[BOOKS] ✯ Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different Author Gordon S. Wood – Golanvideoagency.info
In This Brilliantly Illuminating Group Portrait Of The Men Who Came To Be Known As The Founding Fathers, The Incomparable Gordon Wood Has Written A Book That Seriously Asks, What Made These Men Great And Shows Us, Among Many Other Things, Just How Much Character Did In Fact Matter The Life Of Each Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton, Madison, Paine Is Presented Individually As Well As Collectively, But The Thread That Binds These Portraits Together Is The Idea Of Character As A Lived Reality They Were Members Of The First Generation In History That Was Self Consciously Self Made Men Who Understood That The Arc Of Lives, As Of Nations, Is One Of Moral Progress Gordon S Wood is Professor of History at Brown University He received the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for History forThe Radicalism of the American Revolutionand the 1970 Bancroft Prize forThe Creation of the American Republic, 1776 1787 Revolutionary Characters What Made the Founders Differentis a series of essays covering each of eight different founding fathers George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Adams, Thomas Paine, and Aaron Burr Rather than discuss what the founders accomplished, the essays about 20 to 30 pages apiece examine the character, philosophy, and virtues of each of these men The essays are sandwiched between an introduction and an epilogue which bind the essays together.Some of the main themes conveyed in the essays include Washington, the only truly classical hero we have ever had, had a lifelong preoccupation with his reputation for disinterestedness Franklin was the most American of the founders and yet he was also the most European Jefferson, firmly believing in the inherent beneficence of men, celebrated society s superiority over government Hamilton, the big business man and big government man, fought to tie the two together, and in doing so became the man who made modern America There is no James Madison Problem after all it was the over reach of Federalism that was changing during the early 1790 s, and not the views of Madison Adams, who had led the charge in the fight for independence, was convinced that he would never receive due recognition and continually sought to bolster his legacy Paine was the first public intellectual whose prose aroused not only the politically connected and enlightened as most writing of the era targeted only them , but the common folk as well Lastly, and in stark contrast, Burr s use of his office to promote his own self interest was not so much an act of treason against his country, but against his class.Professor Wood reminds us that these men were not born into wealth, aristocracy, and gentility they were all self made men the first in their families to attend college and certainly the first to become gentlemen He posits that their success essentially secured their own extinction in that they created unwittingly an egalitarian system of rule in which subsequent leaders did not necessarily need to possess an enlightened, disinterested i.e., having no personal or financial stake , virtuous, or even gentlemenly character. An excellent book that looks at the characters of the American Revolution what made them different The book assumes a working knowledge of the time period since it focuses on eight men what their motivations were Extensively documented, other readings are suggested as needed His basic premise is that these men were revolutionaries that fought themselves out of a job If he has a political axe to grind, he kept it out of his writing as far as I could tell, which I appreciated, especially after reading Zinn s, History of the US.Well written quite readable, Wood makes a character sketch of George WashingtonBen FranklinThomas JeffersonJames Madison Aaron Burr John AdamsAlexander Hamilton Thomas PaineThrough personal letters other accounts, his interpretation of their motivations comes through clearly from the heroic moral fortitude of Washington to Burr s real treason, using his office for personal gain I didn t always agree with his ideas, though His portrait of Jefferson Adams as men bewildered by what they wrought doesn t ring quite true to me In any case, he makes his point well interestingly enough to warrant reading it I think it is a must for any one seriously interested in the founding of our country. This was a very interesting read The author a Pulitzer Prize winner for another book on the Revolutionary War presents what I would call character studies of the following men George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Adams, Thomas Paine and Aaron Burr An introduction before and an epilogue after ties it all together Very informative and accessible I was most interested to learn that the author considers 1790 the most divisive time in our history until the Civil War If you think about it, it really shouldn t be that surprising The founders weren t exactly sure of what they created And a lot of charlatans slithered out from under their rocks and took the founders by surprise and disappointed them The author also points to the polar points of view among the eight men The book was heavily researched At 80%, I was finished with the book the final 20% was the citations I m not going to go into all eight men but they were all interesting I ll just cherry pick a few interesting things The author makes a good case as to why he considers George Washington our best president ever I m sure you already know what made him so great But in case you don t, here s a quote from the book King George III supposedly predicted that if Washington retired from public life and returned to his farm, he will be the greatest man in the world He considered Thomas Jefferson the most idealistic Jefferson never lost faith that collectively men would always do what was right, that they would regulate themselves and the least government was the best government There isn t that much information available about Aaron Burr His executor burned most of his papers But what was left pointed to a very self centered man.Finally, I will leave you with the author s thought on Alexander Hamilton because he is the one I felt that I had correctly pegged certainly Hamilton s plans for an imperial America were out of touch with the realities of his world in 1800 Two centuries later, however, these plans do not seem so bizarre Hamilton would be right at home in the present day United States and present day world He would love our government s vast federal bureaucracy, its sprawling Pentagon, its enormous CIA, its huge public debt, its taxes beyond any he could have hoped for, and especially its large professional military force with well over a million men and women under arms spread across two oceans and dozens of countries America has at last created the kind of powerful worldwide empire he could only dream of In this sense Hamilton may truly be the man who made modern America. America s Founders And American IdealsFor much of our history, the leaders of the American Revolution and the framers of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution enjoyed iconic, mythic status But they have also been subjected to criticism and debunking, based on their alleged elitism, racism, and sexism in our increasingly cynical, skeptical age.In his recent collection of essays, Revolutionary Characters What Made the Founders Different 2006 , Gordon Wood offers thoughtful meditations on the Founders Gordon Wood is Professor of History at Brown University He is deservedly esteemed for his studies of the Revolutionary era.In his book, Wood offers succinct discussions of the Founders, their backgrounds, what they did, and, most importantly, what they thought He sets the Founders within their time but shows, paradoxically, how the success of the Founders made their achievements and characters impossible to replicate in subsequent generations.Wood s book consists of individual essays on eight founders, Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, Adams, Paine, and Burr His Introduction and concluding Epilogue attempt to bring coherence to the story For Wood, what sets the Founders apart from subsequent leaders was their ability to combine high intellectual achievement in politics with the life of affairs and leadership In much of the subsequent history of the United States, intellectuals and thinkers have been separated from active political life and, in fact, alienated from it Thus, the cynicism that I mentioned at the outset of this review He finds that the Founders were able to combine the world of intellect with that of practical politics through a devotion to Enlightenment and aristocratic ideals, including ideals regarding the role of an educated gentleman in society, and ideals of civil behavior and good manners, in a broad sense The Founders were in part individuals who had risen by their own efforts, in most cases through education and study They used their success to devote themselves to the good of the country and to expand the scope of public participation This expansion of the scope of citizen participation in the government lead to democracy and egalitarianism and destroyed the conditions which had made the achievement of the Founders itself possible.Of the essays in the book, the first, On the Greatness of George Washington is a reminder of why this reserved, austere figure deserves to be remembered as the greatest of Presidents and as the greatest member of an outstanding generation The essays on John Adams and James Madison have the highest degree of intellectual content In the Adams essay, Woods discusses Adams political philosophy and shows how it was in part prescient and profound and in part based upon a misunderstanding of American constitutionalism In the essay on Madison, Woods argues that there was a unity of thought throughout his career, rather than a switch from Federalism to states rights and democracy, as argued by many.The essays of Thomas Paine and Aaron Burr are interesting in themselves and also for the light the cast on the other Founders In both cases, Wood uses them as foils Paine was already a democrat and a writer of inflammatory prose for readers without education or knowledge of the classics This set him apart from his contemporaries Aaron Burr abandoned the ideal and devotion to public service of the remaining founders and devoted himself solely to the pursuit of his own interests This basic change, and not his subsequent activities in the West for which he was tried for treason is, for Wood, The Real Treason of Aaron Burr Wood s book is an outstanding way to become reacquainted with the American Founders It encouraged me to think about how American ideals originated, and how they developed and changed through time.Robin Friedman Similar to the Idea of America in that Revolutionary Characters is a collection of previously written essays edited for a popular audience I actually fairly enjoy the format, which paints the main themes of Wood s work the gentlemen culture, republicanism, and the birth of democratic culture while still being accessible unlike the very dense Radicalism of the American Revolution worth a read, but hardly a poolside read The book consists of short biographical sketches of Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, John Adams, Paine, and Burr The chapters are less chronicles of the lives of the founders than illustrations in the general themes Wood explores elsewhere for example, Wood sees Burr s real treason as a betrayal of the gentlemen class virtues by nakedly pursuing his self interest instead of acting in a disinterested matter, and argues that Paine was America s first public intellectual, writing to the masses instead of the republic of letters though ultimately undone by his candor in regards to his belief in deism Wood s introduction explains that the founding generation was truly unique and unleashed a democratic spirit that would ensure that such a ruling class would not be replicated in the United States A running theme is that the founders created a public spirit that celebrated the people and the democratic spirit that eroded their own power base natural aristocracy and left many of them bewildered at the transformation near the end of their lives Washington is framed as the ideal gentleman and hyper concerned with his reputation at least in modern eyes Wood discusses the reputation that Washington established by surrendering his command at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, which was unprecedented and earned him the name of the modern Cincinnatus Several times Washington was cajoled into making his decisions based on the impact on his reputation once in regard to donating a gift of shares to what would become the university of washington and lee, in rejecting leadership of the society of cincinnati, both issues dear to his heart these are mentioned in radicalism of the american revolution as well In fact, even when it came to presiding over the constitutional convention, Washington was finally convinced to preside to avoid the impression that he hoped the convention would fail so he could take over as a military dictator Wood argues that one of Washington s greatest acts was to free his slaves on his death Washington even privately concluded that if the country was to break apart, he would be on the side of the union Also interesting was the ambiguous nature of the executive, which some high federalists in particular, with Hamilton hoping that the United States would grow into a comparable european fiscal military state with ability to raise money and wage war regarded as an elected monarch Washington was the only person capable of being trusted in this supreme position, throughout his term there were many trappings of european monarchy The chapter on Franklin is an abridgement of the Americanization of Benjamin Franklin worth a read of its own In particular Wood shows the transformation of Franklin from imperial servant to Revolutionary Wood notes that unlike the other founders, Franklin already had an international reputation as a scientist, frequently considered permanently relocating to Europe and bragged of his connections to the imperial government Franklin sought an imperial appointment as late as the 1770s, before being humiliated by the government for some political miscalculations publically releasing the hutchinson letters In one particularly spectacular moment, it is said that after his public humiliation Franklin told one official that he would make your king a LITTLE KING Wood argues that one of the reasons that Franklin became so patriotic was his loyalties were questioned because he was a late though authentic, mainly through being spurred convert to the revolutionary cause The essays on Adams, Madison and Jefferson are interesting in that they show some of the nuances of the first party system Wood notes that the federalists and republicans were not modern parties in any meaning of the word The federalists considered themselves the government, and considered the republicans to be subversive elements challenging the government this was particularly interesting in context of the sedition acts, which the federalists thought was legitimate to protect the government, while the republicans developed an early argument for the marketplace of ideas, which symbolizes the birth of public opinion , while the republicans considered themselves a temporary alliance meant to restore true revolutionary values similar to English Whigs Jefferson and Madison represented a strain of revolutionary thought that assumed that if left alone the natural impulses of society would allow civilization and people to prosper Central to their belief was the role of trade in connecting peoples peacefully similar to Kant s perpetual peace argument and the rationale behind the disastrous embargo which Wood notes still exists as economic sanctions Jefferson and Madison thought that monarchical power was tied to warfare, standing armies and tyranny and stood in direct opposition to Hamilton Wood argues that there is no Madison problem between the Madison of the Federalist, and the Madison of the Kentucky Resolutions Wood argues that Madison was always concerned about the abuses of the popular legislatures in his virginia plan, both houses were proportional, and congress would wield a veto over state laws against the Union Madison also suggested that there be a judicial executive council to wield this veto When these were rejected, Madison thought the constitution would fail Ultimately, Madison supported SCOTUS judicial review but did not favor the fiscal executive military state that Hamilton supported which was ultimately the most forward looking Wood s essay on Adams is interesting as well Adams was outside of the country during the crucial period of the convention While Adams supported the tripartite structure, he relied on classical rationales of republicanism, which saw each branch as representative of an order of society the senate aristocracy, the house the populace and the executive monarchy to balance the two Adams based this on his pessimistic view of humanity as jealous and scrambling for honors While most political theory by that point agreed with the conclusion, it did not agree with the rationale, which rested on a theory of popular sovereignty the people doling out its sovereignty to the government which have parts of that authority as agents of the people Overall, an enjoyable read that does not repeat the rote popular biographies but not dense enough to give you a headache in the sun. While Gordon Wood is one of the leading historians of the 18th Century nascent American republic and his depth and breadth of knowledge is remarkably impressive, this book comes across as a pale version of Joseph Ellis s Founding Brothers, with the essays on select founders Too often does the author come across as lecturing the reader about these significant revolutionary men instead of simply weaving a binding and mesmerizing analysis that continually engages the reader upon each page turn There were under five misused words throughout this book that escaped the eyes of a diligent proofreader but spellcheck didn t catch due to them not being misspellings which unacceptably reflects a cursory effort on behalf of such an esteemed writer like Mr Wood Nonetheless, in spite of these shortcomings, he does write an interesting series of essays about these characters I thought it was refreshing to see an overview of Thomas Paine included in this book as he is often overlooked I also give the author due credit for properly defining and explaining the word disinterested, which in today s lexicon tends to erroneously mean uninterested when in fact it should quite correctly mean fair and impartial Overall, this is a good read yet with glaring imperfections I would recommend Joseph Ellis s Founding Brothers instead for a better written and enjoyable take on these important characters and events of this era. I enjoyed listening to these essays during my daily commute I learned many things about my American history and heritage It also inspired me to read some of Thomas Paine s works I think I have also found a way to get non fiction into my reading diet It s definitely enjoyable to listen to and focus on via an audiobook then overcoming the stigma of reading what amounts to a textbook. I picked up this book at the library on July 3 so I could start reading it the next day My plan was to spend most of the 4th trying to learn a little about some of the founding fathers It was a great idea, however I probably should have picked something a little less daunting since this book was obviously intended for people who had paid attention during their history classes and were already familiar with the founders Nevertheless I kept at it and if nothing it has proven that I am woefully ignorant when it comes to things I probably ought to know about how our country was founded I must have been sick the week we studied the American Revolution Obviously I wasn t there the day we covered the Continental Congress And just what was the Virginia Plan I ve forgotten For that matter I can t remember exactly what Aaron Burr did to earn him the title of traitor or why he ended up having a duel with and killing Alexander Hamilton It s a good thing I don t have to take a test on any of this But what I did enjoy about Gordon Wood s book were the character sketches details about the kind of men the founders were 18th century gentlemen who placed a high priority on honor, dignity and good manners extremely intelligent and articulate, well read although not all of them were formally educated creative and passionate about what they were doing It must have been a fascinating time to be alive especially if you happened to be born a male and could live comfortably thanks to your family s money and the slaves you kept on your plantation If nothing else reading this book has made me realize that I really should stop reading so many 19th century British novels and pay a little attention to what was going on in this country a century before that Maybe I need to make of an effort After struggling through this book, I think I ll try to make it a point to read something each year that deals with American History It might make up for all the times I failed to pay attention in school. This book is a collection of reworked essays profiling the personal qualities and philosophies of the following Founders Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, Adams, Paine, and Burr It serves as an excellent introduction or refresher on the character and qualities of those founders with the central thesis that the very establishment of the American republic guaranteed that the people who would be chosen to lead it would never replicate the quality of the founders These founders with Burr as the outlier emerged as leaders because they lived in a time where our leaders were chosen precisely because of the quality of their character and their disinterestedness , ie the perception of their not wanting public life or of being incapable morally of using it for personal profit This was certainly true of these Founders except for Burr, whose duplicity and evident selfishness brought down his own downfall By their insistence in placing ultimate power in the people, however, public opinion rather than moral and intellectual superiority began to replace the self evident quality of character that called on these founders to positions of leadership Wood traces this downfall specifically to the Sedition Act of 1798, when the Federalist Party sought to dampen the rise of the Republican party, which slandered and debased John Adams and even Washington himself It was then that what was said about a person began to emerge as the most important quality in political leaders, with the ugly election of 1800 the result Public opinion, informed or not, became most important, and the best and the brightest were no longer necessarily called to public service or indeed elected One simply needs to look to the rise of Andrew Jackson, the most admired President of our current un intellectual POTUS 45, to see how quickly this became true A great primer on the personalities of the above Founders and always a joy to read Gordon Wood.