The book, Founding Brothers, tells about the struggles of the American leaders after the revolution to establish a new government and the events that occurred during this time. Famous Americans such as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams along with their opposite points of view about the Constitution are given equal focus. The author brings to light the amazing ability of the colonies to come together, bring about change and break away from England to establish a nation built on democracy.
This story is one that every American will have a stake in, as it forms the backbone of our national history. The author of Founding Brothers is Joseph Ellis, who has degrees from Yale and the College of William and Mary. His writing centers on American history, and he won the National Book Award in 1997 for his work American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson. One of his other works is titled Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams (Ellis, 2000, title page).
Ellis goes right into the details of the debate that was fueling between the two sides in reference to the new American Constitution. He talks about James Madison who, with Alexander Hamilton, wrote the Federalist Papers. Madison was pushing for compromise on the Constitutional question and was doing his best to create a middle ground (2000, p. 52-53). Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and many of the others were already seeing a small example of the legacy they were creating, but didn’t fully understand it yet. The author points this out by saying:
Men make history, and the leading members of the revolutionary generation realized they were doing so, but they can never know the history they are making (2000, p. 4). Ellis also points out how important that the decade in which the Constitution was written was to American history. According to him, these ten years of dealing with many of the issues that face the nation set the stage for future events to come, such as the Civil War (200, p. 9-10). During the debate of the Constitutional convention, slavery was a major obstacle and one that would not be settled completely here.
The debate that took place in 1790 between those for and against slavery shows not only the struggle to create a new nation but also the fact that these leaders were considering what would happen as the nation grew and changed (200, p. 88). Another major aspect of this time period that the author addresses is the presidency of George Washington and the political divide that began to form among the nation’s leaders. Throughout his role as the first president, Washington was seen as an immortal figure that was beloved and respected.
When he decided to retire as president in 1796, he left a strict warning for those he was leaving in charge: to avoid breaking apart and political parties in taking sides against each other. He wanted the nation to be united as one, and also to have its leaders be united as well (Ellis, 2000, p. 128-129). The author gives the reader an interesting view of these major characters by providing behind the scenes details that is often opposite to the stereotypes they are seen as now.
For instance, Ellis goes into detail about George Washington’s character during his time as president. For instance, the author says: First, it is crucial to recognize that Washington’s extraordinary reputation rested less on his prudent exercise of power than on his dramatic flair and surrendering it. He was, in fact, a veritable virtuoso of exits (2000, p. 129-130). Along with relevant details about Washington’s health and personality, the reader sees a different side of this famous individual.
Throughout the entire novel, Ellis organizes the book in a way that makes it easy to follow the events that occurred right after the revolution up to the time when the Constitution was being written. He provides personal quotations and references from those involved that gives the reader a deeper understanding of how they felt and what they were thinking when living through this time. He also provides the reader with enough information on the historical events that were going on in the country that helped to frame the interactions of the founding fathers.
Founding Brothers adds to other his storable writing of this time by giving an inside view of not only the events but also the people who helped to create America during the revolutionary period. He makes it clear how certain obstacles, such as slavery, were not completely agreed upon or settled and how this affected the nation later on in its history. Ellis is able to explain both the short-term view of the founding fathers and the long-term view of the Constitution that they were trying to take.
The debates and compromises that made up the writing of the Constitution and the establishment of a new government are laid out to support these points. As a history book, this novel will give the reader a good understanding of what was going on behind the scenes as the nation was born. Its clear explanations and interesting takes on the first leaders will hold the reader’s attention throughout the book. It is a valuable addition to the many writings that have been done on the revolutionary war and the writing of the Constitution. References Ellis, Joseph. (2000). Founding Brothers. New York: Vintage Books.
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