Book Review: American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic


Title: American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic
Author: Joseph J. Ellis
Publication Date: 2007
Publishing House: Random House

After reading the Washington: A Life biography it pushed me to learn more about the founding of the United States. There are still a ton of biographies on my to read list but for a greater over arching view I found this book.

Synopsis from Goodreads

An ironic examination of the founding years of the United States of America. Historian Ellis guides readers thru the decisive issues of the nation’s founding, and illuminates the emerging philosophies, shifting alliances, and personal and political foibles of now iconic leaders. He explains how the idea of a strong federal government, championed by Washington, was eventually embraced by the American people, the majority of whom had to be won over. He details the emergence of the two-party system–then a political novelty–which today stands as the founders’ most enduring legacy. But Ellis is equally incisive about their failures, making clear how their inability to abolish slavery and to reach a just settlement with the Native Americans has played an equally important role in shaping our national character. Ellis strips the mythic veneer of the revolutionary generation to reveal men possessed of both brilliance and blindness. 

The American Revolution was a unique thing. It did not burn hot and burn itself out destroying those who would be the founders in its wake. Instead it started slow and each step, at least in retrospect, appears deliberate. The revolutionary leaders, those we call the founding fathers, attempted diplomacy long before signing the Declaration of Independence. This book quotes John Adams saying that he hopes the founders of America are not turned into gods. For all his pomp he was aware that the founders were human and fallible. Their creation, though remarkable, was flawed just as they were. He also worried that if the founders were deified that he would not make it into the pantheon, so the comment is a bit self serving.

I really appreciated this book because it did not sugarcoat or gloss over the failures in the founding of the republic. Often, intentionally or not, I feel that not enough time is spent on failure. The founding of America failed in two area: the founding fathers failed to make any decision regarding slavery. They allowed the practice to endure. Thomas Jefferson, after the Louisiana Purchase, even correctly predicted that the abolition of slavery would lead to a civil war.

The part of this book that hit me the hardest was how the United States government treated Native Americans. I knew some of it but not all that is discussed in this test. I feel a lot when reading but rarely shame. There are many wrong acts in America’s history but it makes me uncomfortable that we started out this bad.

The founding fathers did a lot right. They started and won a revolution with out getting radical or too bloody (looking at you French Revolution). They founded a lasting government that allows discussion of different ideals and that still balances state and federal power. However, there idea of “citizens” was flawed and those flaws are still visible and showing the effects to this day.

I highly recommend reading in depth discussions of history, if not this book then Washington: A Life or a different historical discussion on the founding of America. understanding the ideas and precedent set then help us to understand the prevalent regards towards specific groups that has trickled down through the centuries. I am not a historian just someone who wants to learn. To informative reading.

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4 comments on “Book Review: American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic”

  1. I’ll have to read this now. I’ve read other books by Joe Ellis, but he really didn’t touch on the Native American aspect much. I’m Really interested in that portion. Excellent Summary!

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