In the preface titled The Generation, the author, Joseph Ellis, identifies his objective to observe how the relationships of the “main players” in the Revolutionary generation influenced the course of American history. Ellis asks the readers that the stories are considered from both foresight and hindsight, and suggested that the stories be understood the way they actually occurred, and how they were understood over the years. Ellis chose to focus the outline of Founding Brothers around key members of the Revolutionary generation, including Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, and Hamilton, and others.
In the first chapter of the text, The Duel, are details of the most famous duel in American history. Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton face off according to the customs of the code duello on July 11, 1804. Hamilton dies of his wound perpetrated by Burr which leads to his reputation being soiled. Colonel Burr, the grandson of a theologian (philosopher) of human corruption, Jonathan Edwards, considered himself a natural aristocrat, but had a history of deceiving others. General Hamilton had a manner of reserve, despite his deprived starting point. Hamilton came to Weehawken because he strongly believed that declining Burr's "request," could be grave, and left written documents that he wished not to fire on his opponent. Dueling was illegal, and the code duello only provided for a "language of deniability" to protect participants from legal procedures.
The book’s second chapter, The Dinner, goes back to 18th century, before the events of the previous chapter. Ellis tells Thomas Jefferson’s depiction of a dinner he held at his home in mid-June of 1790. The individuals he invited were Alexander Hamilton and James Madison to discuss the location of the nation’s capital. The topic was brought about by conversations regarding the economic crisis at the times. The dinner led to a negotiation between Madison and Hamilton that Madison would not be against Hamilton’s financial plan in exchange for Hamilton’s support for the capital’s future location along the banks of the Potomac River. However, the author suggests that this was not just the result of the single discussion but rather several discussions. Eventually, George Washington decided that America’s capital would be located east of Georgetown, on the mouth of the Potomac, and was named Washington D.C. after George Washington. Having originally promised it would be close to the Pennsylvania border, the main street was named Pennsylvania Avenue in order to please the saddened Pennsylvanians.
The third chapter of the novel, titled The Silence involves a famous dispute that almost broke apart the infant nation, America. This argument was a result of petitions presented to the House of Representatives a few months before Jefferson’s dinner by two Quaker delegations wishing for the end of the Africa slave trade. Those that approved of continuing slavery in the United States were mostly the southern states, Georgia was represented by James Jackson, and South Carolina was represented by William Loughton Smith. Jackson and Smith argued that Congress should ignore the petitions because the Constitution prohibited government action on the slave trade until 1808, and that it was an attempt to obtain emancipation. Smith and Jackson even threatened to succeed if the issue was not discussed. No one in the House took the initiative to disprove the south’s allegations and this silence. In the end, there was no real national effect. In order to end this dispute, James Madison passed a vote from the House to alter the Constitution so that Congress would have no say-so or inference with slavery.
The fourth chapter focuses on George Washington’s farewell address and his formal declination to serve a third term as president. Although he was partially written in collaboration with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, Washington’s farewell address included only his hopes for the future of the United States. The points that he stressed were the need for national unity, the danger of partisanship and party politics, and the foreign policy of neutrality and diplomatic independence from the disorderly events occurring in Europe at the time. Since Washington, left office after two terms became customary for following presidents, except for Franklin D. Roosevelt who served three full terms and died during his fourth term. In 1951, the 22nd Amendment made it law that a president may only serve at most two terms. America was saddened by the retirement of such a great leader as George Washington.
After the retirement of George Washington, the top two candidates for the presidency were John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. However, Adams was a Federalist and Jefferson was a Republican, and the two parties were becoming gradually more hostile towards each other. In 1796, John Adams was formally elected president and Jefferson vice-president. At that time the top candidate became president and the second-best candidate became vice-president. Since they both were from different parties, they had different objectives for their time in office and that led to the end of their friendship. At a dinner held by Washington in 1797, Jefferson notified Adams that he was not interested in joining his cabinet and the Republican Party did not intend to join in the peace delegation Adams was sending to France. And from then on, Adams never included Jefferson in any future policy-making decisions. In the 1800 election, the presidential election was won by Jefferson with Aaron Burr as the vice-president. This was basically the end to the Federalist Party. Following the election, Adams and Jefferson did not speak to each other for 12 years.
The book’s concluding chapter, The Friendship, pertains to John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. After 12 years of silence between the two they finally began to restore their friendship through letter communication, begun by Adams, that would continue until their deaths. They both put forth an obvious effort to reunite and their long-held respect for each other overcame the bitterness from their past disputes. The correspondence with letters consisted of 158 letters that ended in 1826 when both Jefferson and Adams died. On the fiftieth anniversary of American independence in 1826, Jefferson and Adams died respectively about five hours of each others death.
Founding Brothers was a fascinating, and very concise book that discusses the early days of our country’s Republic. Im very grateful that I was given this assignment, because it deepened my understanding of some really important events in history that everyone should know about! I must admit, I didn’t think this book would be very interesting to me, but after finishing it and a lot of thinking, its captivating to somewhat get the “behind the scenes” view and explanation of these historical and revolutionary events that aren’t really discussed as deeply in other books and school textbooks! I would definitely read this book again, and recommend it to everyone!