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APUSH His to Rio Graphic Essay

APUSH His to Rio Graphic Essay

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Published by Vivian Chen

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Published by: Vivian Chen on Jun 03, 2011
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Vivian ChenAP U.S. HistorySummer AssignmentHistoriographic Essay on Founding BrothersBy examining the character, motivations and priorities of each figure involved in shapingthe early United States, historian Joseph Ellis manages to combine both factual information andinsight in his book Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation. Rather than sequencingthe events by chronological order, the story is composed by six sub-stories, each an importantstage and turning point in the founding of the US. Opening with an engaging re-telling of theclassic Burr-Hamilton duel, Ellis presents the fight not as an idealized historical event but rather the result of clashing political ambitions by flawed men. This continues throughout the nextchapters, as history is perceived through the lenses of political figures and their relationshipswith one another, including Burr, Hamilton, Jefferson, Adams, Madison and Washington. Theinfant nation that had broken free from British control was extremely fragile; the opinions of themen were considered unconventional and revolutionary at the time. The eventual stability of theUS was the product of compromises, hostilities and even death, in the Burr-Hamilton case.Ellis’ approach towards the founding history is that the men who are revered today asgreat heroes of America were in truth flawed, realistic human beings who were not always on afriendly basis. According to events outlined in the book, they often disagreed more than theyagreed. The separate visions and desires of each founding father initiated a chain of events thatled to the outcome of the stable US nation. This supports an overarching claim that as its leaderswere imperfect, so was the fledging nation, as it struggled with controversial issues such asslavery. Gaining independence from Britain meant nothing if they failed to maintain their  political order. A tone of humor and wit is employed while describing the founding fathers. It isas if Ellis avoids defining them in the light of their accomplishments and impact on history infavor of their personalities and character. Unlike some historians who overlook Abigail Adams,Ellis succeeds in acknowledging her as an influential figure that contributed to the success of thenation. As Joseph Ellis’s writing is a product of his time, it must be read with a critical eye. Naturally, his own experiences and lifestyle shapes the way he has come to perceive thefounding generation. Born shortly after WWII, having experienced the anxiety and tension of theCold War and teaching at Mt. Holyoke, a prestigious university for women’s education, Ellisarticulates his rather liberal and democratic views in writing his novel.
Born in 1943, Ellis was too young to have been directly influenced by the brutality of WWII, but surely felt its aftermath, the Cold War. Although he did serve as a soldier in WWII,the post-war period was one of hopelessness and pessimism. A loss of faith in the politicalinstitutions that were once the pride of the Western world defined the latter half of the 20
century. Raised in this atmosphere of economic, social and political instability, Ellis may havedeveloped a great respect for political unity and strong leadership, as it was lacking during theyears of his youth. Capitalism vs. communism, democracy vs. dictatorship—these were the core principles that set the Soviets and US apart during the Cold War, fought through proxy battlesand the possibility of nuclear weapons. Ellis, as an American, most likely favored a liberalsentiment as opposed to communist mentality, out of pride for his country. US propagandacondemned communism, depicting it as a system of government that would inevitably lead todestruction.An article from the History News Network states that Ellis lied about his service in theVietnam War.
He falsely recounts his experiences in Vietnam to his students and claims that he participated in a civil rights movement afterward. Although this is an example of dishonesty onthe part of Ellis, it is interesting to note that he
to been seen as a veteran and antiwar activist. Perhaps this illustrates his liberal political leanings that are exemplified in FoundingBrothers. Characterizing the influential men and their efforts as a model for representativegovernment, Ellis features chapters about collaboration and compromise. In the chapter titled
The Dinner,
Jefferson holds a dinner in which the rivals Hamilton and Madison settle on anagreement regarding the Hamilton’s proposed fiscal plan and Madison’s choice of the capitallocation. Just as a historian has the choice to omit details, he has the power to choose whatinformation goes into supporting his arguments. Further emphasizing Ellis’s democratic politicalleanings, Capitalism Magazine suggests that he compares President Obama with the foundingfathers, in that he "is in accord with the most heartfelt and cherished version of our originalintentions as a people and a nation."
Given, there are similarities between these male USleaders; however, it is inaccurate to compare them because of the major time gap. There is noway of assuming that the founding fathers would support Obama’s plans for the nation becausethe major issues today did not exist during the fathers’ time, such as oil spills, universalhealthcare and education cuts. Anyhow, it would be a fallacy to make that assumption.
Educated at Yale University and College of William and Mary, Ellis clearly has a strongscholarly background. Judging from his occupation as a professor, success as a Pulitzer Prizehistorian and multiple degrees in education, it is safe to conclude that Joseph Ellis is of a highsocial class. Specializing in topics concerning American history, he has written a series of  biographies on Jefferson, Washington and others. Because Ellis seems quite passionate aboutteaching, the intended audiences of Founding Brothers are those who wish to expand their knowledge of American history, whether it is a student or an adult. Since he is well qualified andexperienced as a teacher, he understands how to absorb the reader into the novel. Instead of including dates, timelines and numbers, Ellis pieces his novel together in an anecdote-likefashion, knowing that it will appeal to a student audience. As mentioned earlier, Ellis’s writingreflects his modern liberal values. In general, it is considered liberal to promote gender equality,as traditional cultures view women as inferior, domestic beings. Ellis teaches at Mt. Holyoke,which is a women-only university, which may offer explanation as to why he considers AbigailAdams as an influential figure in history. However, it is interesting to note that Abigail is not pictured on the front cover along with the men, which may or may not indicate any prejudices.Although Ellis is certainly not an advocate of feminism, he is accepting of women’s rights in political affairs.Though historians strive to approach their writing as a science, it is usually affected byhistoricism, or the way a person’s environment and life shapes the way they perceive things.History is always in constant revision; documents, artifacts and other primary sources are theonly window we have into a previous time. It follows the cycle of the Hegelian dialectic: historyis the argument between and accepted thesis and an antithesis, which challenges the conventionalthesis. This argument finally synthesizes into a new argument, or a new thesis, and the cyclerestarts. Joseph Ellis is of man of modern times, therefore implying modern values in his writing.As a historian, however, there are moments when Ellis allows his subjectivity to take over inlanguage choice. Though his writing style is appreciated in that it differs from a history textbook,his descriptions of the founding fathers seem somewhat unreliable. For example, he describesMadison as “diminutive, colorless, sickly—he was also paralyzing shy.” Ellis provides nowritten evidence of Madison’s appearance, and the description itself is subjective by nature, as itis one’s opinion that someone appears sickly or colorless. Nevertheless, the text was entertainingto read because of the descriptions, as they bring life and personality to historic figures. As for 

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