Study Guide

Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

by Joseph J. Ellis

Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation Characters

Historical Figures

Abigail Adams

Ellis characterizes Abigail Adams as both a politically astute confidant for her husband and a loving wife. He credits Abigail Adams with foresight, arguing that her views of Jefferson’s character and her husband’s policies very often became the accepted verdict of history. In her correspondence, Abigail Adams is supportive of her husband, highly intelligent, and often humorous.

John Adams

In his preface, Ellis confesses his admiration for John Adams’s expertise and passion. He argues that when Washington retired from politics, Adams was the most respected of the remaining Founding Fathers. Ellis is sympathetic to Adams’s presidency and uses its challenges to highlight how the Union had changed. By 1800, a president needed to be the leader of a political party as opposed to a detached and impartial leader of the executive branch of the government. Adams was devoted to his wife and was concerned that he would be forgotten by history because his contributions were not easily romanticized. Adams’s retirement and correspondence with Thomas Jefferson closes Ellis’s discussion of the spirit of the Revolution.

Aaron Burr

Ellis points out that Colonel Aaron Burr was a controversial figure in American history. He had a habit of hiding his motives, covering his tracks, and burning his personal correspondence. Among these historical figures, Ellis considers Burr to be the only Founding Father whose “definition of character does not measure up to the standard.” To support this claim, Ellis points out that Burr had a habit of leaping between parties, most notably when he left Thomas Jefferson’s Republican government to run as a Federalist governor of New York. Ellis also points out that Burr later contacted the British Empire to offer them his services. Burr’s duel with Hamilton is used to point out the importance of honor and character among the Founding fathers as well as to highlight the danger and uncertainty that surrounded the early...

(The entire section is 838 words.)