New Books of Interest

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New Books of Interest

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Nov 7, 2007, 7:04am

Picked up these two works recently.

American Creation: Triumph and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic by Joseph J. Ellis. It covers the period from the battle of Lexington through the Louisiana Purchase.

The Perils of Peace: America's Struggle for Survival after Yorktown by Thomas Fleming.

Nov 13, 2007, 8:28pm

Oh I was looking at American Creation but didn't pick it up right yet. Let me know how you like it!

Jan 28, 2008, 10:00am

I just finished reading American Creation. It was a typical Joseph Ellis book, very insightful and scholarly. If you are a fan of Thomas Jefferson then you are going to find parts of this book painful. Ellis is extremely hard on TJ in this book.

Mar 23, 2008, 11:07pm

#3 --

Is he "extremely hard" on Jefferson? Or does he simply tell unpleasant truths that are nonetheless truths?

Mar 24, 2008, 2:34pm

JNagarya, I agree. The more you read about Jefferson, the more you realize Nixon was an amateur in the "dirty tricks" department!

Editado: Mar 24, 2008, 5:00pm

#5 --

That's not quite what I meant; but as for Nixon and Kissinger, I recall it being said -- with admiration -- that latter "invented" "backchanneling". In fact, Jefferson's Sec. of the Treasury Hamilton worked, by "backcahnnel" means, to undermine and subvert Jefferson's Congressional economic initiatives. Hamilton was a backstabbing snake.

Was there mention of Jefferson paying ransom (while asserting the exact opposite) to the Barbary pirates for release of US citizens being held hostage?

Otherwise, I simply meant and mean that the Founders were human beings, imperfect -- which is not an excuse -- not, as the suppress-all-negative-truth-and-replace-it-with-mindless-"patriotic"-emotionalisms right-wing loves to pretend, and with which delude itself, "gods against the sky". If, as they tirelessly -- and tiresomely -- regurgitate as knee-jerk slogan, the US is the sole, unique "beacon of liberty" in the world, then the US must be also be uniquely truthful: the corollary to "the truth shall set you free" is "lies will enslave you". And that includes their constant lies of omission.

Mar 24, 2008, 5:43pm

#6 - If we're going to make these arguments, let's get the facts right, at least. Thomas Jefferson's Secretaries of the Treasury were Samuel Dexter and Albert Gallatin.

Indeed, all those we lump together as "The Founders" were human, with the usual lumps and foibles that accompany human behavior. I think you'll find very few people arguing otherwise these days.

Mar 24, 2008, 8:01pm

#7 --

Then I would guess that "American Heritage" magazine got it wrong.

If Hamilton served in the Jefferson administration, then what position did he hold?

And, yes: there are many, today, who persist in viewing the Founders as (1) unanimous in view and opinion, and (2) "gods against the sky". Do they "argue" that? no; rather, they simply ignore all refutations of that fantasy, usually because it is so essential to others of their ahistorical fantasies.

Mar 24, 2008, 8:12pm

Hamilton did not serve in the Jefferson administration. He resigned as SecTreas effective 31 January 1795 (during the Washington administration). He was active in politics after his resignation, but did not hold public office again.

Mar 25, 2008, 1:56am

Then, again, "American Heritage" appears to have got it wrong.

Mar 31, 2008, 5:31pm

Re: The relationships in Message 6:

In the Washington Administration, Jefferson served as Sec of State, Hamilton as Sec of Treasury. This is period when the incidents of Jefferson and Hamilton clashing first played out.
I just finished "Dinner at Mr. Jefferson's" - where Madison and Hamilton were the dinner guests. Small, excellent book, which describes these relationships in some detail, well researched and balanced reporting. A very good read. Even has recipes in the Appendix, for those who might care.


Maio 27, 2008, 3:29am

#11 --

Okay, that's it then. Jefferson and Hamilton were in the same administration, and Hamilton was undermining Jefferson's Congressional initiatives.

Editado: Jun 12, 2009, 7:16pm

Jefferson was Sec. of State and Hamilton was Sec. of the Treasury in Washington's first term. Jefferson and Hamilton clashed repeatedly over too many things to rehash here but let's just say they had fundamentally differing ideas for the direction of the young Republic. As the war between Britain and France heated up, Jefferson took an anti-Britain stance based on his admiration for the then-young French Revolution and his hatred of all things British. However, Hamilton's simultaneous efforts at establishing a British-style economic platform for the country relied on continued trade and favored status for Britain. Washington sought to stay neutral. Hamilton went behind Jefferson's back and held meetings with the British ambassador and implied that Jefferson had no support within the administration and assured him that the United States would side with England over France. In the end, Washington steered a course of British-inclined "neutrality." Jefferson could not stomach the United States turning its back on the country that had helped them secure their own independence and with whom they still had a treaty. Jefferson ended up resigning and going back to Monticello.

Jefferson saw Hamilton's actions with the British ambassador as highly unethical and an example of Hamilton's corrupt and conspiratorial nature. All of Jefferson's further dealings and clashes with Hamilton are predicated upon this suspicious characterization. For his part, Hamilton saw Jefferson as naive, especially regarding finance and economics, and debilitatingly ideological. In Hamilton, Jefferson saw the American Walpole seeking to institutionalize the very same corruption that had destroyed the English Constitution and Parliament and necessitated the Revolution in the first place. Each thought the other posed no less than an absolute threat to the survival of the Republic.

Jun 29, 2009, 1:12pm

I am approximately 60 pages into the Perils book and I'm enjoying it tremendously. My favorite American Revolution character is George Washington and I believe GW is going to be the major player in this book.

Jul 18, 2009, 1:38pm

As far as more recent books, I would also recommend John Ferling's new book, "The Ascent of George Washington," Edmund S. Morgan's "American Heroes," as well as R.B. Bernstein's "The Founding Fathers Reconsidered."

Jul 22, 2009, 8:08pm

#13 --

"Jefferson and Hamilton clashed repeatedly over too many things to rehash here but let's just say they had fundamentally differing ideas for the direction of the young Republic. As the war between Britain and France heated up, Jefferson took an anti-Britain stance based on his admiration for the then-young French Revolution and his hatred of all things British. However, Hamilton's simultaneous efforts at establishing a British-style economic platform for the country relied on continued trade and favored status for Britain. Washington sought to stay neutral."

That conflict is covered extensively in the HBO "John Adams". Adams had problems with both -- he had naively kept Washington's cabinet -- but ultimately came -- rightly -- to not trust Hamilton whose view was so arrogant that he viewed Adams, the President, as merely an impediment to his aims to be manipulated, undermined, and circumvented.

Hamilton was a self-serving snake. But Adams was also exasperated with Jefferson, as his part in the conflict with Hamilton, and his pressuring in behalf of France, caused additional unnecessary turmoil and distraction.

If you've not seen it, that miniseries is well worth the viewing, in part because it shows a need to reassess Adams for the better. Though often criticized as being a "conservative" -- even a monarchist -- he was nothing of the kind: he drove the Congress to declare independence from Britain, and authored the Massachusetts-Bay constitution, which was the model for the Federal, especially the innovation of separation of powers.

Rather, he was a stickler for justice and rule of law being ABOVE politics, whereas the ideologues wanted everyone to descend to politics, and to hell with legal niceties and means to ends. While others gave lip service to law and rights and justice as self-justification fpor what they wanted to do, he MEANT it.

Also fascinating (though not enough of it is shown for my tastes) on that point is his relationship with his less-than-ethical cousin Sam: while he was courageously defending the British troops involved in the so-called "Boston Massacre" against threats of violence -- he despised the British, but believed no man charged with a crime should lack for competent legal defense, which is a fundamental principle of our democratic system of laws and due process -- Sam (see the 1976 publication "Boston Massacre," by Hiller Zobel) was calling the British troops "murderers" and attempting to intimidate the jury into convicting them, and sentencing them to hang. Sam's "Sons of Liberty" were nothing other than a gang of thugs which he directed, and could well have served as model and inspiration for Brown Shirts.

A particular scene comes to mind in which Adams is being avoided by everyone else (except Franklin) in the Continental Congress, because the British captured several of his letters, in which he was as tactlessly honest as ever about his Congressional colleagues, and published them in the newspapers. Franklin arrives, and several of them raise the issue with him -- loudly, so Adams can hear. Franklin's response stuns: he said that no GENTLEMAN would read another's private correspondence. That put all the "insulted" colleagues in their place, and resolved the conflict. Whether they liked it or not, Adams had uttered truths they needed to hear about themselves.

Horrifying and heart-rending in it are the scenes in which his daughter is dealing with breast cancer -- which included a mastectomy without anesthetic. That is difficult to watch, especially as concerns emotional response, as she had come across as being a good person who deserved a long and full life. Also difficult to handle is Adam's response to the death of Abigail: unlike Franklin, especially his whoring in France, and others of his colleagues, he was wholly devoted and loyal to her, as she was to him. She was his anchor, and in a real sense his confidence.

Abigail is, of course, as impressive as a decent and stoically New England human could be. She did, though, out of fear for his life, mis-advise him on whether to sign the Alien and Sedition Acts -- which was certainly a mistake. Combine that with his disloyal and disruptive cabinet, and general circumstances, and his presidency was a disaster.

Ago 16, 2009, 7:22pm

The whole irony of Franklin saying something like that, whether he actually did or McCullough wrote it for the movie, is that one of the great precipitants of the furor in New England in the late 1760s was Franklin handing over Thomas Hutchinson's private letters to be published.

Out 15, 2009, 10:01pm

I just read a brand new book that came out this July, Citizenship Revolution: Politics and the Creation of the American Union,1774-1804 by Douglas Bradburn. This book is way better than anything Ellis has done and, I dare say, Wood (blows Creation out of the water). I was astonished by this book, his take on Federalism, the 11th amendment, and the Alien and Sedition Acts, are superb and totally new. I have not been this excited about a book on the Early Republic in a long time. His style is fresh and the book is extremely accessible. Moreover, he doesn't Founder bash, which has been the fad lately. I would love to hear what others think about this book.

Out 24, 2009, 11:32pm

You've piqued my interest, T. I also just got a copy of Wood's new entry to the Oxford series, Empire of Liberty. I actually met him and had him sign the book at a lecture at the New York Historical Society the other night.

Out 28, 2009, 12:02am

Good, I think Citizenship Revolution is a must read. Check it out and let me know what you think. I just got Wood's new book as well. I think the title is a nice backhanded slap at TH Breen's haphazard "Empire of Goods," so it should be interesting. Back to the Citizenship book, this will really make you rethink the role of the Nation v. the States in the new Republic, Revolutionary Politics, and the meaning of citizenship.