Disclaimer for faux read number two: The school assigned this book for AP Government class in which I had zero interest in participating. My 18 year old self had zero interest in reading about “old white dudes.” In retrospect, I could have used the historical knowledge.
The blurb for this Pulitzer Prize winner describes it as, “…[A]n 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…”
Here’s the rub: This is a melodrama about a bunch of petty bros with their revolutionary contributions entangling their lives for the rest of their days and history. Ellis writes, “The source of the disagreement goes much deeper, however, involving conflicting attitudes toward government itself, competing versions citizenship, differing postures toward the twin goals of freedom and equality. But the key point is that the debate was not resolved so much as built into the fabric our national identity” (16).
I legitimately wish that Lin Manuel Miranda adapted this work of non-fiction into a hip-hop musical. Founding Brothers is the American historical equivalent of 200 Cigarettes (or the inferior Love Actually, but I digress). Each of the seven men featured remains on the periphery of another’s tale; Ellis effortlessly and educationally weaves seven historical experiences together, using one to snowball into another.
Breaking it down more succinctly (and dramatically) the work includes: A deadly duel! A menacing minion! A love-hate relationship that spans decades! Infighting and secret allegiances! Backstabbing collaborators! War! Death!
In hindsight, I really enjoyed this book, but as I was reading it, it more often than not felt like a slog.
On a more grave note, if I recommend one chapter, let it be “The Silence” which covers the failure of the revolutionary class to address slavery. The title of the chapter should be called, “Complicity” because it details the revolutionary generation’s rationale to not even mention slavery within the confines of Congress, let alone edge towards emancipation or abolition. These old, white dudes utilize impropriety (Washington included) as the number one factor in ignoring this issue, despite understanding how vastly complicated and horrific the issue of slavery was. It’s honestly gross to read, not unsurprising, but the idea of silent complicity bleeds into the immense racial disparities The United States faces today.