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29+ quotes from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph J. Ellis

Quotes from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

Joseph J. Ellis ·  290 pages

Rating: (35.1K votes)


“[quoting someone else] the American constitution is a document designed by geniuses to be eventually interpreted by idiots”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“Lincoln once said that America was founded on a proposition that was written by Jefferson in 1776. We are really founded on an argument about what that proposition means.”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“Antislavery idealists might prefer to live in some better world, which like all such places was too good to be true. The American nation in 1790, however, was a real world, laden with legacies like slavery, and therefore too true to be good.”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“James Jackson actually made menacing faces at the Quakers in the gallery, calling them outright lunatics, then launched into a tirade so emotional and incoherent that reporters in the audience had difficulty recording his words.”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“The first symptom of the trouble appeared when Madison studied Hamilton’s proposal for the funding of the domestic debt. On the one hand, Hamilton’s recommendation looked straightforward: All citizens who owned government securities should be reimbursed at par—that is, the full value of the government’s original promise. But many original holders of the securities, mainly veterans of the American Revolution who had received them as pay for their service in the war, had then sold them at a fraction of their original value to speculators. What’s more, the release of Hamilton’s plan produced...”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“For Madison, on the other hand, “a Public Debt is a Public curse,” and “in a Representative Government greater than in any other.”26”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“I am not a Federalist,” he declared in 1789, “because I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever.… If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“Like the classic it has become, the Farewell Address has demonstrated the capacity to assume different shapes in different eras, to change color, if you will, in varying shades of light.”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“In a very real sense, we are complicitous in their achievement, since we are the audience for which they were performing; knowing we would be watching helped to keep them on their best behavior.”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“All well and good, but for our purposes these otherwise-valuable insights are mere subplots almost designed to carry us down side trails while blithely humming a tune about the rough equivalence of forests and trees.”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“Burr had the dark and severe coloring of his Edwards ancestry, with black hair receding from the forehead and dark brown, almost black, eyes that suggested a cross between an eagle and a raven. Hamilton had a light peaches and cream complexion with violet-blue eyes and auburn-red hair, all of which came together to suggest an animated beam of light to Burr’s somewhat stationary shadow.”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“in time to come be shaped by the human mind.” Asked”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“But if insecurity was the primal source of Hamilton's incredibly energy, one would have to conclude that providence had conspired to produce at the most opportune moment perhaps the most creative liability in American history.”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“In addition, the most reliable and recent studies of African tribal culture demonstrated that slavery was a long-standing custom among the Africans themselves, so enslaved Africans in America were simply experiencing a condition here that they would otherwise experience, probably in more oppressive fashion, in their mother country.”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“One of the petitioners, an infamous do-gooder of uncertain sanity named Warner Mifflin, had actually acknowledged that his antislavery vision came to him after he was struck by lightning in a thunderstorm.”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“Upon learning that Washington intended to reject the mantle of emperor, no less an authority than George III allegedly observed, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.” True to his word, on December 22, 1783, Washington surrendered his commission to the Congress, then meeting in Annapolis: “Having now finished the work assigned me,” he announced, “I now retire from the great theater of action.” In so doing, he became the supreme example of the leader who could be trusted with power because he was so ready to give it up.”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“Taking on Washington was the fastest way to commit political suicide in the revolutionary era.”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“the all-time master of exits wanted to make his final departure from the public stage the occasion for explaining his own version of what the American Revolution meant. Above all, it meant hanging together as a united people, much as the Continental Army had hung together once before, so that those who were making foreign policy into a divisive device in domestic politics, all in the name of America’s revolutionary principles, were themselves inadvertently subverting the very cause they claimed to champion. He was stepping forward into the battle one final time, planting his standard squarely in the center of the field, inviting the troops to rally around him rather than wander off in romantic cavalry charges at the periphery, assuring them by his example that, if they could only hold the position he defined, they would again prevail.”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“First, it is crucial to recognize that Washington’s extraordinary reputation rested less on his prudent exercise of power than on his dramatic flair at surrendering it. He was, in fact, a veritable virtuoso of exits.”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“Upon learning that Washington intended to reject the mantle of emperor, no less an authority than George III allegedly observed, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.” True to his word, on December 22, 1783, Washington surrendered his commission to the Congress, then meeting in Annapolis: “Having now finished the work assigned me,” he announced, “I now retire from the great theater of action.” In so doing, he became the supreme example of the leader who could be trusted with power because he was so ready to give it up.20”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“The term American, like the term democrat, began as an epithet, the former referring to an inferior, provincial creature, the latter to one who panders to the crude and mindless whims of the masses.”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“The Adams presidency, in fact, might be the classic example of the historical truism that inherited circumstances define the parameters within which presidential leadership takes shape, that history shapes presidents, rather than vice versa.”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“a lifelong disciple of Lord Chesterfield’s maxim that a gentleman was free to do anything he pleased as long as he did it with style.”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“The five Pillars of Aristocracy,” he argued, “are Beauty, Wealth, Birth, Genius and Virtues. Any one of the three first, can at any time, over bear any one or both of the two last.”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“They are, from this period, to be considered as Actors on a most conspicuous Theatre, which seems to be peculiarly designated by Providence for the display of human greatness and felicity.”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“First, the achievement of the revolutionary generation was a collective enterprise that succeeded because of the diversity of personalities and ideologies present in the mix. Their interactions and juxtapositions generated a dynamic form of balance and equilibrium, not because any of them was perfect or infallible, but because their mutual imperfections and fallibilities, as well as their eccentricities and excesses, checked each other in much the way that Madison in Federalist 10 claimed that multiple factions would do in a large republic.”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“Lamentations about the tribulations of public life, followed by celebrations of the bucolic splendor of retirement to rural solitude, had become a familiar, even formulaic, posture within the leadership class of the revolutionary generation, especially within the Virginia dynasty. Everyone knew the classical models of latter-day seclusion represented by Cincinnatus and described by Cicero and Virgil. Declarations of principled withdrawal from the hurly-burly of politics to the natural rhythms of one’s fields or farms had become rhetorical rituals. If Washington’s retirement hymn featured the “vine and fig tree,” Jefferson’s idolized “my family, my farm, and my books.” The motif had become so commonplace that John Adams, an aspiring Cicero himself, claimed that the Virginians had worn out the entire Ciceronian syndrome: “It seems the Mode of becoming great is to retire,” he wrote Abigail in 1796. “It is marvellous how political Plants grow in the shade.” Washington”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“Throughout most of his life, Washington’s physical vigor had been one of his most priceless assets. A notch below six feet four and slightly above two hundred pounds, he was a full head taller than his male contemporaries. (John Adams claimed that the reason Washington was invariably selected to lead every national effort was that he was always the tallest man in the room.) A detached description of his physical features would have made him sound like an ugly, misshapen oaf: pockmarked face, decayed teeth, oversized eye sockets, massive nose, heavy in the hips, gargantuan hands and feet. But somehow, when put together and set in motion, the full package conveyed sheer majesty. As one of his biographers put it, his body did not just occupy space; it seemed to organize the space around it. He dominated a room not just with his size, but with an almost electric presence. “He has so much martial dignity in his deportment,” observed Benjamin Rush, “that there is not a king in Europe but would look like a valet de chambre by his side.”10 Not only did bullets and shrapnel seem to veer away from his body in battle, not only did he once throw a stone over the Natural Bridge in the Shenandoah Valley, which was 215 feet high, not only was he generally regarded as the finest horseman in Virginia, the rider who led the pack in most fox hunts, he also possessed for most of his life a physical constitution that seemed immune to disease or injury. Other soldiers came down with frostbite after swimming ice-choked rivers. Other statesmen fell by the wayside, lacking the stamina to handle the relentless political pressure. Washington suffered none of these ailments. Adams said that Washington had “the gift of taciturnity,” meaning he had an instinct for the eloquent silence. This same principle held true on the physical front. His medical record was eloquently empty.11”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


“Perhaps, in that eerily instinctive way in which he always grasped the difference between the essential and the peripheral, he literally felt in his bones that another term as president meant that he would die in office. By retiring when he did, he avoided that fate, which would have established a precedent that smacked of monarchical longevity by permitting biology to set the terminus of his tenure. Our obsession with the two-term precedent obscures the more elemental principle established by Washington’s voluntary retirement—namely, that the office would routinely outlive the occupant, that the American presidency was fundamentally different from a European monarchy, that presidents, no matter how indispensable, were inherently disposable.”
― Joseph J. Ellis, quote from Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation


About the author

Joseph J. Ellis
Born place: in The United States
Born date July 18, 1943
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