These are my notes from a book club meeting in Manhattan, Kansas, which focused on “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers” by Brion McClanahan. MY THOUGHTS AND COMMENTS HERE ARE IN ALL CAPS.

Brion observes the textbooks now give topics greater or lesser amounts of importance by the people who write the textbooks.
– one current textbook he cites discusses George Washington much less than older books (he is given comparative short shrift)
— one book had more to say about how George Washington dressed than what his accomplishments were
— things like this always bother me (our presenter tonight) because I fear for our country’s future, if what we are teaching in history classes today is based on textbooks like this one
— there is a chance for things to get changed incrementally…. our government today is radically changed, from the form our founding fathers

textbook he’s discussing is David Goldfield’s “The American Journey” by Prentice Hall
– just two paragraphs in it about George Washington’s achievements in the Revolutionary war, but several pages talking about how he dressed
– 1966 edition of “American Pageant” textbook had 37 pages about George Washington

Book is organized in part around “myths” surrounding the founding fathers
– the founding fathers didn’t create a democratic government
– founding fathers were very concerned about the tyranny of the majority
– if you had democracy, feared it could devolve into mob rule

Today’s politics: how are we going to cover more people and spend less money, as is being promised now?

There were SO many things that happened between 1770 and 1820: so many changes!
– big changes in the “players in the political mix”
– at that time Senators were appointed by state representatives
– very interested how things developed and people allied themselves… confusing also because of the terms used

1 party: generally referred to as the Democratic Republicans, or the Republicans with a “little r”

James Madison wrote some of the Federalist papers, but he was not part of the later “Federalist Party”
– at different times, views changed over times
– all of these founding fathers favored states rights initially

At one time Jefferson wrote about the United States with a “little u”
– Jefferson considered Virginia his country
– he served terms in the federalist system, but was really a champion for states rights
– my modern perspective makes it hard to understand that, given his tenures as Vice President, President, and Sec of State


At one point the author contends he can’t imagine any of the founding fathers imagining a welfare system or state-provided health care

“We are living in interesting times, and I hope it’s not a Chinese curse…”

When we elect people we often say we want them to represent us,” but we often expect them to have a bigger picture and not JUST think / act in parochial ways

Would the founding fathers have supported term limits?
– if so, would they have put those in place?

Alexander Hamilton was a nationalist and in favor of a strong central government

John Adams proposed George Washington as commander for the Union Army
– Adams and John Hancock were other leading contenders
– his belief was that southern states were more likely to follow Washington (Hancock was a northerner from Massachusetts)

In the book the author talks about how historians rate Presidents
– story of George Washington questioning a corporal who had been barking orders and not assisting his men, pitching in to help

The desertion rate went down during the encampment at Valley Forge

– 1918 “The story of young George Washington

Hamilton was Washington’s aide-to-camp, helped him write his final inaugural address

Many of the founding fathers were third or fourth generation Americans
– most were schooled at home or by tutors
– they read classics, Roman and Greek literature

Alexander Hamilton was born in the West Indes
– his story is really remarkable
– mother died of fever when he was 11
– he was orphaned at that point

I didn’t realize Hamilton wrote about half of the Federalist papers, I thought James Madison was the primary author of most of them
– John Jay and James Madison wrote many as well

In the 1990s George Will wrote a short article about Alexander Hamilton (1992)

Full quotation is:

There is an elegant memorial in Washington to Jefferson, but none to Hamilton. However, if you seek Hamilton’s monument, look around. You are living in it. We honor Jefferson, but live in Hamilton’s country, a mighty industrial nation with a strong central government.
George Will, Restoration: Congress, Term Limits and the Recovery of Deliberative Democracy (1992)

Hamilton got to orgqnize and systemize the correspondence of George Washington
– had a falling out in 1781, Hamilton thought Washington was a blasphemer because he swore
– he was given a light infantry battalion by Washington

After the war Hamilton studied law for 5 months and was admitted to the New York Bar
– served with Continental Congress

After Articles of the Confederation, Hamilton had proposed a popularly elected chief executive with a lifetime office

The following is linked on the Wikiquote article for Hamilton:

Alexander Hamilton on the Web: This site holds more than 200 resources about Alexander Hamilton (1755–1804), founding father, first Secretary of the Treasury, part-author of the Federalist Papers and advocate of a strong central government.

Not too long ago, everyone who was elected and served in Washington DC lived in DC and kids went to schools there
– now over half of our elected officials don’t live in DC
– example many of us would remember was Tip O’Neil: public criticisms but he would have people over / go out for dinner together

This is a factor in Kansas politics now: some claiming their opponent is never in the state so doesn’t understand the state

idea expressed that writing out your ideas / letters helps you process your thoughts more, so messages are sent that are not as emotional

discussing race recently in Texas where Kay Bailey Hutchinson lost to Rick Perry, in part because she was branded as a Washington insider who didn’t know / understand Texas
– WikiPedia article for Senator Hutchinson

Hamilton was very enamored with the British system, and the “corruption” of that government (those who were “in” with gov’t leaders would get gov’t contracts)

It’s amazing to read about the conflicts and controversies which happened in the early 1800s… all the in-fighting…

McClanahan claims none of the other founding fathers really liked John Adams

Judiciary Act of 1801 (a.k.a. “Midnight Judges Act“)
– according to WikiPedia:

The Midnight Judges Act (also known as the Judiciary Act of 1801; 2 Stat. 89) represented an effort to solve an issue in the U.S. Supreme Court during the early 19th century. There was concern, beginning in 1789, about the system that required the justices of the Supreme Court to “ride circuit” and reiterate decisions made in the appellate level courts.[1] The Supreme Court justices often took advantage of opportunities to voice concern and to suggest that the judges of the Supreme and circuit courts be divide.

Ultimately this led to Marbury v Madison
– John Marshall (his court) established judicial review with this decision

Jefferson first thought he was retired from public life at 51

McClanahan points out we had a war that had as a major issue, taxation without representation
– now we have LOTS of representation, but almost half the people who don’t pay income taxes


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2 Responses to The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers (a book club discussion)

  1. Heather Ross says:

    Wes, I highly recommend the book Founding Brothers for interesting stories about Washington, Adams, Hamilton and others.

  2. Wesley Fryer says:

    OK great, thanks for that book recc, Heather! I’ve added it to my Amazon wish list. 🙂

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