by Andrew M. Schocket
New York: New York University Press, 2017. Pp. xiv, 254.
Pp. xiv, 254. Illus., biblio., index. $19.95 paper. ISBN:1479884103
In Search of the “Founders”
Prof. Schocket (Bowling Green State), a specialist in early America and the Revolution, takes a look at our perceptions of the Founders – an ill-defined crew, but certainly always including Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, and Washington -- and the ways they have been “conscripted” in our political and social discourse and daily lives.
Schocket is particularly good when discussing our modern concept that the Founders acted with a coherent set of principles, principles which were, in fact, often in ways or about matters that would have been totally alien to them. So conservative have generally taken an “essentialist” view, holding that the Founders had a concrete vision of a Christian white ethno-state, from which we ought not to stray, which has even led some on the right to resort to period dictionaries when trying to “prove” their points. On the other hand, liberals have tended to tak an “organicist” view, contending that the Founders believed there would a continuous search for “a more perfect union”, though it’s hard to find any firm evidence for that either. Schocket examines questions both the profound – would Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and the rest really have supported abolition, democracy, national health care, racial equality? – and the kitschy, such as the drafting of various of the Founders to sell cars or promote malls.
So Fighting Over the Founders is a journey to “find” the Founding Fathers, looking of them in text books, film, relationships, political pitches both past and present, the Jefferson-Hemmings affair, reenactments, memorialization, and more. Schocket doesn’t actually ever come down on one side or the other, as the Founders are an elusive bunch, but his effort to elucidate our interpretations of them is an important read for those interested in the nature of America.
Note: Fighting Over the Founders is also available in hardcover, $75.00, ISBN 978-0-8147-0816-3, and in several proprietary e-book formats