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Review of Founding Brothers: A Revolutionary Generation

What one discovers after reading this book are the six in- depth studies about certain events and relationships that took place or happened to the founding revolutionaries after the end of the war and after the establishment of the new governing body. The men involved realized that they were part of something extraordinary and also realized that their memories would live throughout the American history. The author points out in the first section of the book that these men usually took such stances because they knew by doing so they will be remembered throughout history. The book gives more and close attention to such history makers as Aaron Burr, Abigail and John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and James Madison. Further, the author describes in detail the issue of slavery was looming like a dark cloud over the founding of the American nation and how it was hidden and put away to pave way for the development of the new government.

These people knew that the issue of slavery could not be easily ignored, and they also knew that findings solutions and answers to the issue when the nation was forming its first governing body would not be ideal as it would split the country right in the middle. The author examines other political issues that became apparent at that time; for example, he looks at the financial plan developed by Hamilton to help the new economy flourish and the issue of where the permanent national seat was located. What one realizes and sees through the numerous war skirmishes described in the book are the struggles the nation went through in the period between the 1780s and 90s, both in the internal and the international fronts. The paper, therefore, will look at the main thesis of the book that becomes more apparent as the author describes the historical events that took place during this time.

The thesis of the author in this case seems to be that all of the founding fathers of the American nation were equally significant and each of them brought to the table a different set of ideas and skills that were useful in building the great nation. That they succeeded because they worked together so that we can view them as brothers rather than founding fathers. There are several supporting pieces of evidence that indicate that this is the thesis Ellis wanted to put across. For example he organizes the book in a set of segments, long ones though. For example, there is the segment on the duel between Burr and Hamilton and the consequences and implications of this duel. There is also another vignette about Adams and Jefferson letters that came during that time, another segment on the deal that conspired to bring and locate the capitol in DC, and another on non- discussions and discussions of the issue of slavery.

It is clear from the w hat these segments are arranged, and described, that the fathers were intended to be shown more of quarreling brothers rather than founding fathers, and it is quite clear that the author was impressed and held high regards of the individuals, and their ‘unity’ in working together t establish the American nation. To a limited extent, the author’s thesis that the founding fathers where more of brothers- in thought, philosophy, devotion to the new nation and revolution- is an appropriate semantic observation. What the author presents in the book are the numerous rivalries that exist between the founders, just like between siblings, as the founders in this period clashed and quarreled over what the revolution itself, the constitution and the nation meant twenty or so years later.

Generally, the founding fathers did not agree with most things, and to argue that they had any particular plan in mind when they came up with the constitution would underscore the facts laid down by history. Not only did they disagree on almost everything, most of them hated each other. For example, there was a major falling out between Washington and Jefferson, which led to them not speaking to each other. Also, Adams hated Hamilton with an intensity that is hard to understand. Madison was of the idea that Adams was a traitor to the American Revolution, and Hamilton and Burr eventually resulted to a duel. The author’s thesis comes apparent once more at this juncture. He explains that during most revolutions those who are quarreling or disagreeing about something usually lay aside their disagreement, and differences for them to combine forces and be able to overcome or overthrow some force that is oppressive or not popular with the regime. The author, however, points out that old differences and disagreements arise with a renewed abandon and in most cases usually result to violence that is horrific, after the revolution has been successful.

The brotherly rivalry that existed among the founding fathers is further asserted by the question the author puts across of how such a huge nation was able to survive its first 10 years. There was no nation that had ever tried or used the republican government to such a large scale, and the author indicates that the stage was set against the success of the newly founded nation and American government. prior to this experience, the thirteen American states had no history of cooperation that was sustained and, even though America had numerous resources, bringing them together and making it possible for these diverse groups of people who did not always agree on anything or get along to cooperate and work together was formidable.

For the author, it was the leadership that the founding fathers offered the nation that helped the American nation to overcome all of the challenges it faced. In his book, he points out that, ‘…..the revolutionary generation found a way to contain the explosive energies of the debate (over the role of the central government) in the form of an ongoing argument or dialogue that was eventually institutionalized and rendered safe by the creation of political parties….’ (Ellis 15). According to the author, there were four key factors that helped the nation survive its first ten years, through the founding fathers. These elements apparently were the ones that helped congeal the new American nation into a real nation rather than a mere experimentation by the republicans.

The first key factor was the men’s personalities. It is indicated that these personalities helped serve as a system of balances and checks, taken together in all the personality differences and diversities. The second element was that they all were familiar with each other and were at times surprisingly intimate. The third element or factor that is thought to have been significant is that they had mastered the ability to avoid real debates and discussions about the issues of slavery. This issue was solely capable of charging forces that could destroy the union, and thus the young nation. The fourth factor was that the founding fathers were aware of their responsibilities and roles and needed the experiment to work as planned as they knew that the whole world was watching. These are just a few pointers that indicate and assert that the founding fathers were as diverse in their personalities, thoughts, and actions as real brothers and they did not work as a monolithic body as many would have us believe, they were just as diverse in character as the American people the represented.

These are more than enough supporting pieces of evidence that point to the diversity of the founding fathers, and to the thesis of the book that the founding fathers should be treated more as brothers who worked together for the good of the nation and for the stability of the young nation, rather than founding fathers whose ideologies and characters were unified. As it is, the founding fathers were diverse and different and they only put aside their disagreements for the sake of winning the revolution and for the sake of supporting the establishment of the new governing body.


Ellis, Joseph J. Founding Brothers: A Revolutionary Generation. New York: Viking, 2002. Print

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