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American Creation
Cover of American Creation
American Creation
Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic
Borrow Borrow
From the first shots fired at Lexington to the signing of the Declaration of Independence to the negotiations for the Louisiana Purchase, Joseph J. Ellis guides us through the decisive issues of the nation's founding, and illuminates the emerging philosophies, shifting alliances, and personal and political foibles of our now iconic leaders–Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and Adams. He casts an incisive eye on the founders' achievements, arguing that the American Revolution was, paradoxically, an evolution–and that part of what made it so extraordinary was the gradual pace at which it occurred. He explains how the idea of a strong federal government was eventually embraced by the American people, and details the emergence of the two-party system, which stands as the founders' most enduring legacy.
Ellis is equally incisive about their failures, and he makes 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. With eloquence and insight, Ellis strips the mythic veneer of the revolutionary generation to reveal men both human and inspired, possessed of both brilliance and blindness. American Creation is an audiobook that delineates an era of flawed greatness, at a time when understanding our origins is more important than ever.
From the first shots fired at Lexington to the signing of the Declaration of Independence to the negotiations for the Louisiana Purchase, Joseph J. Ellis guides us through the decisive issues of the nation's founding, and illuminates the emerging philosophies, shifting alliances, and personal and political foibles of our now iconic leaders–Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and Adams. He casts an incisive eye on the founders' achievements, arguing that the American Revolution was, paradoxically, an evolution–and that part of what made it so extraordinary was the gradual pace at which it occurred. He explains how the idea of a strong federal government was eventually embraced by the American people, and details the emergence of the two-party system, which stands as the founders' most enduring legacy.
Ellis is equally incisive about their failures, and he makes 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. With eloquence and insight, Ellis strips the mythic veneer of the revolutionary generation to reveal men both human and inspired, possessed of both brilliance and blindness. American Creation is an audiobook that delineates an era of flawed greatness, at a time when understanding our origins is more important than ever.
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    Chapter One: The YearIf permitted the historical license to stretch the definition of a year, then the fifteen months between the shots fired at Lexington and Concord in April of 1775 and the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in July of 1776 can justifiably claim to be both the most consequential and the strangest year in American history. It was consequential because the rationale for American independence and the political agenda for an independent American republic first became explicit at this time. It was strange because while men were dying, whole towns being burned to the ground, women being raped, captured spies and traitors being executed, the official posture of what called itself “The United Colonies of North America” remained abiding loyalty to the British Crown.[1]Whether the American colonists were living a lie, an illusion, or a calculated procrastination is a good question. But when Thomas Jefferson finally got around to drafting the Declaration of Independence in June of 1776, one sentence enjoyed special resonance as an accurate characterization of the past year: “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” This was Jefferson’s lyrical way of describing the quite remarkable feat of making an explosion happen in slow motion.After all, prudence does not ordinarily make its way onto any list of revolutionary virtues. The very idea of a cautious revolutionary would seem, on the face of it, a contradiction in terms. The standard story of most revolutions features a cast of desperate characters with impulsive temperaments, utopian visions, a surefire sense of where history is headed, and an unquenchable urge to get there fast. Indeed, tarrying along the way is usually regarded as counterrevolutionary.If that is what the standard story of a revolution requires, then one of two conclusions about the American Revolution follows naturally: either it was not really a revolution at all but merely (or perhaps not so merely) a war for colonial independence, the first of its kind in the modern world, to be sure, but not a fundamental shift in the social order that left the world changed forever. Or else it was a strange kind of revolution that did not fit the standard pattern because many of its most prominent leaders were convinced that the pace of change must be slowed down and the most radical of the revolutionary promises deferred. The result is another contradiction, or perhaps a paradox: namely, an evolutionary revolution.In short, the decision to secede from the British Empire was accompanied by a truly revolutionary agenda for the infant American republic. But the most prominent leaders, John Adams chief among them, insisted on the deferral of the revolutionary agenda and, in some instances, its postponement into the distant future. Instead of regarding this gradualist approach as a moral and political failure, a conclusion that historians on the left regard as, shall we say, self-evident, the argument offered here is just the opposite. In my judgment the calculated decision to make the American Revolution happen in slow motion was a creative act of statesmanship that allowed the United States to avoid the bloody and chaotic fate of subsequent revolutionary movements in France, Russia, and China.And so, within a very strange year of full-scale war occurring alongside political reticence, we find an equally strange pattern emerging that will establish...
About the Author-
  • Joseph J. Ellis received the Pulitzer Prize for Founding Brothers and the National Book Award for his portrait of Thomas Jefferson, American Sphinx. He is the Ford Foundation Professor of History at Mount Holyoke College. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, with his wife, Ellen, and their youngest son, Alex.
Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine The Founding Fathers were living, breathing, complex, sometimes very flawed individuals who lived in extraordinary times. With an upbeat, intelligent, and conversational tone, narrator John Mayer takes listeners on an eye-opening, anecdote-filled journey through America's political beginnings by examining the evolving philosophies and swaying alliances of five key players--Washington, Adams, Madison, Hamilton, and Jefferson. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Joseph Ellis finds their efforts often brilliant (the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the balance between state and Federal sovereignty) and sometimes devastatingly tragic (their inability to abolish slavery and unwillingness to treat Native Americans fairly). In these essays we learn that history is an entertaining, informative, ongoing conversation. B.P. (c) AudioFile 2008, Portland, Maine
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from June 4, 2007
    This subtle, brilliant examination of the period between the War of Independence and the Louisiana Purchase puts Pulitzer-winner Ellis (Founding Brothers
    ) among the finest of America's narrative historians. Six stories, each centering on a significant creative achievement or failure, combine to portray often flawed men and their efforts to lay the republic's foundation. Set against the extraordinary establishment of “the most liberal nation-state in the history of Western Civilization... in the most extensive and richly endowed plot of ground on the planet” are the terrible costs of victory, including the perpetuation of slavery and the cruel oppression of Native Americans. Ellis blames the founders' failures on their decision to opt for an evolutionary revolution, not a risky severance with tradition (as would happen, murderously, in France, which necessitated compromises, like retaining slavery). Despite the injustices and brutalities that resulted, Ellis argues, “this deferral strategy” was “a profound insight rooted in a realistic appraisal of how enduring social change best happens.” Ellis's lucid, illuminating and ironic prose will make this a holiday season hit.

  • Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times "Illuminating . . . Compelling . . . It is Mr. Ellis's achievement that he once again leaves us with a keen appreciation of the good fortune America had in having the right men in the right places at the right times."
  • Gordon S. Wood, New York Review of Books "Ellis is a storyteller, and a superb one too. He employs the same narrative technique he developed most successfully in Founding Brothers. Throughout there is the same captivating colloquial style for which he is famous, and the same clarity of exposition."
  • Richmond Times-Dispatch "Joseph J. Ellis' Founding Brothers won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize in history. American Creation is at least its equal and perhaps its superior."
  • The New York Sun "Mr. Ellis humanizes the founding generation without tearing them down--a delicate operation in a politically charged time."
  • Library Journal "He writes history as it should be: as a page-turner."
  • Publishers Weekly "This subtle, brilliant examination puts Ellis among the finest of America's narrative historians."
  • Roger Bishop, Bookpage "His books on early American history are national treasures."
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Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic
Joseph J. Ellis
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