Book Review: The Founding Conservatives

The Founding Conservatives:  How A Group Of Unsung Heroes Saved The American Revolution, by David Lefer

I was given this book by a friend of mine who said the book made him feel rather frustrated, but I’m not sure why that is the case upon reading it.  To be sure, the people in this book are mostly obscure, but I was familiar with most of them because of my fondness for history about the American Revolution [1], and the story itself was sufficiently clear to make it easy to understand who was being talked about.  In many ways, this book deserves to be a companion volume to Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind, which has a mostly anglophile appreciation of the origins of Conservatism and mindset, while this book demonstrates that the Americans struck upon the blend between reason and tradition first.  I must admit that I am a temperamental conservative myself, and have tended to greatly dislike being considered to be a radical person because while I am a person with a strong interest in reform, I have no interest whatsoever in the sort of rabble rousing that is associated with radicalism of any kind and have a great dislike of any sort of mob scene or disorder.  Suffice it to say, I’m a reasonably good audience for a book like this one.

In about 340 pages or so, the author discusses a group of American conservative revolutionaries who managed to hit upon the precise amalgam that allowed for the lasting survival of conservatism as a power in the United States despite continual preaching from the left that demographics or social change will totally swamp any sort of conservative traditions into that famous dustbin of history where so many left-wing causes reside.  A series of chapters look at people such as John Dickinson, James Wilson, John and Samuel Adams (whom the author does not consider genuine conservatives), Silas Deane, Robert Morris, Gouverneur Morris, John Jay, John Rutledge, Philip Schuyler (most famous for being Alexander Hamilton’s father-in-law), and Alexander Hamilton [2] and their friends and enemies over the course of the late colonial period, American Revolution, and early republic.  The author examines in particular forgotten incidents with massive importance, like an encounter at “Fort Mifflin” where America’s conservatives held off a Philadelphia mob by force of arms, demonstrating the mixture of firmness and pragmatic flexibility, a respect for both reason and tradition, and a strong capitalist streak have helped define America’s conservatism from the late 1700’s to today.

All in all, this book is certainly a persuasive one, and it manages to tell such an engaging story about the dramatic experiences of America’s mostly obscure founding conservatives that one can usually forget it is written by someone who does not consider himself particularly fond of contemporary conservatives.  Yet at times one can get a sense that the author has a somewhat muddled description, in that the people are sometimes described as conservatives and yet often as moderates.  Indeed, in the colonial order the gentlemen here would have been generally considered to be moderates, but as American Tories were greatly discredited after the winning of independence and then the fall of the Federalist party, these people were about as far right as one could get having supported the American Revolution wholeheartedly.  One can only go so far to the right and concede the right of rebellion against tyranny, after all.  Among the more important insights of this book is the ominous conclusion that the author draws about slavery serving as the cause of division between the conservatives of the North and the South, an immensely fateful divide that prefigured so many more divides as the Civil War would approach.  This book is a worthwhile read.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History, International Relations, Military History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Book Review: The Founding Conservatives

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