Tuesday, December 23, 2008

American Creation or FDRs Folly

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

Author: Joseph J Ellis

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.

The Washington Post - Jonathan Yardley

This book consists of seven essays (none of which has been previously published in its current form) and a brief afterword in which Ellis continues his exploration of the reality, as opposed to the mythology, of the founding. It can be argued, of course, that in the past there is no "reality," no final truth, only what historians and others choose to make it, but historians can explore that past free of hagiography on the one hand or, on the other, the ideological biases that color so much of what passes for scholarly history these days. Ellis, who teaches history at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, gives the founders their full due but insists that they made serious mistakes—they failed to end slavery, "or at least to adopt a gradual emancipation scheme that put it on the road to extinction," and they failed "to implement a just and generous settlement with the Native Americans"—and that blind luck gave them a mighty assist.

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani

Mr. Ellis's new book, American Creation, is very much a bookend to Founding Brothers, another series of meditations upon the Revolutionary generation and its triumphs and failures in inventing the United States of America…Although this book is highly discursive and at times unfocused, it is animated by Mr. Ellis's consummate familiarity with his subject matter and his ability—on dazzling display in his books on John Adams (Passionate Sage), Thomas Jefferson (American Sphinx) and George Washington (His Excellency)—to show how character informs decision making and how friendships and rivalries among the founders shaped the birth of the infant nation…It is Mr. Ellis's achievement in this volume 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…

The New York Times Book Review - Jon Meacham

If…I were to note the familiar contradictions of the birth of the nation—chiefly the triumph of liberty, but only for propertied white men—and say that Ellis has written an entertaining account of, as his subtitle has it, the "triumphs and tragedies" of the founding, there would not be much new for me to say, or for you to read, either in this review or in Ellis's book. It is difficult to imagine an educated American who does not know that the Revolution was selective and that the Revolutionaries, many of them slaveholders who were complicit in the bloodthirsty treatment of Indians, were flawed and imperfect. But Ellis rescues his enterprise by going beyond the familiar critique of the founding to explore a point that remains underappreciated: that America was constructed to foster arguments, not to settle them…Ellis shares the founders' tragic sensibility, finding redemption in seeking the good rather than in achieving the perfect. The wisdom of the American founding lies in the recognition that the former is possible, and the latter is not.

Publishers Weekly

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. (Nov. 5)

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Kirkus Reviews

Pulitzer-winner Ellis (History/Mt. Holyoke Coll.; His Excellency: George Washington, 2004, etc.) tells six stories, each revealing the genius and the shortcomings of the Founders. Though he covers roughly the same historical period as Jay Winik's recent, magisterial The Great Upheaval (2007), Ellis focuses almost exclusively on Americans, highlighting select issues and events that shaped the young republic and continue to inform its character today. Rejecting caricatures of the Founders as either demigods or demons, he presents them as talented but flawed, enmeshed in and attempting desperately to control difficulties where their blindspots sometimes proved greater than their brilliance. They knew, for example, that the policy of removing Indians from their lands and the institution of African slavery were incompatible with the revolution's republican values, but they were unable to summon the will and the courage required to put a stop to either. Ellis examines both failures in chapters devoted to the doomed 1789 treaty with the Creek Nation and an especially thought-provoking discussion of the Louisiana Purchase, where, he maintains, the United States missed the last, best opportunity to resolve the slavery issue peacefully. Other passages deal with the Founders' high achievement: how ardent separationists shrewdly prepared the country for a slow-motion revolution, how they diplomatically and militarily prosecuted the first successful colonial war for independence in modern times, how they ingeniously constructed a government that located sovereignty in multiple, overlapping sources, how they-even against the noble conventions of the 18th century-absorbed the emergence of politicalparties to channel the ongoing debate about the country's future. Through these stories, each tied to a roughly specific moment in time (e.g., the Valley Forge winter, the 1788 Virginia Ratifying Convention), Ellis examines a well-known-but rarely better understood-cast of characters (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Paine, Franklin and others), shuffling them to the back or foreground, demonstrating how their varied talents came into play for good or ill depending on the issue at hand. Sharply conceived and smoothly executed-a worthy addition to Ellis's already well-advanced project of lucidly explaining the nation's early history to his countrymen. First printing of 650,000. Agent: John Taylor (Ike) Williams/Kneerim & Williams

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FDR's Folly: How Roosevelt and His New Deal Prolonged the Great Depression

Author: Jim Powell

In the minds of historians and the American public alike, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was one of our greatest presidents, not least because he supposedly saved America from the Great Depression. But as historian Jim Powell reveals in this groundbreaking book, Roosevelt's New Deal policies actually prolonged and exacerbated the economic disaster, swelled the federal government, and prevented the country from turning around quickly. You'll never again look at FDR in the same way.

Steve Forbes - Forbes Magazine

This is the most searing indictment yet of Franklin Roosevelt's economic policies during the 1930s. Powell argues that both FDR and Herbert Hoover have much to answer for--Hoover for bringing on and FDR for prolonging the Great Depression, the worst economic smashup in American history. (25 Apr 2005)

Table of Contents:
Ch. 1How Could Such Bright, Compassionate People Be Wrong?1
Ch. 2What Caused the Great Depression?27
Ch. 3What Did FDR Borrow from Hoover?39
Ch. 4Why Did New Dealers Break Up the Strongest Banks?53
Ch. 5Why Did FDR Seize Everybody's Gold?65
Ch. 6Why Did FDR Triple Taxes During the Great Depression?75
Ch. 7Why Was So Much New Deal Relief and Public Works Money Channeled Away from the Poorest People?89
Ch. 8Why Didn't New Deal Securities Laws Help Investors Do Better?105
Ch. 9Why Did New Dealers Make Everything Cost More in the Depression?113
Ch. 10Why Did New Dealers Destroy All That Food When People Were Hungry?129
Ch. 11How Did the Tennessee Valley Authority Depress the Tennessee Economy?141
Ch. 12Why Did the Supreme Court Strike Down Early New Deal Laws?153
Ch. 13How Did Social Security Contribute to Higher Unemployment?173
Ch. 14How Did New Deal Labor Laws Throw People Out of Work?187
Ch. 15How Did FDR's Supreme Court Subvert Individual Liberty?207
Ch. 16How Did New Deal Policies Cause the Depression of 1938?221
Ch. 17Why Did New Deal Lawyers Disrupt Companies Employing Millions?231
Ch. 18What Have Been the Effects of the New Deal Since the 1930s?245
Ch. 19What Can We Learn from FDR's Mistakes?263
Selected Bibliography307

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