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10 things I learned from “First Principles: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country“ By Thomas Ricks

When I saw the first 2 words of the title I thought that this might be about the irreducible engineering principles that Elon Musk talks about but this was also interesting. When I am trying to read 2 books a week it does not pay to be choosy. I also know embarrassingly little about this time in US history. I am related to 2 of the signers of the Declaration of Independence: Matthew Thornton and John Adams (My last name is Adams, TBH the linage gets sketchy a few generations away: he is more likely to be a great uncle of some degree) so I should know more than I do.

from the Amazon blurb: "The first four American presidents came to their classical knowledge differently. Washington absorbed it mainly from the elite culture of his day; Adams from the laws and rhetoric of Rome; Jefferson immersed himself in classical philosophy, especially Epicureanism; and Madison, both a groundbreaking researcher and a deft politician, spent years studying the ancient world like a political scientist. Each of their experiences, and distinctive learning, played an essential role in the formation of the United States."

10 things I learned from “First Principles: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country“  By Thomas Ricks

    1. Sparta was a model city for a number of the founders

    2. They discussed Roman and Greek cultures and government as ideas for what we currently have in the US

    3. College in the 18th century was tiny and chaotic

    There were only a few dozen students at William and Mary and Princeton. There were also frequent drunken brawls!

    4. Some of George Washington’s famous false teeth were probably taken from live slaves!

    5. Washington’s formal education ended when he was 12.

    He was more of a "doer" than a thinker.

    6. John Adams was the only one of the four that never owned a slave

    So strange that these "enlightened" thinkers thought that slavery was perfectly acceptable.

    7. In the late 18th century Scotland was the intellectual center of Europe

    Geology and economics were advanced significantly during this time. Many educated Scots came to the US and were the tutors and professors of the founding fathers of the US.

    8. For a moment George Washington was the first and only member of the US armed forces!

    9. Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence to be read and re-read by common people

    This is how people passed news to each other in those days: speeches would be published and people would read them aloud to each other. Some of his earlier writing was extremely obtuse.

    10. It was quite unusual to have a civil war (which the revolutionary war basically was) where the victors did not become despotic as they did in Russia and France around the same time in history

    Catherine the Great took power in Russia in 1762 and was known as an "enlightened despot" and the French Revolution took place from 1786 - 1799. The late 18thy century was a wacky time in politics: most of Europe seemed to be in turmoil at this time.

    11. John Adams wanted to be sure that the branches of government would be at odds with each other so that nothing could happen “in the heat of the moment “

    A lot of foresight in this. When "your team" is in power it can be frustrating but if "the other guys" are trying to push something through that you don't want it is hard to do by design.

    12. From 1776 to 1787 the US was on sketchy ground under the Articles of Confederation

    They were unable to collect tax and were starting to run out of money. In 1787 they started to write The Constitution.

    13. The constitution was primarily proposed by James Madison

    He was 36 years old at the time. The constitution set the structure of the government. The author describes it as a peace treaty between the states.

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