Founding Brothers


Joseph J. Ellis

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Founding Brothers Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Joseph J. Ellis's Founding Brothers. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Joseph J. Ellis

Joseph J. Ellis received his BA from the College of William and Mary and his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1969. He taught at the United States Military Academy before accepting a position in the History department at Mount Holyoke College. He was eventually appointed to the Ford Foundation Chair in History, and temporarily served as Acting President of the college. In 2001 he was put on leave after he falsely claimed to his students that he had served in the Vietnam War. Ellis took full responsibility for this mistake and apologized; Mount Holyoke reappointed him to the chair in 2005. Ellis’ research focuses on the Founding Fathers, the era of the American Revolution, and the Federalist years. He has written biographies of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington, as well as many other books covering the Revolutionary period and its aftermath. He lives in Western Massachusetts with his wife, Ellen Wilkins Ellis, with whom he has three children.
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Historical Context of Founding Brothers

Many significant historical events are covered in the book, beginning with the Revolutionary War and the achievement of Independence in 1776. The book mentions that the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was the nation’s other “Founding Moment.” Several of the book’s most significant events occur in 1790, including the Compromise of 1790 and the delivery of petitions to Congress calling for the restriction and abolition of slavery that same year. The book covers George Washington’s presidency, which lasted from 1788 to 1796, his decision to step down, and the publication of his “Farewell Address.” It also covers the presidential elections of 1796 and 1800, in which John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, respectively, were elected as president. In addition, Ellis makes frequent references to the French Revolution, which lasted from 1789 to 1799. The book also attends to the duel in which Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in 1804. Founding Fathers ends with the year 1826, when both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on July 4, the fiftieth anniversary of Independence.

Other Books Related to Founding Brothers

Alongside biographies of the individual Founding Fathers, Ellis has also written Revolutionary Summer, which covers the summer of 1776, American Creation, an evaluation of the successes and failures of the Founding Fathers, The Quartet, which mainly focuses on the Constitutional Convention, and After the Revolution, which examines culture in the early American Republic. Other major works covering this period include Bernard Bailyn’s The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, David McCullough’s 1776, which covers the year of American Independence, Catherine Drinker Browen’s Miracle at Philadelphia, which focuses on the Constitutional Convention, and Jay Winik’s The Great Upheaval, which, like Founding Brothers, covers the decade following the Constitutional Convention.
Key Facts about Founding Brothers
  • Full Title: Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation
  • Where Written: Massachusetts
  • When Published: 2001
  • Literary Period: Contemporary Nonfiction
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Setting: The United States, mostly focused on the 1790s
  • Point of View: Third person

Extra Credit for Founding Brothers

High Honors. Founding Brothers was awarded the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for History.

Crossover. Unusually, Founding Brothers perfectly straddles academic scholarship and popular history. In a review for The Guardian, Hugo Young wrote that the book was “a work of deep scholarship masquerading as popular history.”