of sober-minded legislators
during the most vulnerable early years of the republic. Similarly, America’s emergence as the dominant world power in the 1940s could never have occurred if the United States had not established stable national institutions at the start that permitted the consolidation of the continent. (From the Native American perspective, of course, this consolidation was a conquest.) The apparently irresistible urge to capitalize and mythologize as “Founding Fathers” the most prominent members of the
spent the remainder of his life trying vainly and in his foggy style to explain. In truth, he had simply allowed himself to get caught engaging in the same talk that Jefferson was conveying to friends and Monroe was sputtering out loud to anyone in Paris who would listen. The notion that a diabolical conspiracy of moneymen and monarchists had seized control of the federal government under Washington’s very nose was so widespread within Virginia’s political elite that they had lost all perspective