Founders, Keepers

Professor of history at Brown University, author of The Creation of the American Republic 1776-1787, The Radicalism of the American Revolution, The American Revolution: A History, and The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, Gordon S. Wood is in a unique position to undertake an account of those Founding Fathers from whom we must feel increasingly estranged.  Intellectual, or perhaps we should say ideological, revolutions stand between us and them.  Wood points to the muckraking efforts by John Back McMaster in 1898, by Sydney George Fisher in 1897 and 1912, and, above all, by Charles A. Beard, whose An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, published in 1913, Wood calls “the most influential history book ever written in America.”  Since then, of course, there have been further revolutions in the writing of history and in the making of it, as the lives of the Founding Fathers recede in time and their images occult themselves, and as the meaning of the Constitution has been distorted again and again.

There can be no question but that we need to recover a vital connection to the spirit of the Founding Fathers: By identifying that spirit, Wood has made an imposing contribution not only to American history but to the regeneration of the national mythology.  But Wood gives us no easy answers: He does not indicate that every little neocon...

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