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.
The founders have much to tell us about current problems, none of it simple, according to this incisive study of American political creeds. Pulitzer Prize winning historian Ellis (American Sphinx) probes the writings of four Revolutionary War leaders on issues of ideology and governance that still roil America. Thomas Jefferson's hypocritical racial attitudes he both deplored slavery (while owning dozens of slaves, some of them his own children) and believed that blacks could not live with whites as equals frame Ellis's discussion of the menace of modern racism; John Adams's doubts about the feasibility of achieving true social equality underpin a look at rising economic inequality since the Reagan administration; James Madison's attempts to convert the early U.S. from a federation to a nation-state spark a critique of Supreme Court conservatives' originalist philosophy of jurisprudence; and George Washington's weary realism about popular passions, human fallibility, and the difficulty of spreading republican values to foreign lands prompts a dissection of the failures of recent American military adventures. Ellis's passions sometimes show, as in his criticism of Justice Antonin Scalia's writings on the Second Amendment. Still, his colorful, nuanced portraits of these outsized but very human personalities and shrewd analyses of their philosophies make for a compelling case for the troubled but vital legacy of the founding generation.