Dave: Hi everyone! Today we’re discussing the book, “American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic”, by Joseph Ellis. First of all, I have to make a comment about Ellis as a writer. I’ve read a few of his books, and he has a real knack for being insightful and educational, but without being too scholarly.
Nate: I completely agree. Even though he writes non-fiction, he’s a good writer, and makes his books easy and enjoyable to read. A lot of times when you read a scholarly book, it can be time consuming because the author simply can’t write a good narrative. There are a lot of good facts cloaked in bad writing. Ellis certainly does not have this problem. I also really enjoy the time period he writes about. He is an authority on early American history and has written several books about the founding fathers and how their actions shaped our country.
Dave: In this particular book he writes about several different topics, including things that did happen at the founding of the republic that were good, but also discussing things that didn’t happen that probably should have.
Nate: Like the inability of our founding fathers to abolish slavery and come up with a just solution for sharing the land with the Native Americans.
Dave: Exactly. Ellis led me to believe that they knew they should have been addressing those issues, but they didn’t want to be bogged down by them, and left them to be addressed by someone else.
Nate: My sense has always been that this country could have never been established by our founding fathers if they set a hard fast line against slavery. The southern states would’ve never agreed to that, and therefore would’ve never agreed to join the new nation. And that was the feeling I got from reading Ellis as well. So I think the question is whether or not it was worth it to form the country and leave it to be dealt with through civil war, or whether another approach should have been taken. Either way, these were difficult questions with difficult answers.
Dave: And ultimately the founding fathers decided it was more important to form the republic and let future generations sort out those messy issues. Despite all of the good ideas and solutions they had for so many other problems, the solutions they did come up with to deal with the slavery issue simply weren’t good, or viable.
Nate: Yeah, the only good solution was to get rid of it, and that wasn’t going to happen.
Dave: When I first picked up this book, I thought it would be a book talking about the founding fathers and the Constitution with a holy reverence, making them out to be larger than life. But I quickly found out that it was the opposite. Ellis talks about the founding fathers as regular people with a great vision.
Nate: Yes, they were extraordinary men with some brilliant ideas, but they were just as flawed as anyone else. As Ellis points out, they were the right people, at the right place, in the right time period to create a country and government of this type.
Dave: And it wasn’t as seamless as the high school history books sometimes make it out to be. I think that’s what most people are familiar with. The reality was that for most of the founding fathers, the Constitution, and the formation of this country as it is, was a hard sell to the colonies they represented.
Nate: Exactly. What gets lost a lot of times is the fact that the colonies were used to being separate entities, not “united states”. They each had their own interests and were sometimes distrustful of the other colonies. There was no great sense of unity. Ellis does a great job in this book of talking through these issues and showing how the founding fathers made it work.
Dave: What do you think the founding fathers would think about some of the constitutional issues of our time?
Nate: Gosh, I don’t think they could have conceived of half the things we argue about today. The world has simply changed so much. I think that’s part of the flaw in trying to figure out “original intent”. It seems to me that the founding fathers created the document to be flexible, so that it could be adjusted and altered as need be. I think that’s the genius of the Constitution. So what kind of a recommendation would you make for this book?
Dave: I think this is a good read for anyone who wants to know more about American history, beyond the high school textbook. Obviously, if you have no interest in history it won’t appeal to you. However, if you have even a passing interest in history, especially American history, I think you would enjoy Ellis’s book.
Nate: I completely agree. Because of the way Ellis writes, you won’t get bogged down in language and “scholarly” facts. Yes, the writing is scholarly, but it’s fun and interesting to read. I think anyone interested in learning more about the founding of our country would enjoy reading “American Creation”.