A Student of History

May 27, 2006

Remember the Titans

Filed under: New books — John Maass @ 6:55 pm

What Made the Founders Different

In the WP, there’s a book review on Gordon Wood‘s new one, REVOLUTIONARY CHARACTERS: What Made the Founders Different (Penguin Press. 321 pp. $25.95).  As the review states,

Eight of the 10 chapters of Revolutionary Characters are biographical, featuring Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, John Adams, Thomas Paine and Aaron Burr. The founders are often considered as a group, as indeed they are here, and widely admired as being “different” (the key word in Wood’s subtitle) from our current leaders in their commitment to enlightened principles. Looking at the founders together, it is hard not to conclude that though they deserve our admiration, they may not have constituted the group we have imagined. Certainly, they acted at times as if they had nothing in common.  All of the essays in this volume are of a high intellectual order. The most interesting may be “Is There a ‘James Madison Problem’?” — in which the question is whether Madison transformed himself from a nationalist in the 1780s, eager to create an active, energetic government with broad powers, into a “strict constructionist” in the 1790s.

I met Wood when he came to Ohio State University to give a paper about this chapter, and discuss it with faculty and graduate students.  Not surprisingly, few faculty out of the early US field or constitutional history bothered to show up, despite Wood’s powerful influence in his own field.  So much for lifelong learning I suppose!  Many fellow graduate students complained that Wood was too old fashioned, or traditional or did not engage in the new cultural history, etc. One asked him if he though the body could be a useful metaphor for exploring the early history of the US or the Revolution. He of course said no. 

The very favorable review is by Robert Middlekauff, Professor of History emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789.  However, my review is loctaed here, and is more limited in praise. 

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