Written as a series of vignettes with an underlying theme, Founding Brothers offers insight into the tenuous nature of the new nation springing from the American Revolution. While there is no real groundbreaking research here, what this work does offer are some insights into the men who were essential in creating the United States, and offers us a reminder that the success of the new nation was far from inevitable. In fact, the nation survived in spite of some very key differences between the founders as to where soveigntry should ultimately lie in the new governing regime. And,it should be added, by assiduously ignoring one of the overriding contradictions of the American Revolution and it's tenets about freedom and equality -- slavery!
The book is a bit uneven but it is also clear in its main points. There was a lot of philosophical and political conflict between the founding generation: north versus south, agrarian versus mercantile interests, states' rights versus the powers and role of the new federal government, and the embarrassing entrenchment of slavery in the Southern states. While not entirely accurate in all cases -- it could be summed up that most of these conflicts pitted the Northern versus the Southern states. This is a somewhat crude distinction but essentially the north and south grew apart from each other mainly on these issues. The founders were able to muddle their way through these issues and keep the nation intact -- which wasn't always a sure thing.
And finally, Ellis really brings to bear the human nature of the founding generation. Jefferson was a dissembling, venal, back-stabbing politician. The press was vitriolic, partisan, and stooped to publishing any nasty rumor, true or otherwise, to push its agenda. The nastiness of politics in that era make today's politicians look tame in comparison.
Overall, I would recommend Ellis's work -- although I hesitate to say that it is Pulitzer Prize quality.
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