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The Founding Brothers In Person

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enjy Friedman Survey of US History

12/22/05 Professor Kaplan

The Founding Brothers in Person

History can be taught in two ways. It can be told as a series of facts, often times giving the subject a stigma of being somewhat boring, or it can be shown rather than told, and discussed in a creative and exciting way using alternate methods. In his book The Founding Brothers, Joseph Ellis enlightens his readers about an age in American history dominated by men who struggled throughout their entire lives to help the infantile and delicate Union overcome its initial obstacles on the path to becoming the greatest of world powers. Ellis uses primary sources such as autobiographies, letters and newspaper articles to eloquently describe this nation's first decade of existence; a decade with possibly the greatest leaders and statesmen ever to guide this country throughout its history. George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr each play essential roles, as their lives all intertwined while in the midst of founding the American Republic. Ellis manages to transcend the stigma often given to history books by using primary sources and in-depth character development of seven great men to tell this very important story on a more personal level, while at the same time still achieving the goal of giving over the all the essential historical facts.

Instead of lining up the data for the reader in a mundane and ordinary way, through the detailed description of six monumental and exciting events, Ellis portrays an era overshadowed by constant struggle and hardship, one much different than anyone in the forefront of American politics in the past several decades could ever imagine. Every decision passed was the fruit of bitter exertion, personal alliance and savvy politics. As Ellis often points out, the founding brothers were constantly collaborating as well as "archly antagonistic". This point truly being accurate in the case of John Adams, who was opposed throughout his presidency by both Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Interpersonal relationships such as these not only make the book a more interesting read, however they also give greater insight into the historical event which they surround by giving the reader an idea of what the situation was actually like for those directly involved.

Each of the founding brothers wholly believed in the American Revolution, laying the foundations and paving the way for the future. And yet, as Ellis explains, each founding brother had a very different vision of where they believed this road of revolution should lead. "With the American Revolution, as with all revolutions, different factions came together in common cause to overthrow the reigning regime, then discovered in the aftermath Ð'...they had fundamentally different and politically incompatible notions of what they intended." Because each faction believed in his own ideals, each blamed the others of rebelling against all they had fought for. Essentially, the Men were split into two different parties; the Federalists, who believed in a strong, united central government, to which Hamilton, Adams and Washington belonged, and the Republicans who were individualists and wanted a weak central government with strong individual states. The political knowledge and strength of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and later James Monroe spearheaded this latter party, and gained complete control of politics after the Hartford Convention.

There did exist many other differences in ideologies as well as political conflicts amongst the founding brothers, some of which include issues such as slavery and America's fiscal policy. The question of slavery, which eventually led to the American Civil War, was the most controversial topic ever to come before Congress. Ellis describes how the Quakers, along with Benjamin Franklin, bravely proposed an end to slavery. The Southerners, with the tactical help of James Madison however, were able to silence the uproar and postpone a decision, only to prolong the inevitable. Although the question had to be faced, Madison, who was not a fan of slavery himself, made a tough decision to procrastinate for fear of causing the newly created union to split.

While not having nearly as serious a consequence, Hamilton's fiscal policy was anther issue of controversy. Hamilton proposed that a central national bank be created that would assume all of the states' debts. Each state would then be taxed equally in order

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