I am not a history buff but I am fascinated by the Revolutionary period and the early days of the colonies. Reading the first few pages of this book changed my whole perspective of that time period. I learned in my history classes that the thirteen colonies no longer wanted to be ruled by a country that was so far away and had very little knowledge of what life was like there. And I naively thought the decision to revolt against England was a decision made by all the colonies acting as one.
The fact is that all the colonies wanted freedom from taxes and rule by England but as individual states not as a collective. Naive me, I thought it was one for all and all for one. Not even close and Ellis put things in perspective.
First of all it could take days to get from one State to another. Horseback and carriage not trains, planes and automobiles. So a person travelling on horseback could average maybe twenty or thirty miles a day on a good day. Secondly most people lived and died within a thirty mile radius of where they were born. It took three weeks to receive a letter. So you can readily see why people were more concerned about their immediate community rather than between Massachusetts and New York or Pennsylvania and Virginia. They did not care about one nation under God with Liberty and justice for all.
The colonies won the Revolutionary War but it was in the 1780’s that a group of men worked hard to steer away from the Articles of Confederation and a State based government to a Federal government whose job was to look out for all the American people. In fact the only thing the Articles of Confederation did was to draw all 13 colonies into a friendly pact. Kind of like the UN where things are discussed but each state is responsible for itself.
Ellis brings a little different slant as to why the “Founding Fathers” followed the path away from State rule. Rather than looking at the formation of a United States for economic purposes he looks at it as formed for political purposes. The protagonists of his story were George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison along with a supporting cast that included Thomas Jefferson.
These guys worked together to set the agenda for the what would become the present day Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They “conspired” to mold the States into a National entity with one government. This was quite an undertaking since people at that time really had little interest in one government to rule all. They were just focus on their communities and their States’ agenda.
What has always fascinated me about this group is how this handful of people created a government that still is in place today roughly two hundred and thirty five years later. It is mind boggling that a government was formed in the 1780’s that was designed to govern about two million seven hundred people (give or take a couple thousand people) and thirteen states on one coast. That same structure for lack of a better word is still what holds our country together. Amazing.