Joseph J. Ellis
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About Joseph J. Ellis
Joseph J. Ellis is Ford Foundation Professor of History at Mount Holyoke and author of the National Book Award-winning American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Founding Brothers, and The Passionate Sage (Norton).
Photo by Larry D. Moore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons.
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New York Times Book Review — Editors’ Choice • Chicago Tribune — "60 Best Reads for Right Now" • St. Louis Post-Dispatch — "50 Fall Books You Should Consider Reading"
A culminating work on the American Founding by one of its leading historians, The Cause rethinks the American Revolution as we have known it.
In one of the most “exciting and engaging” (Gordon S. Wood) histories of the American founding in decades, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Joseph J. Ellis offers an epic account of the origins and clashing ideologies of America’s revolutionary era, recovering a war more brutal, and more disorienting, than any in our history, save perhaps the Civil War.
For more than two centuries, historians have debated the history of the American Revolution, disputing its roots, its provenance, and above all, its meaning. These questions have intrigued Ellis—one of our most celebrated scholars of American history—throughout his entire career. With this much-anticipated volume, he at last brings the story of the revolution to vivid life, with “surprising relevance” (Susan Dunn) for our modern era. Completing a trilogy of books that began with Founding Brothers, The Cause returns us to the very heart of the American founding, telling the military and political story of the war for independence from the ground up, and from all sides: British and American, loyalist and patriot, white and Black.
Taking us from the end of the Seven Years’ War to 1783, and drawing on a wealth of previously untapped sources, The Cause interweaves action-packed tales of North American military campaigns with parlor-room intrigues back in England, creating a thrilling narrative that brings together a cast of familiar and long-forgotten characters. Here Ellis recovers the stories of Catherine Littlefield Greene, wife of Major General Nathanael Greene, the sister among the “band of brothers”; Thayendanegea, a Mohawk chief known to the colonists as Joseph Brant, who led the Iroquois Confederation against the Patriots; and Harry Washington, the enslaved namesake of George Washington, who escaped Mount Vernon to join the British Army and fight against his former master.
Countering popular histories that romanticize the “Spirit of ’76,” Ellis demonstrates that the rebels fought under the mantle of “The Cause,” a mutable, conveniently ambiguous principle that afforded an umbrella under which different, and often conflicting, convictions and goals could coexist. Neither an American nation nor a viable government existed at the end of the war. In fact, one revolutionary legacy regarded the creation of such a nation, or any robust expression of government power, as the ultimate betrayal of The Cause. This legacy alone rendered any effective response to the twin tragedies of the founding—slavery and the Native American dilemma—problematic at best.
Written with the vivid and muscular prose for which Ellis is known, and with characteristically trenchant insight, The Cause marks the culmination of a lifetime of engagement with the founding era. A landmark work of narrative history, it challenges the story we have long told ourselves about our origins as a people, and as a nation.
“A splendid book—humane, learned, written with flair and radiant with a calm intelligence and wit.” —The New York Times Book Review
The United States was more a fragile hope than a reality in 1790. During the decade that followed, the Founding Fathers—re-examined here as Founding Brothers—combined the ideals of the Declaration of Independence with the content of the Constitution to create the practical workings of our government. Through an analysis of six fascinating episodes—Hamilton and Burr’s deadly duel, Washington’s precedent-setting Farewell Address, Adams’ administration and political partnership with his wife, the debate about where to place the capital, Franklin’s attempt to force Congress to confront the issue of slavery and Madison’s attempts to block him, and Jefferson and Adams’ famous correspondence—Founding Brothers brings to life the vital issues and personalities from the most important decade in our nation’s history.
We all know the famous opening phrase of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this Continent a new Nation.” The truth is different. In 1776, thirteen American colonies declared themselves independent states that only temporarily joined forces in order to defeat the British. Once victorious, they planned to go their separate ways. The triumph of the American Revolution was neither an ideological nor a political guarantee that the colonies would relinquish their independence and accept the creation of a federal government with power over their autonomy as states.
The Quartet is the story of this second American founding and of the men most responsible—George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison. These men, with the help of Robert Morris and Gouverneur Morris, shaped the contours of American history by diagnosing the systemic dysfunctions created by the Articles of Confederation, manipulating the political process to force the calling of the Constitutional Convention, conspiring to set the agenda in Philadelphia, orchestrating the debate in the state ratifying conventions, and, finally, drafting the Bill of Rights to assure state compliance with the constitutional settlement.
Ellis has given us a gripping and dramatic portrait of one of the most crucial and misconstrued periods in American history: the years between the end of the Revolution and the formation of the federal government. The Quartet unmasks a myth, and in its place presents an even more compelling truth—one that lies at the heart of understanding the creation of the United States of America.
The story of history is a ceaseless conversation between past and present, and in American Dialogue Joseph J. Ellis focuses the conversation on the often-asked question "What would the Founding Fathers think?" He examines four of our most seminal historical figures through the prism of particular topics, using the perspective of the present to shed light on their views and, in turn, to make clear how their now centuries-old ideas illuminate the disturbing impasse of today's political conflicts. He discusses Jefferson and the issue of racism, Adams and the specter of economic inequality, Washington and American imperialism, Madison and the doctrine of original intent. Through these juxtapositions--and in his hallmark dramatic and compelling narrative voice--Ellis illuminates the obstacles and pitfalls paralyzing contemporary discussions of these fundamentally important issues.
A distinctive portrait of the crescendo moment in American history from the Pulitzer-winning American historian, Joseph Ellis.
The summer months of 1776 witnessed the most consequential events in the story of our country’s founding. While the thirteen colonies came together and agreed to secede from the British Empire, the British were dispatching the largest armada ever to cross the Atlantic to crush the rebellion in the cradle. The Continental Congress and the Continental Army were forced to make decisions on the run, improvising as history congealed around them. In a brilliant and seamless narrative, Ellis meticulously examines the most influential figures in this propitious moment, including George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Britain’s Admiral Lord Richard and General William Howe. He weaves together the political and military experiences as two sides of a single story, and shows how events on one front influenced outcomes on the other.
Revolutionary Summer tells an old story in a new way, with a freshness at once colorful and compelling.
To this landmark biography of our first president, Joseph J. Ellis brings the exacting scholarship, shrewd analysis, and lyric prose that have made him one of the premier historians of the Revolutionary era. Training his lens on a figure who sometimes seems as remote as his effigy on Mount Rushmore, Ellis assesses George Washington as a military and political leader and a man whose “statue-like solidity” concealed volcanic energies and emotions.
Here is the impetuous young officer whose miraculous survival in combat half-convinced him that he could not be killed. Here is the free-spending landowner whose debts to English merchants instilled him with a prickly resentment of imperial power. We see the general who lost more battles than he won and the reluctant president who tried to float above the partisan feuding of his cabinet. His Excellency is a magnificent work, indispensable to an understanding not only of its subject but also of the nation he brought into being.
John and Abigail Adams left an indelible and remarkably preserved portrait of their lives together in their personal correspondence: both Adamses were prolific letter writers (although John conceded that Abigail was clearly the more gifted of the two), and over the years they exchanged more than twelve hundred letters. Joseph J. Ellis distills this unprecedented and unsurpassed record to give us an account both intimate and panoramic; part biography, part political history, and part love story.
Ellis describes the first meeting between the two as inauspicious—John was twenty-four, Abigail just fifteen, and each was entirely unimpressed with the other. But they soon began a passionate correspondence that resulted in their marriage five years later.
Over the next decades, the couple were separated nearly as much as they were together. John’s political career took him first to Philadelphia, where he became the boldest advocate for the measures that would lead to the Declaration of Independence. Yet in order to attend the Second Continental Congress, he left his wife and children in the middle of the war zone that had by then engulfed Massachusetts. Later he was sent to Paris, where he served as a minister to the court of France alongside Benjamin Franklin. These years apart stressed the Adamses’ union almost beyond what it could bear: Abigail grew lonely, while the Adams children suffered from their father’s absence.
John was elected the nation’s first vice president, but by the time of his reelection, Abigail’s health prevented her from joining him in Philadelphia, the interim capital. She no doubt had further reservations about moving to the swamp on the Potomac when John became president, although this time he persuaded her. President Adams inherited a weak and bitterly divided country from George Washington. The political situation was perilous at best, and he needed his closest advisor by his side: “I can do nothing,” John told Abigail after his election, “without you.”
In Ellis’s rich and striking new history, John and Abigail’s relationship unfolds in the context of America’s birth as a nation.
"Impassioned and erudite.…A captivating portrait of this Massachusetts native as a wonderfully contrary genius possessed of an uncommon moral intelligence and farsighted political wisdom." —Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
A fresh look at this astute, likably quirky statesman, by the author of the Pulitzer Award-winning Founding Brothers and the National Book Award winning American Sphinx.
"The most lovable and most laughable, the warmest and possibly the wisest of the founding fathers, John Adams knew himself as few men do and preserved his knowledge in a voluminous correspondence that still vibrates. Ellis has used it with great skill and perception not only to bring us the man, warts and all, but more importantly to reveal his extraordinary insights into the problems confronting the founders that resonate today in the republic they created." —Edmund S. Morgan, Sterling Professor of History Emeritus, Yale University
Ellis is equally incisive about their failures, and he makes clear how their inability to abolish slavery and to reach a just settlement with the Native Americans has played an equally important role in shaping our national character. With eloquence and insight, Ellis strips the mythic veneer of the revolutionary generation to reveal men both human and inspired, possessed of both brilliance and blindness. American Creation is an audiobook that delineates an era of flawed greatness, at a time when understanding our origins is more important than ever.
Through portraits of four figures—Charles Willson Peale, Hugh Henry Brackenridge, William Dunlap, and Noah Webster—Joseph Ellis provides a unique perspective on the role of culture in post-Revolutionary America, both its high expectations and its frustrations.
An entrepreneur, a writer who wanted to depict an ideal society, a dramatist who tried to reconcile high aesthetic standards and populism, and a Connecticut Yankee who ran into the contradictions of conservatism and liberalism—each of the four men depicted in this book had a vision of what kind of society post-Revolutionary America should be. Through portraits of these bellwether figures, the prize-winning historian Joseph J. Ellis examines the currents that were shaping the new country.