Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

Joseph J. Ellis

Language: English

Pages: 304

ISBN: 0375705244

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In this landmark work of history, the National Book Award—winning author of American Sphinx explores how a group of greatly gifted but deeply flawed individuals–Hamilton, Burr, Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, Adams, and Madison–confronted the overwhelming challenges before them to set the course for our nation.

The United States was more a fragile hope than a reality in 1790. During the decade that followed, the Founding Fathers–re-examined here as Founding Brothers–combined the ideals of the Declaration of Independence with the content of the Constitution to create the practical workings of our government. Through an analysis of six fascinating episodes–Hamilton and Burr’s deadly duel, Washington’s precedent-setting Farewell Address, Adams’ administration and political partnership with his wife, the debate about where to place the capital, Franklin’s attempt to force Congress to confront the issue of slavery and Madison’s attempts to block him, and Jefferson and Adams’ famous correspondence–Founding Brothers brings to life the vital issues and personalities from the most important decade in our nation’s history.

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could do nothing to interfere with the existence of slavery in the South. All the southern states had ratified the Constitution with that understanding as a primal precondition: “Upon that reason they acceded to the Constitution,” Smith declared. “Unless that part was granted they would not [have] come into the union.” His evident distress at these Quaker petitions was rooted in his belief that the current debate represented a violation of that understanding.9 Representative Abraham Baldwin of

hands, that the general government has no powers but which are expressly granted by the Constitution, and that all rights not expressed were reserved by the several states.… In short, considering all circumstances, we have made the best terms for the security of this species of property it was in our power to make. We would have made better if we could; but on the whole, I do not think them bad.27 The fullest and most intellectually interesting debate occurred in Virginia. As the most populous

Indian removal program adopted over forty years later. In 1790, however, despite the presumptive dreams of a continental empire, the Louisiana Purchase remained in the future and the vast trans-Mississippi region continued under Spanish ownership. While the creation of several black “homelands” or districts east of the Mississippi was not beyond contemplation—it was mentioned in private correspondence by a handful of antislavery advocates—it was just as difficult to envision then as it is

disrupt the fragile union just as it was congealing. Whether or not it would have been possible to put slavery on the road to extinction without also extinguishing the nation itself remains an open question; it is the main subject of one of the following stories. Whatever conclusion one reaches concerning that hypothetical question, with all the advantage of hindsight and modern racial attitudes as a moral guide, the revolutionary generation decided that the risks outweighed the prospects for

“that it will do him more harm than me.” He was right. Coming too late to affect many voters, Hamilton’s diatribe exposed the deep rift within the Federalist camp for all to see and suggested to most readers that Hamilton himself was out of his mind. In political terms, the Hamilton pamphlet was fully as fatal, and perhaps suicidal, as his subsequent decision to face Aaron Burr on the plains of Weehawken. His reputation never recovered.70 The same could be said for the Federalist party. The

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