Study/discussion questions for Joseph J. Ellis* Founding
Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation.
success of the American experiment be adequately understood by
merely studying the personalities and interpersonal relationships
of the founding fathers?
on Ellis* assertion that "the shape and character of the political
institutions were determined by a relatively small number of
leaders who knew each other, who collaborated and collided with
one another in patterns that replicated at the level of
personality and ideology the principle of checks and balances
imbedded structurally in the Constitution." (p. 13).
Ellis oversimplify history by reducing the great issues
surrounding the nation*s founding to instances of "sibling
rivalry"? For example, Ellis frames the 1790 Congressional debate
over slavery as a contest between the "abolitionist", Franklin,
and the more moderate "non interventionist" position of Madison.
However, it was Franklin, himself who at the Constitutional
Convention, crafted the compromise relegating slaves to 3/5's a
person for the purposes of Congressional representation.
did Hamilton*s debt assumption plan say about his vision of the
national economy-about the direction in which he believed the
national economy should develop? How does Hamilton*s vision differ
from Madison*s and Jefferson*s view? How were the different
visions held by Hamilton and Jefferson and Madison concerning the
nature of the new federal government played out in the debate
about assumption and funding? (P.63, 64).
country miss a realistic opportunity to end slavery and avoid a
civil war in 1790 or did the compromise resulting from the 1790
Congressional debate give the nation the breathing room it needed
to establish a sense of national self.
Jefferson correct in stating that any President who followed
Washington was doomed to failure-that after Washington "the bubble
would have been the affect on the development of the Presidency if
Jefferson had accepted Adam*s offer to join his administration?
failure of the Adam*s Presidency the result of his own character
flaws or rather was he overwhelmed by circumstances beyond his
control? (p. 185, 187,195). Was the Adam*s Presidency an example
of the truism that "history shapes presidents"? Was Adam*s a
prisoner of the policy decisions made by the Washington
are the differences between Madison*s and Jefferson*s view of the
Constitution as they are expressed in the Virginia and Kentucky
on Washington*s view that international relations are determined
primarily by national interests-that there is no such thing as a
permanent international alliance only permanent national
interests. (p. 133).
iconography of American history Jefferson has held a cherished
place, as the author of the Declaration of Independence.
Washington, while revered as the "father of the country" has not
been regarded as Jefferson*s intellectual equal. Yet, under Eliss*
analysis, Washington appears to be the wiser and more prescient
statesman of the two (particularly in the areas of slavery and
international involvements). Comment.
1. Ellis admits in the preface of the book that a "budding
historian" wishing to study political history would be considered
"intellectually bankrupt?" Are we "intellectually bankrupt"
students for studying a topic that solely focuses on an elite
group of white males; can we study those living on the fringe of
society in order to completely understand the Ellis proposition
(the uniqueness of the formation of our system of government
formed wholly by white males)?
2. Present in Ellis' work are 5 themes that appear (according to
Ellis) in each of the historical vignettes he presents to the
reader: collective enterprise that succeeds because of the
diversity of personality; each of the Founding Brothers knew each
other personally; slavery was taken out of the playing field; the
Founding Brothers were aware of their historical significance
"actors in an historical drama"; chronology. Question: Ellis in
the preface states that the Founding Brothers were "actors in an
historical drama" demonstrating their cognizance of the history
that they were making. Do you agree with this statement? Were
the Founding Brothers acting out (for lack of a better word) for
the historical record?
3. Are all the themes Ellis sets forth in the preface present in
4. Ellis believes that the "fate of the American experiment"
rested with virtuous leaders? Do you agree with this statement?
Is Burr's killing of Hamilton (and his virtual disappearance from
the American political landscape) indicative of the need for a
leader in the new republic to be virtuous in order for the new
republic to be successful?
5. Hamilton felt that he had to accept the Duel because Burr was
threatening the Republic. Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison all
saw assumption and the Potomac situations as detrimental to the
survival of the Republic. In hindsight would these issues
actually have lead to the destruction of the Republic?
6. Are all the themes that Ellis mentions in the preface
actualized in the vignette "the Dinner?"
Aaron Burr referred to as the American Cataline?
2) Would you
consider Burr a secessionist?
3) How come the
United States has not followed Washington's farewell address
pertaining to Foreign policy?
4) Do you believe
the book to be accurate when it is discussing step by step the
duel between Hamilton and Burr?
5) Is he accurate
to entitle this book as Founding brothers, taking into
consideration that most of them didn't like each other?
6) In Chapter 3,
the Silence, a petition was presented by the Quakers to end the
African slave trade, which was backed by Benjamin Franklin. Do
you think the issue of slavery might have been put to rest
earlier in American history if Franklin didn't die when he did?
7) Who was really
the President, John Adams or his wife Abigail?