June 8, 2012

Book Review: Founding Brothers, by Joseph J. Ellis

In "Founding Brothers", Joseph J. Ellis sheds light upon the creative moments of the United States, and indeed was awarded for his effort a Pulitzer. Ellis is a noted scholar on the Revolution and ensuing decades, haven written biographies of Jefferson and Washington, as well as other works on the subject. In this work, Ellis structures his story around six key events in the first few decades following the writing of the Constitution, and in explaining how the various founders react and interact at these crucial moments, Ellis reveals their preferences, strengths, weaknesses, and contributions in those formative years.

Several questions the founders faced will sound familiar to the modern reader. Perhaps the foremost question upon which many heated words were exchanged was the question of what powers ought to reside with the federal government, and what powers ought to be left to the states. While the United States seems to have answered that question (in favor of the federal government), debates over the European Union have a similar character. In fact, one option proposed to address the eurozone debt crisis is the consolidation of debt using eurobonds, which is exactly what happened in late-eighteenth-century United States. Hamilton pushed through a consolidation of state debt accrued over the Revolutionary War, turning a liability into a stronger federal government with better credit than any of the states. Many modern domestic issues also echo questions the founders faced. Altogether, "Founding Brothers" is a fascinating and instructive examination of issues which are still surprisingly relevant.

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