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American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic (2007)

by Joseph J. Ellis

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Thoughtful, engaging work that humanizes historical figures in a well-constructed narrative. ( )
  justplainoldcj | Dec 9, 2013 |
This book about various aspects of the founding of our country is more detailed and technical than many people would enjoy. It did offer some insights and information that were new to me. ( )
  proflinton | Jul 4, 2013 |
An interesting examination of six episodes in the early days of the U.S.: the break with Britain, the winter of Valley Forge, the writing of the Constitution, the creation of the Republican Party, the failure of Washington's attempt to treat native Americans fairly, and the Louisiana Purchase. Ellis refers often to the issue of slavery but only discusses it at any length in the chapter on the Louisiana Purchase, a shame since he sheds light on these other founding events we have all learned about in school. ( )
  nmele | Apr 6, 2013 |
Ellis explores in depth six topics around the founding of US, such as the handling of Indians, the Purchase, the creation of two parties, and slavery. Interesting perspective on topics long since stereotyped in school and our culture. The true stories are much more interesting. Well written, though a bit repetitive in some areas. ( )
  addunn3 | Mar 14, 2013 |
Joesph Ellis asks an interesting question to begin [the American Creation], how did a group of otherwise unremarkable men of a largely unremarkable colonial outpost forge a republican nation-state that has thrived and fulfilled many of its Founders unrealized ideals?

From the start the Founders faced long odds to create a government from a handful of untried concepts. First there was the matter of winning a war with the most powerful empire on the planet. Then there was the formation of a government that is to represent the people and their special interests. Our advantages were few. The passion of the men and women and space were what we had and a willingness to give their lives for something they big then themselves. Most historians emphasize the importance of the Enlightenment and the burgeoning idea of the individual as way of explaining this very unique period of political creativity. Ellis certainly acknowledges that the Enlightenment, but argues that an equally important factor was the immediate circumstances that surrounded the crucial decisions of the early nation. To answer his own question, Ellis makes the case that the Founders abilities to compromise and improvise to achieve their common goals and incidentally build a legacy that still inspires the masses today. According to Ellis the 1st 20 years of America's history was not the great debate that older history books would have us believe. Instead those early days were full of frantic improvisation, constant reconfiguration of plans, and groups of Founders conspiring with and against each other to create an imperfect republic that is as much a process for governing a nation as it is a structure. A combination of events pushing our early nation to a brink of disaster and a willingness of a group of remarkably ordinary men to see past what divides them, to what unites them; to create an ongoing, never ending conversation. A conversation about the realm of the federal and state governments, the role of the judiciary branch, and finally how best to represent that every shifting temperament that is known as the “people”. A conversation that makes Founders of every generation. A conversation that both divides and unities us as a people. This was the greatest gift the Founders left for future generations to mold a government to best fit their circumstances.

What was created was a triumph of human imagination; it was also a monumental failure. The founders failed to dissolve slavery. They failed to come to a fair and equable deal with the Native Americans. They failed to grant the rights they so cherished to their wives and daughters. It was left to future generations of men and women to solve the inadequacies and inequalities of the Founders. We would fight a bloody civil war to wash our nation of the terrible stain of human bondage. Only to cause the suffering a segment of our own people nearly a century of Jim Crow before they achieved legal equality. Native American tribes would be devastated and their lives turned upside down, we still haven't accounted for those ills. Women would have to fight for their rights and liberties. Labor unrest and a bias towards immigrants are nothing new to us. Our past is full of the kind of ugliness that most would like to overlook and its clear our work to achieve that elusive goal of a more prefect union still isn't done. In the face of all our problems for the republic to continue to last for as long as it has, is a testament to the genius of conversation started in the late 1790s. I can't recommend Joesph Ellis' [the American Creation] enough. ( )
5 vote stretch | Oct 5, 2012 |
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Chapter One: The Year
If permitted the historical license to stretch the definition of a year, then the fifteenth months between the shots fired at Lexington and Concord in April 1775 and the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in July 1776 can justifiably claim to be both the most consequential and strangest year in American history.
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“American republic began with physical and economic asset as well as a rich intellectual legacy of enlightened ideas.”
The recent surge is the emphasis on flawed greatness, the coexistence of intellectual depth and personal shallowness, the role of contingency and sheer accident rather than divine providence. The founding has at least become the topic in an adult conversation rather than a juvenile melodrama populated only by heroes or villains.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 030726369X, Hardcover)

From the prizewinning author of the best-selling Founding Brothers and American Sphinx, a masterly and highly ironic examination of the founding years of our country. The last quarter of the eighteenth century remains the most politically creative era in American history, when a dedicated and determined group of men undertook a bold experiment in political ideals. It was a time of triumphs; yet, as Joseph J. Ellis makes clear, it was also a time of tragedies—all of which contributed to the shaping of our burgeoning nation.

From the first shots fired at Lexington to the signing of the Declaration of Independence to the negotiations for the Louisiana Purchase, Ellis guides us through the decisive issues of the nation’s founding, and illuminates the emerging philosophies, shifting alliances, and personal and political foibles of our now iconic leaders—Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and Adams. He casts an incisive eye on the founders’ achievements, arguing that the American Revolution was, paradoxically, an evolution—and that part of what made it so extraordinary was the gradual pace at which it occurred. He shows us why the fact that it was brought about by a group, rather than by a single individual, distinguished it from the bloodier revolutions of other countries, and ultimately played a key role in determining its success. He explains how the idea of a strong federal government, championed by Washington, was eventually embraced by the American people, the majority of whom had to be won over, as they feared an absolute power reminiscent of the British Empire. And he details the emergence of the two-party system—then a political novelty—which today stands as the founders’ most enduring legacy.

But Ellis is equally incisive about their failures, and he makes clear how their inability to abolish slavery and to reach a just settlement with the Native Americans has played an equally important role in shaping our national character. He demonstrates how these misjudgments, now so abundantly evident, were not necessarily inevitable. We learn of the negotiations between Henry Knox and Alexander McGillivray, the most talented Indian statesman of his time, which began in good faith and ended in disaster. And we come to understand how a political solution to slavery required the kind of robust federal power that the Jeffersonians viewed as a betrayal of their most deeply held principles.

With eloquence and insight, Ellis strips the mythic veneer of the revolutionary generation to reveal men both human and inspired, possessed of both brilliance and blindness. American Creation is a book that delineates an era of flawed greatness, at a time when understanding our origins is more important than ever.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:47:32 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

An ironic examination of the founding years of our country. Historian Ellis guides us through the decisive issues of the nation's founding, and illuminates the emerging philosophies, shifting alliances, and personal and political foibles of our now iconic leaders. He explains how the idea of a strong federal government, championed by Washington, was eventually embraced by the American people, the majority of whom had to be won over. And he details the emergence of the two-party system--then a political novelty--which today stands as the founders' most enduring legacy. But Ellis is equally incisive about their failures, making clear how their inability to abolish slavery and to reach a just settlement with the Native Americans has played an equally important role in shaping our national character. Ellis strips the mythic veneer of the revolutionary generation to reveal men possessed of both brilliance and blindness.--From publisher description.… (more)

» see all 4 descriptions

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