History 233 Reading Guide

The Revolutionary Generation

  • Joseph Ellis, Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation (2000)

Ellis's monograph helps us pull together what he describes as "the most crucial and consequential [decade] in American history."

Aside from the remarkable, engaging stories that he offers, why did Ellis choose a multi-biographical method for describing and analyzing the first years of the country under the new Constitution of the United States? What does that method and focus enable him to show about these leaders, both individually and collectively as the Founding Brothers, and about the enormity of the task that they faced as they attempted to create a government and a nation under that constitution?

Which of the "stories" (rather an understatement) most interested you—and why? From Ellis's perspective, which stories offered necessary background for his history and which stories provided the center for his analysis?

Throughout his account, Ellis engages long-term debates about national origins and national identities. Toward what revision and rethinking of those debates is he building? In other words, what are the main themes and arguments that he presents about the long decade that began in 1790 and continued into the first years of the nineteenth century? How does he weave them together, both chronologically and causally?