Founding Brothers – The Revolutionary Generation, Joseph J. Ellis

A thoroughly engaging recap of several first-string players’ roles in our nation’s early innings.  Structured around six key incidents (The Duel, The Dinner, The Silence, The Farewell, The Collaborators and the Friendship) this relatively slim volume provides a compelling picture of the interpersonal conflicts among what we today recall so monolithically as our Founding Fathers.  Profoundly divided and conflicted, as Ellis dramatically illustrates by starting out with The Duel between Hamilton and Burr and elucidating it’s root causes, it is their very differences that gave us a system which has managed to accommodate our nation’s more profound conflicts for longer than any other republic ever has.

This is neither puff piece nor hatchet job; Ellis admits flaws in even his favorites (Washington foremost, with Adams as runner-up) and virtues in those he has pegged down (Jefferson, Franklin).  Only Aaron Burr is completely dissed, as selfishly opportunistic and without values (a modern parallel comes to mind…).  The penultimate impression is as the author clearly intends: gratitude that these men (and one woman, Abigail Adams, presented as wise, tolerant and far more worldly than members of her sex were given credit for in that time) happened along at such a moment.

Clearly they alone did not create the historic circumstances for independence, many others contributed to both causes and effects, but these eight (Hamilton, Burr, Jefferson, the two Adams’s, Madison, Franklin and Washington) played crucial roles.  Over 200 years later, still we live in their shadow and their debt.

A book well-deserving of its Pulitzer.


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