The other day I had to try to explain to my crazy (extreme left-wing) aunt why I don’t think that America is going downhill. She has romanticized the founding of the United States. Turns out historian Gordon S. Wood has looked at that very question in his book: Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different by Gordon S. Wood
Know before you read
This book is all in the subtitle: “What made the founders different.” This is not a book to extoll the accomplishments and historical timelines of the founding fathers. You’ll learn about their characters and how they were intrinsically different from the men (and women) that came after.
Also please note this book is not really written for the lay reader just wanting to learn a bit about the Founding Fathers – it’s more for other historians.
This book is a collection of essays. More or less. Each focusing on a different revolutionary leader from George Washington to Thomas Paine and their characters.
Wood also discusses (his theory) why we no longer have leaders like this today. Obviously just a theory, but still interesting to consider. The Founding Fathers were all “aristocratic men of ideas,” and with the American focus on democracy and the will of the common man such men were no longer created or nurtured.
I’m going to quote the New York Times review because I love it:
As Mr. Wood sees it, however, Jefferson and Hamilton, like the other founders, belonged to the past: in a “democratic world of progress, Providence and innumerable isolated but equal individuals, there could be little place for the kind of extraordinary political and intellectual leadership the revolutionary generation had demonstrated.” It was Burr, he adds, who embodied “what most American politicians would eventually become — pragmatic, get-along men.”
The more I learn about Aaron Burr the more I feel bad for him that he was born just twenty or thirty years too early. It’s remarkable how very different the politics of the 1780s and 1790s were from the political maneuverings just a few years after that.
This is the only Gordon S. Wood book I’ve read, but I think I have another six or seven on my to-read list. Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different by Gordon S. Wood is a great option to really place the men of the Revolution within their historical context.