The Founding Fathers reconsidered

Richard B. Bernstein, 1956-

Book - 2009

"This concise study reintroduces us to the history that shaped the founding fathers, the history that they made, and what history has made of them. It gives the reader a context within which to explore the world of the founding fathers and their complex and still-controversial achievements and legacies"--Provided by publisher.

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Subjects
Published
Oxford ; New York, NY : Oxford University Press 2009.
Language
English
Physical Description
xviii, 238 p., [8] p. of plates : ill., map ; 22 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (p. [187]-227) and index.
ISBN
9780195338324
0195338324
Main Author
Richard B. Bernstein, 1956- (-)
  • Words, images, meanings
  • Contexts: the history that made the Founding Fathers
  • Achievements and challenges: the history the Founding Fathers made
  • Legacies: what history has made of the Founding Fathers
  • The Founding Fathers, history, and us.
Review by Choice Reviews

Legal and constitutional historian Bernstein (NYU) aims to "take the Founding Fathers down from their pedestals without knocking them down." Clearly written and with general readers in mind, Bernstein's account synthesizes much recent scholarship as he traces the history of the term "Founding Fathers," offers definitions of what it has meant over the years, and discusses those it has included and even those it ought to include. Expanding on Richard B. Morris's Seven Who Shaped Our Destiny (CH, Mar'74)--John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington--Bernstein's Founding Fathers inherited much from their British constitutional background at the same time that they struck out in new political directions. For Bernstein, the "Founding Fathers engaged in a creative argument between past and present about the future." The volume gives attention to historiographical issues, and a key chapter traces important historiographical trends, including the enduring impact of Charles A. Beard's work. An appendix offers a "partial list" of the Founding Fathers in three categories: those who signed the Declaration of Independence, the framers of the US Constitution, and "other" Founding Fathers (and Mothers). Summing Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries. Copyright 2010 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Prolific historian Bernstein (adjunct, New York Law Sch.) follows up the brief biography Thomas Jefferson with another accessible work of popular history on a weighty topic. In intertwined biographical sketches that synthesize the scholarship of others from a bevy of primary and secondary sources, he succinctly summarizes the accomplishments of iconic early American statesmen and politicians. More interestingly, he also examines the conflicting and wavering legacies of these Revolutionary leaders and crafters of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Bernstein stresses that the founders were noble but imperfect men, not flawless demigods, and his repeated references to the distinction of his approach in this regard can get tiring. Still, it's to his credit that he does not shy away from commenting on what he perceives as a lack of foresight and courage by the founders when crafting laws for the fledgling republic, most notably on the issue of slavery. The endnotes and bibliography are generously annotated, increasing this book's value as a useful starting point for further, more scholarly research. Recommended for general readers seeking an introduction to the legacies, political careers, and disparate roles of these men in the creation and early leadership of a new nation.—Douglas King, Univ. of South Carolina Lib., Columbia [Page 100]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"This concise study reintroduces us to the history that shaped the founding fathers, the history that they made, and what history has made of them. It gives the reader a context within which to explore the world of the founding fathers and their complex and still-controversial achievements and legacies"--Provided by publisher.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Here is a vividly written and compact overview of the brilliant, flawed, and quarrelsome group of lawyers, politicians, merchants, military men, and clergy known as the "Founding Fathers"--who got as close to the ideal of the Platonic "philosopher-kings" as American or world history has everseen. In The Founding Fathers Reconsidered, R. B. Bernstein reveals Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, and the other founders not as shining demigods but as imperfect human beings--people much like us--who nevertheless achieved political greatness. They emerge here as men who sought totranscend their intellectual world even as they were bound by its limits, men who strove to lead the new nation even as they had to defer to the great body of the people and learn with them the possibilities and limitations of politics. Bernstein deftly traces the dynamic forces that molded thesemen and their contemporaries as British colonists in North America and as intellectual citizens of the Atlantic civilization's Age of Enlightenment. He analyzes the American Revolution, the framing and adoption of state and federal constitutions, and the key concepts and problems--among themindependence, federalism, equality, slavery, and the separation of church and state--that both shaped and circumscribed the founders' achievements as the United States sought its place in the world.