What Would the Founders Do? : Our Questions, Their Answers


What would George Washington do about weapons of mass destruction? How would Benjamin Franklin feel about unwed mothers? What would Alexander Hamilton think about minorities in the military? Examining a host of issues from terrorism to women’s rights, acclaimed historian Richard Brookhiser reveals why we still turn to the Founders in moments of struggle, farce, or disaster. Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, Adams and all the rest have an unshakable hold on our collective imagination. We trust ...
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What Would the Founders Do?: Our Questions, Their Answers

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What would George Washington do about weapons of mass destruction? How would Benjamin Franklin feel about unwed mothers? What would Alexander Hamilton think about minorities in the military? Examining a host of issues from terrorism to women’s rights, acclaimed historian Richard Brookhiser reveals why we still turn to the Founders in moments of struggle, farce, or disaster. Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, Adams and all the rest have an unshakable hold on our collective imagination. We trust them more than today’s politicians because they built our country, they wrote our user’s manuals-the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution-and they ran the nation while it was still under warranty and could be returned to the manufacturer. If anyone knows how the U.S.A. should work, it must be the Founders. Brookhiser uses his vast knowledge to apply their views to today’s issues. He also explores why what the Founders would think still matters. Written with Brookhiser’s trademark eloquence and wit, while drawing on his deep understanding of American history, What Would the Founders Do? sheds new light on the disagreements and debates that have shaped our country from the beginning. Now, more than ever, we need the Founders-inspiring, argumentative, amusing know-it-alls-to help us work through the issues that divide us.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
It might be thought that nothing new could be said about America's founding fathers, in the midst of the contemporary avalanche of tomes about Washington, Jefferson and other early American leaders. But Rick Brookhiser, inspired perhaps by a Christian motto-"What Would Jesus Do?" (WWJD)-has come up with a way to describe the views of the architects of the American republic that is as entertaining as it is informative. "Americans have been asking what the founders would do since the founders died," writes Brookhiser, a journalist and historian (Alexander Hamilton and The Way of the WASP). Combining the skills of a first-rate writer with those of a medium at a s ance, Brookhiser channels the spirits of eminent early Americans in discussing contemporary public debates. At times, Brookhiser has to stretch to find an analogy between the era of the founders and today, such as his comparison between stem cell research and the old practice of robbing graves for medical research. In other cases, however, the conceit works to shed light on present and past alike. Should the U.S. attempt to spread democracy around the world? Brookhiser makes a case for the caution of Alexander Hamilton rather than the optimism of Thomas Jefferson. The war on drugs? "The founders would not have fought a war on drugs," but would have taxed them instead, Brookhiser declares, reasoning from the excise tax on whiskey imposed by the federal government. What would the founders do about Social Security? "Social Security follows none of their models (family provision, charity, reward for service, investment)." The book reveals that many of the public policy questions confronting the early American republic are similar to challenges Americans wrestle with today. The values of 18th-century Americans, by contrast, were radically different and benighted by modern standards. Jefferson, while opposing slavery, argued that blacks were inferior and should be expatriated from the United States. The founders took a male-dominated society for granted, though Hamilton was willing to consider sweatshop work for women: "It is worthy of particular remark, that, in general, women and children are rendered more useful... by manufacturing establishments than they would otherwise be." With a rare union of wit and scholarship, What Would the Founders Do? presents history as a source of continuing debates, rather than as a set of answers. Comparing the founders to present-day Americans, Brookhiser concludes: "We can be as intelligent as they were, and as serious, as practical, and as brave.... We can; as they said, all men are created equal." (May 5) Michael Lind, the Whitehead Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, is the author of What Lincoln Believed: The Values and Convictions of America's Greatest President. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
American social and political leaders regularly interpret the Founding Fathers' ideas as outlined in the U.S. Constitution, selecting certain principles to promote current goals or policies. Brookhiser (Rules of Civility: The 110 Precepts That Guided Our First President in War and Peace) uses the Founders' written and oral statements to imagine their thoughts concerning contemporary issues ranging from stem cells and terrorism to censorship and gay marriage. The short answers he gives for each question can be serious or witty and are often infused with interesting historical facts. Brookhiser's goal is to link 18th-century meaning to 20th- and 21st-century issues. His introductory chapter provides a basic understanding of the main philosophical and political ideas that structured the Founders' thoughts. All told, Brookhiser's reference to a wide variety of Founders limits the possibilities for developing a consistent theme in the book, though general audiences will be interested in the range of responses. Large public libraries could add this to their collections.-Steven Puro, St. Louis Univ. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465008209
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 4/30/2007
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 790,212
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Brookhiser is the author of What Would the Founders Do?, Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton, American, and America’s First Dynasty: The Adamses, 1735-1918. He wrote and hosted the critically acclaimed PBS documentary Rediscovering George Washington, is a columnist for TIME magazine, and is a senior editor of National Review. He has written for The New Yorker and the New York Times. He lives in New York City.
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Table of Contents

1 Introduction 1
2 Their world, our world 11
3 Liberty and law 31
4 God and man 59
5 Money and business 75
6 War and peace 101
7 Education and media 129
8 Men and women 147
9 Race and identity 163
10 Politics 181
11 Conclusion 213
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2007

    a lot of questions, not enough answers

    Overall this book was an easy and enjoyable read. The only thing that makes me rate this 3 out of 5 is that in my opinion there are too many questions and the author only gives each answer a page or two. I feel there are many questions that could have been left out and devoted more detailed answers for more important questions. I was disappointed that questions like, 'what would the founders do about the war on terror' (question paraphrased) were given loose answers. However, the point is I learned a lot of good history, but I'm not totally convinced the author really knows 'what the founders would do' but that's only because his evidence and arguments are short and vague. But, hey that's just me. I did enjoy reading it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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