In the novel Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation the author, Joseph J. Ellis, the main goal was to define the political events and achievements that gained historical significance in which also helped frame the ‘successive’ history of the United States. The American Revolution was a war in which thirteen British colonies in North America broke free from British rule and became the United States of America.
Ellis wrote on the topic of the founding of our country because he felt the need to argue the fact that the American Revolution and the greatness achieved by the founding generation were the results of a collective effort by what he refers to as the founding brothers; furthermore, he emphasizes that the success of the United States was not an inevitable conclusion and the critical importance of these characters. Ellis goes in depth in the history of the relationships among six key figures in the establishment of the United States of America as a sovereign nation and the issues that both divided and united them. Those six figures are Thomas Jefferson, James Adams, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, James Madison, and Aaron Burr. When discussing political differences between characters, Ellis resists choosing one side over the other; rather, he clearly explains how the diversity, personal relationships, and character of the founding fathers created the present-day United States. Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation had many different aspects due to its shift in focusing on different characters and political views; however, there were a few major points the book talks about with the various aspects. First, the book discusses Hamilton versus Jefferson as well as Burr.
Hamilton’s criticism of Jefferson is he is a “utopian visionary with a misguided set of political principles”, Hamilton’s criticism of Burr is that he lacks principals entirely, Burr is even referred to as the “Catiline of America” by Hamilton. Secondly, an important aspect is the topic of slavery which is discussed throughout the book by the founding generation. Furthermore, a collaboration between founders is also a critical facet in which aided in the forming of our present country. Next, the two-party system is brought into the discussion as many of the founders took different sides whether that be federalist or republican.
Manifest destiny is also brought into the mix as the expansion westward become prevalent. All of these points are brought about in the following chapters.In the book, Ellis explores the time that followed the American Revolution and the people who were the most responsible for both founding and deciding what kind of country the United States would become; however, those responsible had many opposing thoughts on the building of the new country. In The Generation, two distinct sides were formed between the founding brothers; Washington, Adams, and Hamilton took the federalist position while Jefferson, Madison, and Burr became known as the anti-federalist (republicans) (Ellis 13).
Ellis believed there were four main reasons for the founding brothers’ success in creating a viable republic. The first being the achievement of the revolutionary generation succeeded because of “…the diverse personalities and ideologies present in the mix” (Ellis 17) creating “balance and equilibrium” (17). Second, they all knew each other personally through countless meetings and corresponded with one another about private as well as public matters (17).
“Third, they managed to take the most threatening and divisive issue off the political agenda. That issue, of course, was slavery, which was clearly incompatible with the principles of the American Revolution, no matter what version one championed” (17). Fourth, the leaders of the revolutionary generation had a keen awareness of their importance in history, they understood that their actions and decisions would have great historical significance. In chapter one, “The Duel”, the focus is on the death of Alexander Hamilton at the hands of Aaron Burr in Weehawken, New Jersey, on July 11, 1804.
This is the only chapter not in chronological order. The duel that took place between Hamilton and Burr was not just a matter of revenge over personal insults, but an example of the importance of commitment in the eyes of the people at the time. According to Ellis, both men were intelligent, privately and publicly successful, and had ties to Washington’s military efforts during the Revolutionary War; however, it was Hamilton who had gained the greatest respect by showing time and again that he was willing to die for his ideals. In the letter to Philip J. Schuyler from Angelica Church, the sister of Hamilton’s wife, on the account of Hamilton and Burr’s duel, she wrote “My dear Brother, I have the painful task to inform you that General Hamilton was this morning wounded by that wretch Burr…The Town is in consternation, and there exists only the expression of Grief & Indignation” (Church).
Burr was known for simply wanting power. Hamilton wholeheartedly saw burr as dangerous to the United States due to his power-driven nature and often spoke ill of him. When Burr came within a few votes of becoming the third President instead of Jefferson, he was thwarted by Hamilton even though they were both members of the same party, who unexpectedly began to support Jefferson. Burr lost the election of 1800 due to Hamilton’s sway of votes.
Once Hamilton’s death had been finalized Burr was under immense political scrutiny, he wrote to Joseph Alston “The jury Mentioned in my last have adjourned over to Monday Evening (23d.). The result will determine my Movements – You perceive that a certain description of federalists and The virulent Clintses. are in perfect harmony” (Burr). Burr was plotting, alongside with General James Wilkinson, to form a separate country from the western part of the United States including the Louisiana Territory during his trial over Hamilton’s death further highlighting his need for power (Aaron Burr, fugitive and traitor, 1804).
After Hamilton’s death, Aaron Burr could never regain the same political influence or revive his career. This chapter exemplifies one of the main themes throughout the novel that the relationships and compromise of the founding generation have an immense historical significance which is also present in the next chapter.In the following chapter, “The Dinner,” Ellis discusses the secret meeting between Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison on June 20, 1790. “Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison arrived at the dinner with different agendas, different experiences, and different stories to tell”, As Ellis stated in the generation due to the diverse personalities and ideologies the revolutionary generation was able to be successful in building the country (68). Jefferson held the infamous “dinner party” in which he negotiated a deal between Hamilton, who wanted to pass a bill that would give the federal government some financial control over each state by assuming their debts, and Madison, who wanted to move the nation’s capital to the Potomac River just north of Virginia; which became known as the compromise of 1790. During the chapter, Ellis questions the accuracy of Jefferson’s account, who was also the only one to document the affair, and points out that it further indicates Jefferson’s desire to be seen as an intelligent and influential politician.
According to Ellis, Jefferson himself regretted the entire incident as it set a precedent for making deals behind closed doors, something he believed should not be allowed within a democracy. In 1792 Jefferson told Washington that the bargain he had with Hamilton was the greatest political mistake of his life, Jefferson wrote: “It was unjust, and was acquiesced in merely from a fear of disunion, while our government was still in its infant state” (67). Ellis deals with the issue of slavery in the third chapter, “Silence.” He shows how the post-revolution statesmen in the House of Representatives engaged in a heated debate about the abolition of slavery.
Quaker delegations from Philadelphia and New York presented petitions to the House of Representatives which called for an end to the African slave trade. “The Quaker petition for an end of the slave trade was really a stalking horse for a more radical and thoroughgoing scheme to end the institution of slavery itself (97-98). Members of the House were dismayed to be presented with such concerns, and Southern representatives were adamant that the question be ignored due to slavery fueling their economy. They described the Quakers as cowardly pacifists who refused to fight for independence and insisted that the Constitution specifically prohibited Congress from passing laws “that abolished or restricted the slave trade until 1808” and “The Quaker petitioners, therefore, were asking for something that had already been declared unavailable” (82). Unfortunately for these representatives, the matter was soon removed from their control altogether. A petition from the Pennsylvania Abolition Society arrived in the house and “claimed that both slavery and the slave trade were incompatible with the values for which the American Revolution political obligation to “devise means for removing this inconsistency from the Character of the American people.” Second, it challenged the claim that the Constitution prohibited any legislation by the federal government against the slave trade for twenty years, suggesting instead that the “general welfare” clause of the Constitution empowered the Congress to take whatever action it deemed “necessary and proper” to eliminate the stigma of traffic in human beings and to “Countenance the Restoration of Liberty for all Negroes” (99-100).
The petition had heightened dramatic appeal as it was also signed by Benjamin Franklin. Since Franklin was not someone who could be ignored, the issue had to be addressed. But there was no way that either side would ever be willing to compromise on the issue, so James Madison convinced both sides that the only way to keep the country from civil war was to declare it unsolvable by the Federal Government and to table it for at least 20 years.
It The issue of how many votes a state should obtain also became a topic for debate. Madison stated, “the nature of the senatorial trust, which requires the greater extent of information and stability of character,” would allow the Senate “to proceed with more coolness, with more system, and with more wisdom than the popularly elected branch” (A Great Compromise). It was later declared, with the help of Benjamin Franklin, that each state would receive an equal vote unless the issue regarded money.In the next chapter, “Farewell,” Ellis highlights the historical significance of Washington’s decision to step down as President after his second term.
Ellis provides a comparison between Washington the legend and Washington the man. “A legend in his own time, Americans had been describing Washington as ‘The Father of the Country’ since 1776 which is to say, before there was even a country” (120). Ellis points out that the country had never known a time when Washington had not been its leader. Washington had been directly associated with every major event of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress, and the building of the new republic. Washington showed his respect for the Republic by sacrificing his power, by voluntarily stepping down from office he was reaffirming the nation’s unique government by refusing to act as a sovereign head of state. Washington decided to quit while his reputation was strongly suggesting that every President was replaceable and that what mattered most was the republic itself. In Washington’s farewell address he talks about manifest destiny and how westward expansion has always been both justified and inevitable. He also advised the people of the dangers of divisive party politics and warned strongly against permanent alliances between the United States and other countries.
In the fifth chapter, “The Collaborators,” Ellis centers on the relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and how that relationship changed over the course of their lives. These two very different men forged a strong friendship based on their shared dream of independence, they shared a patriotism and idealism that was more important than their differences. However, when independence was achieved, their ideas about how the new country should be governed drove them to become political enemies destroying their personal relationship as well. Ellis covers the effect Abigail Adams and James Madison had on the two men and also explores how Adams’ term as President influenced the relationship. Ellis’ idea in this chapter seems to be that while Adams and Jefferson did a lot to change the course of national events, those events managed to change them in return.
Also in this chapter The last chapter, “The Friendship,” is, in essence, a sequel to chapter five as it revolves around the relationship between Adams and Jefferson. According to Ellis, the two men eventually managed to put aside their differences, rebuilding their friendship through correspondence. Both began to understand the importance of a written narrative describing both the war for independence and the founding of the United States’ government and Ellis uses these letters to show how important the individual personalities of the founding brothers were in framing the country’s identity. Adams and Jefferson had both many similarities and differences expressed throughout the book. “Neither of them believed that a multiracial society was achievable in the near future, and Adams believed an aristocratic society was inevitable. Despite both Adams and Jefferson’s anti-slavery approach, neither advocated for a racially integrated society.
Although in his letters, Adams was utterly opposed to slavery, both men averted the topic of slavery, fearing that it would compromise the nascent country” (The Friendship Classwork). Jefferson and Adams had different philosophies that conformed to their varying personalities. Jefferson’s writing created a narration of events and ideas to enhance his political position and told the people what they wanted to hear. Adams’s form lacked narrative cohesion, he told the people what they needed to hear. In other words, Jefferson sought clarity, while Adams revealed reality and all that it entails.
Ellis notes that scholars believe Adams’s letters more sophisticated and interesting, even though Jefferson’s provide the baseline for the version of the Revolution most used today. Without the founding generation’s diverse personalities and ideologies, our country would not be where it is today, as it was not an inevitable conclusion but that the diversity, personal relationships, and character of the founding fathers is what made the United States a success republic. Work Cited https://www.gilderlehrman.org/sites/default/files/inline-pdfs/T-07882.pdfhttps://www.gilderlehrman.org/sites/default/files/inline-pdfs/T-01523.pdfhttps://www.gilderlehrman.org/content/aaron-burr-fugitive-and-traitor-1804https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/A_Great_Compromise.htm