The Founding Fathers Reconsidered

The Founding Fathers Reconsidered

The Founding Fathers Reconsidered

The Founding Fathers Reconsidered

Synopsis

Here is a concise, scholarly, yet accessible overview of the brilliant, flawed, and quarrelsome group of lawyers, politicians, merchants, military men, and clergy known as "the Founding Fathers" - who got as close to the ideal of the Platonic "philosopher-kings" as American or world historyhas ever seen. In The Founding Fathers Reconsidered, R. B. Bernstein reveals Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, and the other founders not as shining demigods but as imperfect human beings - people much like us - who nevertheless achieved political greatness. They emerge here as men who sought totranscend their intellectual world even as they were bound by its limits, men who strove to lead the new nation even as they had to defer to the great body of the people and learn with them the possibilities and limitations of politics. Bernstein deftly traces the dynamic forces that molded thesemen and their contemporaries as British colonists in North America and as intellectual citizens of the Atlantic civilization's Age of Enlightenment. He analyzes the American Revolution, the framing and adoption of state and federal constitutions, and the key concepts and problems--among themindependence, federalism, equality, slavery, and the separation of church and state--that both shaped and circumscribed the founders' achievements as the United States sought its place in the world. Finally, he charts the shifting reputations of the founders, both as a group and as individuals, andexamining the specific uses to which interpreters of the Constitution have put the Founding Fathers, along with the problems besetting this "jurisprudence of original intent." A masterly blend of old and new scholarship, brimming with apt description and insightful analysis, this book offers a persuasive account of how the Founding Fathers were formed, what they did, and how generations of Americans have viewed them.

Excerpt

The founding fathers were creators of the United States and of American national identity, of constitutional democracy, and icons of disinterested statesmanship. They risked all in the service of their great dream of a free, peaceful, and happy nation immune from the corruptions of the Old World and destined to spread across a new, rich continent. They wrote the words and the music to the great American story that posterity has lived by from their time to ours. As we revere them, celebrate their lives, and extol their achievements, we despair of measuring up to them. That is one popular view.

Another view is the photographic negative of the first: the founding fathers were selfish, intolerant, bigoted representatives of a corrupt establishment. They reluctantly gave the great body of the people opportunities to realize their dreams of independence and self-fulfillment, only to smother those dreams by creating a new, powerful general government that suppressed the people and choked their creative energies. Only a peaceful democratic revolution of which Thomas Jefferson was the figurehead and the wordsmith undid the founding fathers’ plans. Even then, Jefferson and those whom he led scorned the claims of oppressed groups . . .

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