Nanette Bulebosh's Reviews > Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

Founding Brothers by Joseph J. Ellis
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Nov 24, 12

Read in February, 2010

Ellis is a great storyteller who has much to say about the men (and a few women, notably Abagail Adams) who formed our country. He focuses on six specific events that, he believes, crystallize and best exemplify the magnitude of the founding fathers' work and their dramatic legacy. Among his topics: the Burr-Hamilton duel, Washington's farewell address, the infamous "dinner" at Jefferson's house, Benjamin Franklin's poignant, end-of-life attempt to end the slave trade, John Adams' turbulent presidency (undermined at every turn by Madison and Jefferson), and the final reconciliation between Adams and Jefferson through correspondence.

The most moving chapter is the one on Benjamin Franklin. He attempted to cajole the Constitutional Congress into ending the slave trade, if not slavery altogether, through a satirical pamphlet he published just three weeks before he died. The southern states, of course, would have none of it. They threatened to secede from the union unless the northern states agreed to drop the issue for at least 20 years. The northern states consented, declaring that Congress did not have the right to infringe on any state's "property" rights. Most of the northerners felt uncomfortable with slavery but, in their view, keeping the union intact took precedence very everything else, even human bondage. It was a tragic missed opportunity and, as we all know, led to a horrific war 70 years later.

I came away from this book with enhanced respect for Franklin (what an incredible wit he had!) and Washington, and much less respect for Jefferson, who comes across as devious and something of a hypocrite.
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