Darwyyn's Reviews > Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

Founding Brothers by Joseph J. Ellis
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Mar 09, 2012

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Read in March, 2012

Ellis, despite his protests, does present a rosy-eyed view of the men who shaped the early American Republic, with a definite bias for the winners over the losers as he constantly refers to the vision that successfully made America in to what it is. That said, Ellis offers a unique view into the relationships between the men - Jefferson and Washington, Jefferson and Madison, Jefferson and Hamilton, Hamilton and Burr, and of course Jefferson and Adams, to whose friendship he devotes two whole chapters. Jefferson does not exit the book as clean as he entered it, however, as Ellis documents how Jefferson passively destroyed his friendships with Washington and Adams in favor of pushing a Republican victory over a Federalist one as part of the development of the party system, and though he repeatedly denied it to his friends, spread rumors and gossip designed to damage the men he'd worked with. Then again, Jefferson is not really rosy to begin with, as a man who kept slaves while preaching against the institution. While Washington at least had the decency to free his slaves after Martha's death, Jefferson let his own slave children be sold in to the Deep South, so it was interesting to see how the Jefferson and Adams friendship, in particular, was destroyed and repaired after so many years, and how these men who created and survived a revolution together came to depend on each other. Strangely ommitted from the history of the Jefferson-Adams contest of 1800 is that Jefferson only won the election via the inclusion of the 3/5 clause, so while Adams remained unpopular in the South and parts of the North, he won the vote of free men.

The role of women in this book is limited, though Ellis does pay particular attention to the friendship and partnership between Abigail Adams and John Adams, and other women are mentioned in passing through their correspondence with their men. That aside, the book is an easy read that offers another view of the formative generation of the Revolution and the issues they faced together, and those they were unwilling or unable to face and left to the next generation in the name of saving the tenuous union between North and South.
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