Sunday, December 4, 2016
Founding Feuds: The Rivalries, Clashes, and Conflicts That Forged a Nation
Rating: 4 Stars
I received a digital ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Wow, I am so hopelessly behind on my reviews - I read this in July!
This was a highly entertaining introduction to so many feuds that I didn't know had even existed. Some of these men REALLY hated one another, and in reading about some of their battles with one another, it is somewhat a surprise that our little fledgling nation survived at all.
The text is divided into chapters by feuds, and while I know that those who formed our early government did not always see eye to eye (understatement of the year), I had no idea that there were so many feuds - sometimes multiple going on at once! As I have been trying to read more books about ALL our former presidents, instead of just my favorites, I am also starting to learn more about the very men I had previously held in high esteem. I've mentioned this in previous posts about Washington-related books. It is kind of glossed over in history classes that Washington, Jefferson, etc all owned slaves. This is something that can not be forgotten as we idolize these founders. Washington especially has been hard for me, as he was a slave owner. He owned many throughout his life and fought hard to get them back after the war. That is something that has to be taken into account, though his view did evolve and he freed them at his death. That does not change the fact that he was a slave owner though, and we must remember to look at the big picture instead of completely glorifying them and believing they were perfect (the ridiculous slogan 'Make America Great Again' comes to mind with this. Which 'great' are we going back to? Segregation and Jim Crow? Women not having the right to vote? Slavery?) Please do not think I am only picking on Washington. I lost a lot of respect I might havehad for Jefferson, given his views on Africans and African-Americans as described in this book. His thoughts were truly disgusting and that too can not be overlooked when we look back on this time in history.
I think Hamilton and Jefferson were among my favorites to read about and their feuds bordered sometimes on hilarious. They were like little old ladies picking at one another and "When Hamilton caught Yellow Fever, Jefferson accused him of hypochondria" (3%). Little things like that racked me up throughout the book and yes we can laugh a bit now, because our nation survived the squabbles, and more serious arguments. The chapter on these two occurs at 20% and it did not disappoint. Books like these do wonders to helps us see that a country did not magically come together overnight to declare its independence. I even learned that New York abstained altogether from the vote, and Pennsylvania and Georgia only voted at the last minute when their delegates finally arrived. All these men we consider to be so great were still very human with their own beliefs, biases, and issues with one another.
Similarly, I was looking forward to the chapter on Jefferson and Adams as well, and their myriad of arguments. The difference here of course, is that at one time the two were friends before they began heading in very different directions with their ideas on government. The end of their story is one that always seems so poetic. The two men, who did patch up their friendship in later years, died within hours of one another on July 4th, 1826 - the 50th anniversary of Congress adopting the Declaration of Independence.
Another intriguing feud was that between Thomas Paine and George Washington. Again, Washington has always been held up as this kind of ideal, perfect ruler. It is hard to imagine then anyone disagreeing with him or clashing with him on certain ideas or topics. He had no one running against him in his unanimous election, and yet Paine was no fan. Another good example is that of Jefferson and his thoughts on Washington at times: "Jefferson complained to James Madison that the president 'is fortunate to get off just as the bubble is bursting, leaving others to hold the bag' and that Washington 'will have his usual good fortune of reaping credit from the good acts of others, and leaving them that of his errors. But Jefferson's mutterings to Madison were strictly private. Washington was, as historian Joseph Ellis put it, 'the Foundingest Father of them all', and amid all their feuds, no leading founder dared attack Washington publicly. Except Thomas Paine" (34%).
I was interested in the chapter on Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton as well. I am kind of embarrassed to admit that, though I now that Burr shot Hamilton in a duel, I don't actually recall what specifically they were dueling about in the first place. I feel like I probably learned about it at some point in school; it is, after all, kind of a big deal that our Founding Fathers were going about shooting at one another, but the reason escaped me until I read and relearned. I won't spoil it for you if you do not remember either - get this book and find out!
The book is not just limited to the males involved in the founding of our country, however, which I was pleasantly surprised to find. We are shown that some of these men feuded with women who were vocal about their opinions of the direction our country should go, and we see this manifest in the feuds first between Jefferson and Phyllis Wheatley and then John Adams vs. Mercy Otis Warren. I was really happy to see women included, as their role in the fight for independence and subsequent founding of our country is often overlooked.
The text ended at roughly 76%. The rest of the book was devoted to thorough notes, extended reading titles and miscellaneous information about the author, publisher, and this being an ARC. The notes section is extensive and there were many books listed as sources which I intend to add to my to-read list (or them listed already. It is always a nice kind of confirmation in choice of reading material when a book I enjoy cites books I want to read within a bibliography).
I highly recommend this one and leave you with this quote, which I think is especially fitting in this time of great upheaval in our country. We can survive this and we will, because there is no other choice:
"The founders could be petty, their feuds very personal...yet there was more to the founders and their feuds than that. The founders fought with each other, too, because they understood that at stake was the future of the nation, indeed the future of their great Republican experiment...Politicians ought not to follow in the footsteps of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton and start shooting at each other. But Americans ought also not to yearn for a time when everyone agreed about everything. That time never existed." (72%).