American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online

American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online

American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online

Wear to cover, especially at the edges. Light wear to corners of first few pages. Pages are free of highlighting, underlining, and handwriting. 100% satisfaction guaranteed! Ships direct from Amazon.
See more
Sold by Instigate the Change Books and fulfilled by Amazon.
[{"displayPrice":"$14.59","priceAmount":14.59,"currencySymbol":"$","integerValue":"14","decimalSeparator":".","fractionalValue":"59","symbolPosition":"left","hasSpace":false,"showFractionalPartIfEmpty":true,"offerListingId":"XcXFPLJpyb3YVp8yKBzWncU3v0GDm6%2BJ73lABwM2F7DrUq8wfU4fNnFn8Nd5yBeEDmahOYYqK8%2FJGLKpfbzBwB7rke%2FQeLNIKbTvt11kfYAR4HvbrJlPb%2B1HR18fXsTdOMZQXnivB0elAnoZHO5m9w%3D%3D","locale":"en-US","buyingOptionType":"NEW"},{"displayPrice":"$12.80","priceAmount":12.80,"currencySymbol":"$","integerValue":"12","decimalSeparator":".","fractionalValue":"80","symbolPosition":"left","hasSpace":false,"showFractionalPartIfEmpty":true,"offerListingId":"ODT5aS8tLUc4Qu5824mjKPOLMzF2DwswgHLy2jrVMZtSYMN7MQ0%2FcxzkFw6aNeUlrCckvdtJrEqxQVKCBXGANx3cFAe%2B52zb2Z5pzN3l5BHYnQKjdT4lDgUXZCkdOWb0jw03zpeK3ij5l1M5YzeqN%2FUc3Dc3V5dwDQ%2BXOSwNquU6diC%2BjAo5kQ%3D%3D","locale":"en-US","buyingOptionType":"USED"}]
$$14.59 () Includes selected options. Includes initial monthly payment and selected options. Details
Price
Subtotal
$$14.59
Subtotal
Initial payment breakdown
Shipping cost, delivery date, and order total (including tax) shown at checkout.
ADD TO LIST
Available at a lower price from other sellers that may not offer free Prime shipping.
SELL ON AMAZON
Share this product with friends
Text Message
WhatsApp
Copy
press and hold to copy
Email
Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest
Loading your book clubs
There was a problem loading your book clubs. Please try again.
Not in a club? Learn more
Join or create book clubs
Choose books together
Track your books
Bring your club to Amazon Book Clubs, start a new book club and invite your friends to join, or find a club that’s right for you for free. Explore Amazon Book Clubs
Inspire a love of reading with Amazon Book Box for Kids
Discover delightful children''s books with Amazon Book Box, a subscription that delivers new books every 1, 2, or 3 months — new Amazon Book Box Prime customers receive 15% off your first box. Sign up now
Brief content visible, double tap to read full content.
Full content visible, double tap to read brief content.

Frequently bought together

+
+
Choose items to buy together.
Buy all three: $33.45
$14.59
$9.60
$9.26
Total price:
To see our price, add these items to your cart.
Brief content visible, double tap to read full content.
Full content visible, double tap to read brief content.

Book details

Brief content visible, double tap to read full content.
Full content visible, double tap to read brief content.

Description

Product Description

The award-winning author of Founding Brothers and The Quartet now gives us a deeply insightful examination of the relevance of the views of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams to some of the most divisive issues in America today.

The story of history is a ceaseless conversation between past and present, and in American Dialogue Joseph J. Ellis focuses the conversation on the often-asked question "What would the Founding Fathers think?" He examines four of our most seminal historical figures through the prism of particular topics, using the perspective of the present to shed light on their views and, in turn, to make clear how their now centuries-old ideas illuminate the disturbing impasse of today''s political conflicts. He discusses Jefferson and the issue of racism, Adams and the specter of economic inequality, Washington and American imperialism, Madison and the doctrine of original intent. Through these juxtapositions—and in his hallmark dramatic and compelling narrative voice—Ellis illuminates the obstacles and pitfalls paralyzing contemporary discussions of these fundamentally important issues.

Review

“Vivid. . . . Ellis writes with insight and acuity in the present tense, just as he always has in the past tense, and in American Dialogue he draws connections between our history and our present reality with an authority that few other authors can muster.”  —Jeff Shesol, The New York Times Book Review

“Joe Ellis knows that history is not simply about the past, it’s about the present having a conversation with the past. In this elegant and fascinating book, he conducts a discourse between our current troubled times and the period when our founders crafted our national creed. The result is an exploration of our values that is both timely and timeless.”  —Walter Isaacson, author of Leonardo Da Vinci

“Ellis has taken those recurring questions and those astonishing founders and held them up against our current agonies, seeking to make sense of the present through the prism of the past. . . . Thoughtful and thought-provoking . . . this book may prompt readers to consider that there may be no certainties in a world where philosophy, practicality, and personal interest collide.”  The Boston Globe

“Ellis is not concerned with quiet insights or reassurance. He means to mark out where we have strayed from, and how we have betrayed, America''s founding ideals.”  The Washington Post

“American Dialogue tries to break the conversational deadlock by going back to the beginning and exploring the controversial choices made by the Founders themselves, asking hard questions about who they were, what they did, and what legacies they left behind.”  San Francisco Book Review

“A lucid and authoritative examination of America''s tumultuous beginnings, when the Founding Fathers grappled with issues of race, income inequality, law, and foreign policy—all issues that still vex the nation. . .  .These and other salient questions inform Ellis'' vivid depiction of the controversies swirling as the Constitution was drafted and ratified. . . . A discerning, richly detailed inquiry into America''s complex political and philosophical legacy.”  —Kirkus Reviews (starred)

About the Author

JOSEPH J. ELLIS is the author of many works of American history including Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, which won the National Book Award. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts with his wife and is the father of three sons.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Preface

My Self-Evident Truth

"History is always unfinished in the sense that the future always uses its past in new ways."
- Peter Gay, Style in History (1974)



Self-evident truths are especially alluring because, by definition, no one needs to explain why they are true. The most famous example of this lovely paradox, which gave the term its name, is the second paragraph in the Declaration of Independence (i.e. “We hold these truths to be self-evident”), where Thomas Jefferson surreptitiously imbedded the creedal statement of the American promise.

The ironies abound, since Jefferson almost certainly did not know he was drafting the American Creed, and subsequent generations worshipped his words for reasons different than he intended. Moreover, his initial draft described the truths as “sacred and undeniable,” and it was probably Benjamin Franklin who suggested the change to “self-evident.” But, in the end, such nettlesome details have proven powerless against the sweeping influence of Jefferson’s message, which defined the terms of the liberal tradition in American history.

My professional life as a writer and teacher of American history has been informed by another self-evident truth. As I try to put it into words, I worry that the very act of self-conscious articulation might drain away the unconscious magic of my working assumption and expose it as an illusion. But let me try. It goes like this: the study of history is an ongoing conversation between past and present from which we all have much to learn.

There, having said it, I can see that the formulation is helpfully vague. It does not dictate what we can learn, and therefore casts a wide net that gathers in a messy variety of both personal and public lessons. Most of my experience comes from forty-plus years of teaching in a liberal arts college, where there is less distance between students and faculty. In such schools communication does not end with graduation, but lives on in a feed-back loop about the relevance and irrelevance of what had been learned years ago.

The dominant pattern was a random and wholly unpredictable kind of relevance. There was the Chinese student who had done a research paper for me on the Massachusetts Constitution, which was drafted singlehandedly by John Adams. This served as the inspiration, so she claimed, for her work back in Shanghai, writing a putative constitution for post-communist China. At her twenty-fifth reunion another student told me that her career as a corporate executive had been influenced by two lectures on the Civil War, one from the northern, the other from the southern perspective, which helped her to think ironically. Several former students, both women and men, reported that their efforts to negotiate the inescapable tension between career and family were informed by their reading of Abigail Adams’s letters, citing most especially her indomitable resilience.

Such examples suggest that I was not completely fooling myself in believing that history has something to teach us all, even though it was impossible to know at the moment of learning just what that something might be. Self-conscious attempts to teach or preach relevance in history are therefore unnecessary, because the connection between then and now is imbedded in the enterprise, fated to emerge in the future in unforeseeable ways. In that sense, reading history is like expanding your memory further back in time, and the more history you learn, the larger the memory bank you can draw on when life takes a turn for which you are otherwise unprepared.
 
***
 
Obviously, a few reassuring testimonials from former students do not a compelling case make. But since my belief in history’s utility was an unquestioned article of faith, it did not require overwhelming evidence, only sufficient support to sustain its credibility. And on that score the historical record provided several dramatic illustrations of a usable past that caught my eye. My two favorite examples featured John Adams during the American Revolution and Abraham Lincoln on the issue of slavery.

In June of 1776 Adams wrote to several friends in Boston, asking them to scour the Harvard library for books on military history, especially accounts of the Peloponnesian and Punic wars. He had just been appointed head of the Board of War and Ordnance, effectively making him secretary of war, a post for which he freely admitted he was wholly unprepared. He decided to give himself a crash course on how to manage an army.

Over the ensuing months he bombarded George Washington and the general officers of the Continental Army with advice gleaned from his reading. His most relevant strategic suggestion, which was based on his analysis of the battles between Thebes and Sparta as recorded by Thucydides, was to adopt a defensive strategy, what he called “a war of posts.” Much like the Spartans, Adams argued, the British were virtually invincible on a conventional battlefield, so the Continental Army should engage only when it enjoyed tactical superiority in numbers or terrain. Such advice cut against all of Washington’s aggressive instincts, but he eventually, if reluctantly, embraced it. The result was a protracted war that the British had to win, while the Americans had only not to lose. This proved a more attainable goal, eventually achieved when the British abandoned the conflict after the battle of Yorktown in 1781.

In 1858 Abraham Lincoln also began a research project, in his case focused on the records of the Constitutional Convention and the early histories of that seminal event. Lincoln’s research was prompted by the landmark Supreme Court decision, Dred Scott v Sanford (1857), in which Chief Justice Roger Taney, writing for the majority, ruled that the framers of the Constitution regarded slaves as property rather than persons, meaning that slave-owners could not be deprived of their property without their consent, which led to the conclusion that any law prohibiting slavery in the western territories was unconstitutional.

Lincoln’s reading of history led him to a dramatically different conclusion, namely that many of the founders sought to limit slavery’s expansion, a view which he presented in its fullest form in his Cooper Union Address (1860). He discovered that twenty-one of the thirty-nine signers of the Constitution were on record for banning or restricting slavery in the territories. Both Washington and Jefferson, as well as sixteen signers, endorsed the Northwest Ordinance, which prohibited slavery north of the Ohio River. Jefferson had even wanted to ban slavery in all the new territories.

As for the larger question of slavery itself, Lincoln argued that the founding generation regarded it as a moral embarrassment that clearly defied the principles announced in the Declaration of Independence, which was the major reason the delegates in Philadelphia refused to permit the toxic term to contaminate the language of the Constitution. As Lincoln described them, the founders thought of slavery as a cancer they could not surgically remove without killing the infant American republic in the cradle. Throughout the trials and tribulations of America’s bloodiest war, Lincoln maintained he was acting as the agent of the founding generation, so that the Union cause spoke for the true meaning of the American Revolution.

It is worth noting that both Adams and Lincoln went back to the past with explicit political agendas, which is to say that they knew what they were looking for. So, for that matter, did Chief Justice Tanney, who harbored a proslavery agenda. By definition, all efforts to harvest the accumulated wisdom of the past must begin from a location in the present, so the questions posed of the past are inevitably shaped either consciously or unconsciously by the historical context in which they are asked. Unlike my former students, who discovered relevant historical insights later in life, almost accidentally, the Adams and Lincoln examples were self-conscious attempts to generate historical evidence in support of preferred outcomes. When it comes to the writing of relevant history, there are no immaculate conceptions.

This is an inconvenient truth that most historians acknowledge under their breath, admitting that objectivity, in the sense that mathematicians or physicists use the term, is not a realistic goal for historians. The best they can strive for is some measure of detachment, which serves the useful purpose of stigmatizing the most flagrant forms of ideological prejudice (i.e. cherry picking the evidence to claim that Thomas Jefferson was an evangelical Christian or Andrew Jackson a New Deal Democrat.) But if you believe that the study of history is an ongoing conversation between past and present, detachment itself is delusional. In his Style in History (1974) Peter Gay put the point succinctly: “History is always unfinished in the sense that the future always uses the past in new ways.” In fact, the past is not history, but a much vaster region of the dead, gone, unknowable or forgotten. History is what we choose to remember, and we have no alternative but to do our choosing now.
 
***
 
My goal in the pages that follow is to provide a round-trip ticket to the late eighteenth century, then back to our location in the second decade of the twenty-first. The founding era has been chosen as a destination for two reasons: first, of all of the terrain in American history, I know it best; second, it produced the Big Bang that created all the planets and orbits in our political universe, thereby establishing the institutional framework for what is still an ongoing argument about our destiny as a people and a nation. Thus my title.

The questions we will be carrying back to the founding from our sliver of time in the present are inescapably shaped by our location in a divided America that is currently incapable of sustained argument and unsure of its destiny. We inhabit a backlash moment in American history of uncertain duration. Our creedal convictions as Americans, all of which have their origin in the founding era, are bumping up against four unforeseen and unprecedented obstacles: the emergence of a truly multiracial society; the inherent inequalities of a globalized economy; the sclerotic blockages of an aging political architecture; and the impossible obligations facing any world power once the moral certainties provided by the Cold War vanished. These obstacles became more difficult to negotiate in 2016, when the most inexperienced, uninformed, and divisive presidential candidate in American history occupied the Oval Office.

The Now sections of the ensuing chapters represent my effort to place each of these topical areas—race, income inequality, jurisprudence, and foreign policy—in historical context by viewing them as recent entries in longstanding patterns. The Then sections focus on specific founders, chosen in part because of their prominence, but mostly because, based on my previous work in their papers, each founder speaks with special resonance to the subject under scrutiny. Much in the way the founders went back to the Greek and Roman classics for guidance during the political crisis of their time, we are going back to the founders, our classics, in ours.

Our goal, then, is to learn more about our origins in the fond hope that doing so will allow us to frame the salient questions of our own time with greater wisdom than we are currently able to muster on our own. Moreover, the very act of posing such questions also enhances the prospects of viewing the founders themselves from new angles that cast their legacy in a different light. We can safely assume that the dialogue between now and then is an interactive process possessing the potential to change both sides of the chronological equation.

Although the founders are busy being dead, they still speak to use in the vast archive of letters and documents they left behind. The historical record is so rich because the revolutionary generation realized that they were “present at the creation” and therefore preserved their thoughts in the belief that posterity would want to remember them. Over the years, a small army of editors has worked assiduously on that preservation project, producing the fullest account of any political elite in recorded history. My attempt to recover the American Dialogue is wholly dependent on that documentary record.

Of course, the suggestion that there is an ongoing conversation across the centuries is a literary conceit, but we pay homage to the dialogue every time we cite the seminal texts of the founding to fortify our current convictions. As a lovely song once put it, the fundamental things apply, as time goes by.

In the pages that follow I will try to do justice to both sides of the dialogue. What did “all men are created equal” mean then and now? Did the “pursuit of happiness” imply the right to some semblance of economic equality? Does it now? Who were included in “We the people” then? Who is included now? Is it historically correct to describe the United States as an “exceptional” nation? If so, what are its current implications? Did the founders leave a legacy of government as “us” or “them”? If the correct answer is both, which legacy best meets our needs now?

Given our current condition as a deeply divided people, my hope is that the founding era can become a safe place to gather together, not so much to find answers to those questions as to argue about them. Indeed, if I read the founders right, their greatest legacy is the recognition that argument itself is the answer.

Product information

Brief content visible, double tap to read full content.
Full content visible, double tap to read brief content.

Videos

Help others learn more about this product by uploading a video!
Upload video
Brief content visible, double tap to read full content.
Full content visible, double tap to read brief content.

Customers who bought this item also bought

Customer reviews

4.5 out of 54.5 out of 5
262 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

Parker
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Viewing the Founders as Imperfect Men
Reviewed in the United States on November 4, 2018
You can read through Dr. Ellis'' newest work over a weekend of dedicated sitting. As with most of his more recent works, 280 or so pages and nothing else, as Ellis often states in interviews, will get you an audience more likely than 4 or 500 pages. American Dialogue: The... See more
You can read through Dr. Ellis'' newest work over a weekend of dedicated sitting. As with most of his more recent works, 280 or so pages and nothing else, as Ellis often states in interviews, will get you an audience more likely than 4 or 500 pages. American Dialogue: The Founders and Us is Dr. Ellis'' attempt to view our current political climate through the words, actions, letters and legacies of four of our founding fathers: Jefferson, Adams, Washington and Madison.

I heard Ellis once describe Jefferson as the penultimate paradox of a man: how could the man who wrote the words "all men are created equal" also be an unapologetic racist? How could the man who wrote "All men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights - that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" own over 800 slaves in his lifetime - showing no regard at all for their pursuit of happiness. (One could make the argument Jefferson did this for The Hemings Family, but this would be ill-advised). In his chapter on Jefferson, Ellis points out repeatedly the multitude of character flaws and personal demons of our third president, who deemed his presidency so irrelevant a part of his life that he didn''t even have it inscribed on his tombstone. Instead, the obelisk reads: Author of the Declaration of Independence, of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and Father of the University of Virginia.

Adams is his, and my, favorite of our founding fathers - especially given how under-appreciated his legacy has been in our times (though the McCullough biography and HBO Mini-Series has helped in staging a sort of comeback for the erudite lawyer turned revolutionary orator and statesman). Adams feared our government would snowball slowly into oligarchy if we did not learn from history and educate ourselves about the fallibility of man. A deeply anxious mind, coupled with an overwhelming sense of responsibility and commitment to preserving the American founding, Adams spent almost his entire life after college and early law years dedicated to the service of his country; he was our first vice-president, second president, head of the board of war and ordnance, minister in the UK and Netherlands, and of course - a pinnacle delegate to the First and Second Continental Congress.

The section on Washington, by far the most statuesque of the founders, is covered with tact, amusement and deep reflection. Here was a man who embodied leadership in all forms yet was so nervous of revealing too much about his personal life and inner-thoughts that he had his wife Martha burn their letters to one another upon his death. Washington commanded the Continental Army as best he could, though not without dire mistakes. He eventually took Adams'' advice and started conducting Fabian tactics, what is also called battling in "a war of posts" were you attack your enemy and retreat as quickly as possible before they can retaliate. Washington knew, more than any other, that America had not to win the war for independence; they only had to not lose. (SIDE NOTE: this unfortunate strategy did not work out as well for the united states in Vietnam).

The last sections covers Madison and his shaping and spurious calls to form our Constitution. Madison, more than any other member of the Constitutional Convention, it is widely acknowledged, is the pinnacle figure in creating what would become the law of the land and Ellis spends plentiful time arguing for his cause. He also mentions, briefly, how Madison feared a growing elite would usurp power economically in our nation without the proper checks and balances in place. (One note: Ellis brings up Pickettey''s book Capitalism in the 21st century as a point of showing how bad income inequality has gotten; he even writes that the top ten hedge fund managers in the country have more wealth between them than every pre-K teacher in the country. I wish he would have talked more about the other side of the rational for income inequality, i.e. Walter Scheidel''s remarkable book The Great Leveler: income inequality from the stone age to the twenty-first century.... but I digress.)

This book is worth your time. It will challenge how you think about the current state of our countries experience together. By understanding the imperfections of those who helped in creating our republic, our responsibility should be to acknowledge our own imperfections and work to bridge the partisan divides that separate our country into camps red/blue and in between. Ellis is pragmatic in that he admits he is pessimistic about the future, but he does see glimmers of hope possible on the horizon. As Dr. King famously said (and I''m paraphrasing) " the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

Let us hope to heed this progress, for all of our sakes and our children''s.
77 people found this helpful
Helpful
Report
Ronald H. Clark
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
An Interesting Experiment--only Partially Successful
Reviewed in the United States on November 20, 2018
The format of this new book by the distinguished historian Joseph J. Ellis struck me as a promising idea. Pick out some of the founders (Jefferson, John Adams, Madison, and Washington) who are identified with particular ideas (race, equality, law and avoidance of... See more
The format of this new book by the distinguished historian Joseph J. Ellis struck me as a promising idea. Pick out some of the founders (Jefferson, John Adams, Madison, and Washington) who are identified with particular ideas (race, equality, law and avoidance of entangling foreign alliances), and use them to initiate a dialogue with the current America. So each of the four founder sections has an essay attached focusing on the key idea as it has affected American history. Unfortunately, while the essays on the founders are top quality Ellis, I found the promise of the related essays not fully realized.

Take the first founder, Jefferson. Ellis writes what can only be described as a scalding essay effectively criticizing Jefferson for his changing views on slavery. Initially at the time of drafting the Declaration of Independence, a severe critic of slavery and desirous of ending it, by the time of his death he was a firm defender of the institution even to the point of adopting southern arguments justifying it even if this led to severe strains on the union. Tough indictment but fair. But when we turn to the essay, one is mystified at its purpose. It is nothing more than a meandering recounting of the abuse of African-Americans throughout American history--with material that is thoroughly familiar to the reader. I don''t think Ellis, a careful and meticulous historian, is blaming all this history on Jefferson; if not, then what is the point and what does the essay add?

Things do pick up with the second group of essays on John Adams and the third set on Madison. The interesting conflicting opinions in retirement of the two former presidents on the issue of is equality versus domination by aristocrats is fascinating to read. Ellis'' accompanying essays nicely captures the equality issue and why it has waxed and waned with different presidents. Jefferson pops up here as well arguing that there was no federal authority over domestic policy.

The Madison material is the strongest aspect of the book. We learn a great deal about Madison and his contributions to the Constitution, the invention of federalism, and his drafting of the Bill of Rights. The accompanying essay is a perceptive and destructive attack upon the originalism conservative theory of constitutional interpretation. It is fascinating to see a world-class historian make mincemeat of the purported justifications for this approach, and his dismal of Justice Scalia is devastating.

Most surprising is the essay on Washington. I had no idea he had spent much of his first term focused on trying to establish reasonable agreements as to territory and other considerations with the Indian nations. His fair and equitable approach came to naught, unfortunately, because thousands of settlers just rushed onto the Indian lands and disrupted Washington''s best efforts. His second term was consumed more with foreign relations as evidenced by his "Farewell Address" recommendation to avoid entangling foreign alliances. This topic leads nicely into the accompanying essay on American foreign policy and whether we can maintain the role of sole superpower.

So, in short, my judgment of the book is that the historical essays are solid and well worth consideration. The accompanying essay on Jefferson adds nothing new; but those on Adams and especially Madison are quite helpful. The Washington essay is ok, but not Ellis'' best work though interesting at points. A mixed verdict, but still a book one can learn from, as is the case with all of Ellis'' scholarly efforts.
33 people found this helpful
Helpful
Report
Brian
3.0 out of 5 stars
Unfair to Jefferson
Reviewed in the United States on November 23, 2018
I started teaching the Declaration of Independence to college students in 2007. That, in turn, compelled me to learn more about Thomas Jefferson, and to read his letters, which I have been pondering ever since. Joseph Ellis is right to bring Jefferson’s letters... See more
I started teaching the Declaration of Independence to college students in 2007. That, in turn, compelled me to learn more about Thomas Jefferson, and to read his letters, which I have been pondering ever since.

Joseph Ellis is right to bring Jefferson’s letters into his discussion, but I think his reasoning has taken a wrong turn. It is the height of popularity in academia to condemn Jefferson for not solving the whole problem of slavery in his lifetime.

Ellis writes, “Jefferson...was in a unique position as president to seize the most fortuitous opportunity history ever offered to implement a gradual emancipation policy that would put slavery on the road to extinction, but he failed to do so” (p. 46).

I am disappointed to see Ellis argue for this popular fallacy. The president of the United States never was a king. Jefferson could not do whatever he wanted. Earlier, Ellis points out the very thing that prevented Jefferson from making any legislation to limit or emancipate slaves: most of American society did not want to give up slavery. Politicians want to get re-elected so they can implement their vision, and Jefferson was no different. But if a society is not ready, then the politician must wait. A politician cannot impose his or her vision on a society.

Can you imagine a liberal politician trying to pass gun control legislation in a conservative district? How would the liberal politician get elected in a conservative district in the first place? He or she would have to conceal his or her identity. After—let’s say “his” deception—and subsequent attempt to pass an unpopular bill, what are the chances such a politician would get re-elected? Not very likely.

Jefferson realized this, and so he backed off his abolitionist efforts.

Not only did Bill Clinton not try to legalize gay marriage, in 1996 he supported and signed the Defense of Marriage Act. This prevented federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Did Barack Obama support gay marriage when he became president? No. But when popular opinion finally turned during his presidency, he said that he had supported it all along.

Why do so many think Jefferson could have freed the slaves if he wanted to? Jefferson was right, American society in his day was not ready for it. And it’s not like someone came right after Jefferson and abolished slavery. Jefferson left the presidency in 1809 (he died in 1826) and nothing happened for 54 years, until Abraham Lincoln gave the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

We fought our worst war over slavery, more than seven hundred thousand Americans died in our Civil War. And slavery was ended. But were Americans ready for equality? No. Blacks had to wait another hundred years, for the Civil Rights era in the 1960s. And that wasn’t easy either. Supposedly, according to our academics, Jefferson could have done what we could not do in more than two hundred years? I say that is an unfair burden to put on Thomas Jefferson. We might as well say that he should have legalized same-sex marriage as well, and marijuana—and invented penicillin. Let’s blame Jefferson for everything. He could have created the perfect society—if he only had wanted to.

So Jefferson did something else. He planted a seed. And Ellis acknowledges this. On page 21 he describes what I call a seed, a “covert antislavery argument,” and I like this phrase, too. In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson planted the phrase, “...all men are created equal....” It is said that the Declaration is one of the greatest human rights documents. But the main purpose of the Declaration was to declare independence from Great Britain. Why not just say, “We do not recognize your authority over us” and be done with it?

During my teaching career, I taught my college students that the Declaration was a break-up letter. The American revolutionaries were saying: We don’t want to go out with you anymore. How odd, I have thought, to also say, “Oh, and by the way, all men are created equal.” The relevance of this human rights statement concerning equality is not readily apparent. Yes, the revolutionaries were telling the British: we are equal with you. But this isn’t a necessary point to make when breaking up with someone, even if the someone is a country. It’s okay to just say, “I’m breaking up with you.” End of story.

This is why I say that Jefferson planted a seed in the Declaration. Ellis goes on to acknowledge that Abraham Lincoln used this phrase as support for abolishing slavery (p.55), and Martin Luther King, Jr. used this phrase as support for his claim for civil rights (p.56).

So I reject Ellis’s claim—the popular claim—that Jefferson is to be condemned.

That is my specific critique of Ellis’s first two chapters. My general critique is that he has committed the fallacy of “presentism”: judging the past by today’s standards. It is one of the worst ways we, especially historians, can be unfair to people of the past. And it is one of the worst ways we can disingenuously congratulate ourselves.

Brian Martin
Shoreline, Washington
57 people found this helpful
Helpful
Report
Amazon Customer
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Real History and Liberal Drivel
Reviewed in the United States on January 25, 2019
Interesting concept that fails to deliver as it drowns in its own liberal goop. The "then" historical half is excellent, like all of JJE''s works. The "now" half sounds like the rantings of a 16 year old who discovers MSNBC for the first time. It is full of straw men and... See more
Interesting concept that fails to deliver as it drowns in its own liberal goop. The "then" historical half is excellent, like all of JJE''s works. The "now" half sounds like the rantings of a 16 year old who discovers MSNBC for the first time. It is full of straw men and blanket statements of how awful white Republicans are.

For example, in the "Race" section, JJE does good work describing how Jefferson failed in a bigger plan to train freed slaves in practical trades and help them move into lands in the west. The "now" section just laments how racist and awful America is. Instead, JJE could have analysed if Jefferson would have supported free technical college over "college for all" that gives useless degrees. How would Jefferson and Mike Rowe, for instance, have interacted? Would Jefferson support the sale or transfer of federal lands in the west to black Americans today? What about the environmental impacts? Which justice group should win? Should the federal government have a policy to help black Americans get skills training today and money to help relocate to dying small towns in the interior? That sounds very Jeffersonian. Instead of just calling everyone a racist, JJE could have offered solutions tied to the historical record.

The "Law" "Then" section covers a huge range of constitutional topics and is very interesting. The "Now" is just a re-quotation of Jane Meyer and critiques the Heller decision. No discussion of other "state sovereignty" topics. There are illusions to Citizens United being an awful decision but nothing noting how the founding generation started and supported newspapers, or how merchant versus agrarian interests (ie businesses of the times) supported or drove political themes of the day.

The most ironic part is where JJE describes a historian''s job as being politically dispassionate but half the book seems like it was written by one of Hilary''s 2016 campaign Brooklyn hipsters.

I would rate this a 1 star but the historical quality of half the book gets it a second.
15 people found this helpful
Helpful
Report
KasbaLake
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Fresh Look At History
Reviewed in the United States on October 22, 2018
Joseph Ellis has written a brilliant, concise, crystal clear look at the Founding Fathers and their view of some of the issues that have transcended the entire history of our country. This is a new way to look at history and is the way it should be taught. I have not read... See more
Joseph Ellis has written a brilliant, concise, crystal clear look at the Founding Fathers and their view of some of the issues that have transcended the entire history of our country. This is a new way to look at history and is the way it should be taught. I have not read a better book in memory. If American history needs explanation, this is where you will find it.
16 people found this helpful
Helpful
Report
George Oppel
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
pithy and profound
Reviewed in the United States on November 20, 2018
What a terrific book. Then "then" and "now" framework is no conceit but rather a compelling heuristic that sharpens our sense of the continuities and ruptures in American political history. It''s compelling because the topics chosen are so germane: Jefferson''s sublime... See more
What a terrific book. Then "then" and "now" framework is no conceit but rather a compelling heuristic that sharpens our sense of the continuities and ruptures in American political history. It''s compelling because the topics chosen are so germane: Jefferson''s sublime hypocrisy on race and other matters like executive power; Adams''s fear of a moneyed aristocracy; Madison''s real-time shape shifting on federal versus state power; and Washington''s call for an isolationist foreign policy even as his country embarked on an imperial quest when it came to Native Americans. The case studies resonate in part because Ellis is well-versed in the republican tradition of political thought and is a writer who embraces paradox rather than trying to downplay it. This produces rich thought, expressed (as ever) by Ellis in pungent prose. Readers can reach their own conclusions about the way Ellis traces the "dialogue" from past to present, though to my mind his necessarily shorter chapters on the present are without exception instructive. We need, he argues, a third panel on the side of the Jefferson memorial, so that the phrase "All men are created equal" can be read alongside Jefferson''s clearly expressed conviction that the two races in America could never share the same government. And we need to understand, better than we do, that "originalism" is a made-up school of constitutional interpretation with zero grounding in the kind of historical scholarship Ellis employs to such winning effect in this short but masterful book.
5 people found this helpful
Helpful
Report
Frank m
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Speaking truth to American history
Reviewed in the United States on February 1, 2019
Worth reading more than once, especially anyone truly interested in the how and why of the true formation of the government of the United States, and the true mindsets of the founders. Ellis is especially adept at his exposure of the late Atonin Scalia, for the... See more
Worth reading more than once, especially anyone truly interested in the how and why of the true formation of the government of the United States, and the true mindsets of the founders.
Ellis is especially adept at his exposure of the late Atonin Scalia, for the mountbank, con man and toady to the ultra-right and the NRA that he truly was. Ellis clearly lays out Scalia''s intentional disregard, not only of the mind of Madison and the others who participated in the formulation of the Constitution and in particularly the Bill of Rights, but also his, and other supporters, of the false interpretation of the 2nd amendment which supposedly allows the ''bearing'' of guns by the general pubic.

This, and the author''s clear explanation of the money backed ultra conservative movement push to a return to the old ''robber-baron'' days of the country''s history and the lack of current understanding by the general public as to the nature and reasons for this activity calls for the clear need for the exposure Ellis provides to be consistently taught to our children.
2 people found this helpful
Helpful
Report
EM Weiler
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Terrible
Reviewed in the United States on December 2, 2018
I really enjoy listening to this author speak when he is a guest on the Thomas Jefferson hour. However, he did not narrate his own audio-book and the person they hired, reads the book as if it is a piece of fiction. It is very difficult to listen to as his intonations... See more
I really enjoy listening to this author speak when he is a guest on the Thomas Jefferson hour. However, he did not narrate his own audio-book and the person they hired, reads the book as if it is a piece of fiction. It is very difficult to listen to as his intonations don''t seem to match the words he is reading. Also, the author makes quite a few statements that he does not back up with anything so we are just left to believe that what he says is true. These are statements that tell us what John Adams, or one of the other founders believed as if he is quoting them, but then there is nothing that follows it to back it up and so the reader is left to surmise that it is the opinion only of the author. Not an enjoyable read. I only made it through Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and will not waste any more time on it.
9 people found this helpful
Helpful
Report

Top reviews from other countries

R. Cartaxo
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Superb
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 21, 2019
This is a great book for everyone interested in understanding the historical roots of the American political debate. Joseph Ellis chose four topics - race, equality, rule of law and the role of America in the world - to confront what the founders thought with what today’s...See more
This is a great book for everyone interested in understanding the historical roots of the American political debate. Joseph Ellis chose four topics - race, equality, rule of law and the role of America in the world - to confront what the founders thought with what today’s political actors stand for. Thanks to this approach, history becomes much more than just a theme of curiosity: it is also a useful tool to better understand the present.
One person found this helpful
Report
See all reviews
Brief content visible, double tap to read full content.
Full content visible, double tap to read brief content.

Customers who viewed this item also viewed

Brief content visible, double tap to read full content.
Full content visible, double tap to read brief content.

What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?

American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online

American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online

American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online

American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online

American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online

American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online

American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online

American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online

American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online

American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online

American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online

American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online

American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online

American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online

American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online

American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online

American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online

American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online

American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online

American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online

American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online

American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online

American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online

American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online

American Dialogue: The Founders lowest and online Us online