Does Ellis effectively convince readers that the founding of America was accomplished by a handful of extraordinary individuals?
In recent years historians have tended to avoid focusing on such issues as leadership and character, and more is being written about popilar movements and working people whose lives exemplify a sort of democratic norm. Ellis goes against this trend by offering Founding Brothers as "a polite argument against the scholarly grain."
I certainly think that Ellis hopes he makes this claim. His basic argument is that the Founding Fathers were uniquely qualified to guide the nation through the turbulence of the Revolution and the struggles of the early years because of the fundamental trust as people they had for one another. Even with severe ideological differences, the Framers never lost sight of the fact that the basic respect they had for one another would enable them to work through any problems. Consider the interest when Madison and Hamilton held different viewpoints towards solving the nation's financial crisis. Jefferson invited them for dinner in one of the first "beer summits," and asked them to do their best to work out their differences. They were able to do so. This small story reflects what Ellis believes made the founding fathers so much like brothers: There was a mutual trust and respect that did not allow the discourse to delve into self- destruction. It is here where Ellis feels they were amazing.
This week, after the U.S. Senate passed the bill to avert the debt crisis that dominated the last two months of American politics, President Obama said something that is haunting, when considering the question and Ellis' work:
Voters may have chosen divided government, but they sure didn't vote for dysfunctional government.
Ellis' argument is that the framers were exceptional because they understood that divided government does not mean dysfunctional government. Intense problems of their day were resolved not through political wrangling, but through a fundamental respect and trust that allowed their differences to be seen like familial differences of thought and not intense partisanship that threatens the basic sensibilities of a great democracy. In this, Ellis find them extraordinary.