By Joseph J. Ellis
What a treat! Joseph Ellis unveils the unique and often ignored nuances of the American Revolution in Founding Brothers. The writer provides a penetrating look into the interesting interlocking lives of John Adams (along with keen insights into Abigail), Aaron Burr, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington.
Ellis neither deifies nor vilifies our founding fathers. He presents an unvarnished, respectful, and at times critical view of those who fought for (and occasionally with each other) for the early republic.
We witness the wily Burr ("like a balloon, filled with inflammable air"), the enigmatic Jefferson ("Herculean powers of self-denial"), a brilliant but self-aggrandizing Hamilton ("intended to make the New Army his personal instrument of power"), the fiery Adams ("the only meaningful kind of conversation was an argument"), the famous Franklin ("What Voltaire was to France, Franklin was to America"), the quiet leadership of Madison ("generally regarded as the most influential political leader in the new nation"), and the stoic Washington ("he became the supreme example of the leader who could be trusted with power because he was so ready to give it up).
I appreciate the way Ellis has chosen to divide his work: The Generation, The Duel, The Dinner, The Silence, The Farewell, The Collaborators, The Friendship. If these expressions mean little now, they will once you read the book. They are simple but powerful categories for understanding this band of brothers and their times.
Founding Brothers was delightful, insightful, and educational. Ellis took me behind the familiar scenes and helped me look past historical markers such the Declaration of Independence and July 4, 1776 to better comprehend the complicated beautiful morass of early American liberty. My volume is brimming with highlights, underlines, and notations.
Ellis helps me appreciate the phrase, "It's complicated." I am grateful for his diligence to demonstrate the complicated and intertwined lives and political philosophies of these Founding Brothers, and for his masterful ability to bring clarity, to "unwind the string" so-to-speak when it comes to American Independence.
5 Reasons To Read:
1. To understand the volatile nature of American liberty: What seems a foregone conclusion today was, while not resting on a foundation of cards, definitely vacillating and precarious at times.
2. To gain keen insights on Slavery: Ellis sheds light on challenges of slavery, in particular the founding brothers decision to postpone addressing that blight on our nations character for a chance at bringing a nation to birth.
3. To appreciate the political and relational impact of Jay's Treaty and Washington's Farewell Address: What an eye opener.
4. To benefit from a lifetime of research: Founding Brothers is three decades of Joseph Ellis masterful research bound between two covers.
5. To learn from the amazing work of Benjamin Rush: I call Rush "The Friendship Negotiator." Surely without his efforts to repair the breach in the Adams/Jefferson friendship we would not have the historical marvel that is the 14-year letter correspondence between these two American patriarchs.