Thursday, January 21, 2010
The founding fathers had faults, a great book reveals
By Scott Beveridge,
The book “Founding Brothers” is easy to put down after a few pages of dry, historic reading, academia style.
But, that should not come as criticism to its author, Joseph J. Ellis, who does a brilliant job in his national bestseller of analyzing and critically reviewing letters and documents that were left behind by the founders of the United States. His efforts won him a Pulitzer Prize for crying out loud.
For those reasons, this book first published 10 years ago will periodically find its way back into the hands of readers who are interested in the lives of such revolutionaries as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Madison.
Ellis peels off the layers of history that has placed these men on pedestals, as if they were mythical gods, to reveal them as real men with faults and political ambitions that sometimes blinded them from the better good of the young nation. They made silly predictions and bad judgments while also laying the foundations of a new nation, sometimes flying by the seats of their pants.
My generation was never taught in public school that Jefferson could have been a back-stabber who often undermined President John Adams when he served under him as vice president. Some of his behind-the-stage maneuverings involved Jefferson’s disagreement with Adams over the president’s support of a peace treaty with France, giving birth to bitter bipartisan politics would become their legacies.
The polarization is made clear in the book near its end when Adams, in his waning years, wrote to Jefferson about the public outrage over a decision during his presidency to send a peace delegation to France.
Angry mobs had surrounded Adams’ house over that decision, while he stated he was certain Jefferson was “fast asleep in philosophical Tranquility.”
“What think you of Terrorism, Mr. Jefferson?” Adams stated in the letter. “Both parties have excited artificial Terrors.”
His words sound familiar these days when President George Bush has faced accusations of embracing a “politics of fear” in wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, acts of terrorism in New York and Washington, D.C.
And all anyone has to do today is turn on CNN to get a steady diet of the ugly divisions that exist between Republicans, Democrats, teapartiers and independents over heath care reform, bailouts, big government and spending.