FOUNDING BROTHERS, by Joseph Ellis. ISBN 0-375-40544-5.

In the popular view of American history, the founding fathers are often seen as a band of harmonious patriots. Patriots they were; harmonious, hardly. This book looks at six important events of the times, each focusing on a crucial issue of our fragile new nation. The Burr-Hamilton duel is first, then the "secret dinner" where Hamilton's financial plan was established in exchange for locating the capitol, Washington, in the South. The Franklin-Madison slavery debates, Washington's Farewell Address, John Adams travails as his successor, and the famed Adams-Jefferson late-life correspondence, comparing their quite different views of what really happened.

This is a marvelous book. Ellis shows that our country's checks and balances (such as our three-part government) are more easily traced to the interactions and personalities of the Founders than to specific philosophical principles. Convinced that "character matters," Ellis provides a fresh perspective on the Revolution's unpredictable forces.

In these days of division between "red states" and "blue states," of acrimonious arguments and character assassinations on both sides, this book is instructive in pointing out how such warfare has been part and parcel of American politics from the earliest days. Indeed, today's controversies seem, in some respects, to be only a pale shadow of those of 200+ years ago!

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