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First Principles: What America's…
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First Principles: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and… (2020 original; edició 2020)

de Thomas E. Ricks (Autor)

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Membre:PomonaClassics
Títol:First Principles: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country
Autors:Thomas E. Ricks (Autor)
Informació:Harper (2020), 416 pages
Col·leccions:La teva biblioteca
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First Principles: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country de Thomas E. Ricks (2020)

Afegit fa poc perTSORAMA, biblioteca privada, Gillian-D, timothyduston, Houhoulis, TonyLanteri, ryantaylor93, Coutre

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Ricks’ First Principles gives us insight into the literary and philosophical factors that influenced the Founding Fathers of the United States. These influences formed the personal values of the individuals who signed the Declaration of Independence and who contributed to the US Constitution.

The book is relatively short and easy to read. That, combined with the fair amount of research behind it, makes it a good refresher course in how the US was formed. Published just a couple of months ago, it is an up-to-date perspective drawing relevant comparisons and contemporary points of view. The author shows some bias in his personal likes and dislikes of certain Founders, and he weaves in some anti-Trump messaging. Sometimes his look at threads of history that lead to issues of today are useful; for example, many today view the two-party system as inherently corrupt and stifling to democratic process. Others view the two-party system as inherently balanced, providing an ever-present give-and-take as checks and balances. The same tension existed in the 1790s. It was interesting to see some arguments and opinions that sound like 2021 instead of 1700s and 1800s.

Equality wasn’t exactly as we think of it today.

The most glaring example of course is the institution of slavery, built into the early nation as a suicidal compromise to get the southern states to join and hold the states together in one nation. This is not a case of projecting today's values onto the past. Many founders viewed the slavery compromise as the likely doom of the nation, a nation whose “deal with the devil” would ruin it in the near future.

Early American norms also included a definite ranking system. Liability and injury, for example, depended partly on rank. Libel or injury to a high-ranked individual carried harsher punishment than the same injury to a person of lower rank.

The early days of the republic were fraught with violent disputes about the basic principles of governance. After more than ten years of war to gain independence, internal wars were just heating up. John Adams, for example, wanted an authoritarian central federal government (Federalist), Thomas Jefferson wanted very little power in the federal government. Jefferson knew the Constitution would not be perfect. In determining liberty for the people, he wanted to err on the side of too much liberty, rather than too little. Jefferson even favored periodic armed rebellion by the rabble. He thought bloodshed was a healthy way to keep the government from gaining authority over the people, instead of people having the power over the government.

Civil discourse did not hide extreme antagonism. The party in power viewed the other party as traitors and seditionists who should be jailed or put to death. This was not a reference to some fly-by-night troublemakers. This was John Adams talking about Thomas Jefferson. Newspaper editors who favored the party currently not in power were routinely kept in prison until the power shifted at the next election. 3rd-President Thomas Jefferson freed many journalists who had been imprisoned by 2nd-President John Adams. After being voted out after one term as president, John Adams refused to attend Thomas Jefferson’s inauguration. Adams thought the American people had become degraded, having lost all virtue and sense (for voting against him). He left the Whitehouse at 4 a.m. the morning of Jefferson’s inauguration.

Most people know that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. But fewer are aware that a lesser-known founder, James Madison (4th US President), wrote the US Constitution. Madison was a brilliant and prolific writer, having written the famous Federalist Papers. He wrote so much, in one example, he wrote George Washington’s speech to the House of Representatives, he wrote the House Response to the speech, and he wrote Washington’s response to the House’s response. Madison’s writings largely constitute the formation and the history of the early nation.

A fair portion of the book is devoted to George Washington’s evolution as a military strategist—his rôle in the British military, then as the American Commander in Chief during the seven-year American Revolution. He shifted dramatically from sudden-impact engagements to a longer-term strategy of relentless precision harassment and guerilla warfare. Washington’s ability to adapt and optimize his approach fluidly in response to British military behavior, shifted the balance of power to make the revolution successful.

The book includes interesting historical notes, such as the early years of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and other nascent American institutions, and their political alliances. Early American author Washington Irving coined the phrase “the almighty dollar” in a short story in 1836. In 1828, Federalist newspaper editor Noah Webster published the first edition of a dictionary he conceived and authored on his own, known as “Webster’s Dictionary” with Noah Webster’s own 70,000 hand-written entries. Another tidbit—many years after George Washington died, a well-meaning sculptor created a statue of George Washington in a Roman robe. It received its most devastating criticism from Davy Crockett: George Washington in a Roman Gown? “This ain’t right.” It was removed.

One weakness in the book is the sketchy connections with Roman and Greek influences. It is true that Roman and Greek history and literature was widely known in those days. But the claim of particular influences upon the Founders is not well documented. We are left to just believe the author (or not). Overall there is a lot of talk about Romans and Greeks, but not a lot of support.

The book is a window into the founding era of American political, philosophical, and personal histories—the extraordinary events and legendary figures. I recommend this new look at the approximately fifty-year period: before, during, and after the American Revolution. ( )
  Coutre | Jan 18, 2021 |
A fresh look at the Founders and the conditions that led to the begfinning of the US and how lucky we wer to have such men in such a time. A period that I should know more about. Ricks uses the education of the first 4 Presidents and shines a light on their Classical Education and how this framed their thoughts. Only vaguely heard of the Scottish Enlightenment but now I know how much it infused the thinking of Jefferson, Madison, Adams, and Washington.
Was put off by the wokeness of some termes (Slaves?, First Peoples?, him and her generals?) but nonetheless a good read. ( )
1 vota JBreedlove | Jan 3, 2021 |
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Unless we can return a little more to first principles, & act a little more upon patriotic ground, I do not know...what may be the issue of the contest.

-- George Washington to James Warren,
March 31, 1779
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For the dissenters, who concieved this nation,
and improve it still
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If on a spring morning in May 1778 following that hard winter at Valley Forge, we could approach a soldier warming himself by a fire and ask him his opinion of the great Roman orator Cato, he probably would not find the inquiry odd.
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This entry for "First Principles" is for the 2020 work by Thomas E. Ricks regarding the founding fathers and founding principles of the USA. Please DO NOT combine this work with any of the numerous other works by this title. A bit of caution will cost a few seconds, and save hours of extracting various works from this entry.
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