Founding Brothers

by

Joseph J. Ellis

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Founding Brothers can help.
The Capital Symbol Icon

In Founding Fathers, the capital (Washington, D.C.) symbolizes the intensity of the competing needs and interests that dominated American life in the period following the American Revolution. The question of where America’s capital city should be was one of great debate, causing so much indecision that some congressmen joked about the capital having to be placed on wheels and rolled around from place to place. The newly formed republic consisted of different states (with different cultures, climates, histories, and interests) that now faced the challenge of acting as one nation. As the book details, the decision about where the capital should be ended up being part of the Compromise of 1790, during which the debate about assumption was solved through a bargain that also settled the residency question. The chosen location on the Potomac was a concession to the South (and particularly Virginia), and was also a way of keeping the country’s financial institutions, which were mostly located in Philadelphia and New York, separate from its seat of government. In addition, it was significant that the nation’s leaders picked a location that was, at the time, not an existing urban center; this reflected the values of decentralized power that many leaders of the era (and particularly Republicans) wanted to preserve as the country moved forward into the future. The fact that Washington, D.C. was named after George Washington was, according to Ellis, a foregone conclusion. Even during his lifetime, Washington was an integral part of American identity. It has stayed that way ever since in part due to the capital named after him.

The Capital Quotes in Founding Brothers

The Founding Brothers quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Capital. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Conflict vs. Compromise Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Founding Brothers published in 2002.
Chapter 2 Quotes

The Compromise of 1790 is most famous for averting a political crisis that many statesmen of the time considered a threat to the survival of the infant republic. But it also exposed the incompatible expectations concerning America’s future that animated these same statesmen.

Related Symbols: The Capital
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

The permanent residence of the capital on the Potomac institutionalized political values designed to carry the nation in a fundamentally different direction. It was also symbolic in a personal sense for Jefferson and Madison. For the Compromise of 1790 signaled the resumption of their political partnership after five years of separation. Now, “the great collaboration" was truly an alliance worthy of its name.

Related Characters: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison
Related Symbols: The Capital
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

For that city and the name it was destined to carry, symbolized the conspiracy that threatened, so Jefferson and his followers thought, all that Virginia stood for.

Related Characters: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson
Related Symbols: The Capital
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Founding Brothers LitChart as a printable PDF.
Founding Brothers PDF

The Capital Symbol Timeline in Founding Brothers

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Capital appears in Founding Brothers. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2: The Dinner
Conflict vs. Compromise Theme Icon
Heroism, Leadership, and Collaboration Theme Icon
Present vs. Hindsight Theme Icon
Patriotism and American Values Theme Icon
...brought to the House again, with an amendment to appease the South: that the nation’s capital be placed on the Potomac River. If this decision was truly reached at the dinner,... (full context)
Conflict vs. Compromise Theme Icon
Heroism, Leadership, and Collaboration Theme Icon
Present vs. Hindsight Theme Icon
Patriotism and American Values Theme Icon
...the bargain was terrible, as Virginians cared far more about assumption than they did the capital’s location. Two years later, Jefferson admitted to Washington that the deal had been “the greatest... (full context)
Conflict vs. Compromise Theme Icon
Heroism, Leadership, and Collaboration Theme Icon
Patriotism and American Values Theme Icon
...that assumption was “threatening,” and that the Potomac was a highly meaningful location for the capital. Why? Different leaders would have given very different answers to this question. (full context)
Conflict vs. Compromise Theme Icon
Patriotism and American Values Theme Icon
...difficult. It had been agreed that there would first be a temporary location, where the capital would exist for ten to twenty years, followed by a permanent location. By March 1790,... (full context)
Conflict vs. Compromise Theme Icon
Patriotism and American Values Theme Icon
...While Madison and other Virginians insisted that the Potomac was an ideal location for the capital, boasting of qualities that were either exaggerated or completely mythical, northerners scoffed that they were... (full context)
Conflict vs. Compromise Theme Icon
Heroism, Leadership, and Collaboration Theme Icon
The Personal vs. The Political Theme Icon
Patriotism and American Values Theme Icon
...meeting on June 15, during which it was agreed that Philadelphia would be the temporary capital and the Potomac location the permanent one. (The Pennsylvanians probably agreed to this on the... (full context)
Conflict vs. Compromise Theme Icon
Heroism, Leadership, and Collaboration Theme Icon
Patriotism and American Values Theme Icon
...Congress, where it would be debated to death. This required handing the decision over to Washington. Jefferson and Madison traveled to Maryland and Virginia, surveying the area and sending a report... (full context)
Conflict vs. Compromise Theme Icon
Heroism, Leadership, and Collaboration Theme Icon
The Personal vs. The Political Theme Icon
Patriotism and American Values Theme Icon
For many years, Washington, D.C. was “not really a city at all,” which symbolized the difference between the American... (full context)
Chapter 4: The Farewell
Conflict vs. Compromise Theme Icon
Heroism, Leadership, and Collaboration Theme Icon
The Personal vs. The Political Theme Icon
Present vs. Hindsight Theme Icon
Washington and Hamilton continued to send drafts back and forth to each other for another month.... (full context)
Conflict vs. Compromise Theme Icon
Heroism, Leadership, and Collaboration Theme Icon
The Personal vs. The Political Theme Icon
Patriotism and American Values Theme Icon
The reaction to the Farewell Address was mostly positive. The majority of people lamented Washington’s departure and expressed support for his message, while his critics continued to loudly voice their... (full context)
Chapter 6: The Friendship
Conflict vs. Compromise Theme Icon
Heroism, Leadership, and Collaboration Theme Icon
The Personal vs. The Political Theme Icon
Present vs. Hindsight Theme Icon
Patriotism and American Values Theme Icon
...was very ill with an intestinal disorder that prevented him from attending the celebration in Washington. In a letter to the committee organizing the ceremony, he repeated his lifelong view that... (full context)