Sunday, May 5, 2013

American Creation by Joseph Ellis

With Founding Brothers Ellis gave us a fascinating overview of the early years of the American Republic by focusing on several episodes that were key in the founding years.  In American Creation he returns to this format to tell six more interesting episodes in the founding of the United States. This time he goes back to the Revolution to begin the book. The first chapter covers the year 1776 and the writing of the Declaration of Independence. The second chapter jumps forward a year and looks at the American army at winter quarters in Valley Forge. Here in Valley Forge the leaders of the American Army came to an understanding of what it meant to be a unified force. This helps to explain why so many of those who worked to make a stronger national government were former officers in the army. In chapter three he examines the arguments surrounding the creation and ratification of the Constitution.

The first half of the book covers episodes that deal with the creation of the nation. The second half looks at three key episodes in the early years of the Republic. In chapter four Ellis examines the issue of how the Native Americans were treated in the early years of the Republic. We see how Washington and Knox sought to come up with some arrangement that could protect the natives and allow room for settlement. The futility of any agreement becomes apparent. There is simply no way to keep settlers out of Indian territory.  The last two chapters focus largely on Jefferson. Chapter five discusses the formation of the first American political party by Jefferson and Madison. The last chapter examines the Louisiana Purchase and how Jefferson dealt with what he saw as Constitutional issues.

This book feels a little more random at times than Founding Brothers. Each episode does work towards the central theme of the creation of the American system. Ellis is a great writer and this book makes a great introduction to the subject and to the episodes. Read this along with Founding Brothers and you will have a great start towards understanding the formation of the United States of America.

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