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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patriarchs, declaring that their respective understandings of the Revolution’s legacy concerning slavery were fundamentally different. Jefferson’s version led directly to the doctrine of “popular sovereignty” embraced by Stephen Douglas, to the states’ rights position of John C. Calhoun and then the Confederacy. Adams’s version led directly to the “house divided” position of Abraham Lincoln, the conviction that abolishing slavery was a moral imperative bequeathed by the revolutionary generation

1, 204–661. 7. The standard Madison biography is Irving Brant, James Madison, 6 vols. (Indianapolis, 1941–1961). See also Ralph Ketcham, James Madison: A Biography (New York, 1971), and Jack N. Rakove, James Madison and the Creation of the American Republic (Glenview, Ill., 1990). The quotation is from Madison to Jared Sparks, 1 June 1831, Gaillard Hunt, ed., The Writings of James Madison, 10 vols. (New York, 1890–1910), vol. 9, 460. 8. The quotation is from McCoy, The Last of the Fathers,

would ever be abandoned. As a result, by the time Jefferson had arrived in New York in March, sixteen possible sites had been proposed but had failed to muster a majority. The leading candidates (in alphabetical order) were: Annapolis, Baltimore, Carlisle, Frederick, Germantown, New York, Philadelphia, the Potomac, the Susquehanna, and Trenton. Given its geographic centrality, some location in Pennsylvania appeared to have the edge.34 “The business of the seat of Government is become a

of agriculture in that country, no white man would perform the tasks required to drain the swamps and clear the land, so that without slaves it must be depopulated.”8 Smith also led the debate on behalf of the Deep South on that other great text, which was not the Bible but the Constitution. In Smith’s version of the story, the framers of the Constitution had recognized that the chief source of conflict among the state delegations was between those dependent on slave labor and those free of such

the last refuge of the feebleminded and only resort for historians. My narrative, while willfully episodic in character—no comprehensive coverage of all events is claimed—follows a chronological line, with one significant exception. The first story, about the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, is out of sequence. In addition to being a fascinating tale designed to catch your attention, it introduces themes that reverberate throughout all the stories that follow by serving as the

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