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A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic 1st Edition

49 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195176001
ISBN-10: 0195176006
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Editorial Reviews

From The New Yorker

This deft account of the American struggle for independence dispels the aura of inevitability that usually surrounds such histories by beginning its narrative not on the verge of the Revolution but twenty years earlier. Ferling demonstrates how the thought of independence emerged only gradually out of the fight against unfair taxation and British indifference. The endless clashes with Colonial authorities turned cautious merchants and gentlemen farmers who thought of themselves as loyal British subjects into genuine revolutionaries. Still, a sense of uncertainty persisted well after the British surrender, and Ferling vividly evokes the political turmoil of the post-Revolutionary years. Even as he takes the Founders off their pedestals, their accomplishments only gain in stature.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Spanning the period between the Stamp Act of 1765 and Thomas Jefferson's inauguration as president in 1801, veteran historian Ferling surveys the politics and politicians of the American Revolution and early republic. Addressing readers already well grounded in the disputes leading to the formation of the U.S., Ferling focuses on the process of signal events, particularly the continual reevaluation of power, motive, and future expectations that political players make. An example is Ferling's examination of the Boston Tea Party of 1773, in which he introduces Samuel Adams and outlines the radical's political touch. Figures less eager to break with Britain also populate Ferling's narrative, such as Benjamin Franklin, who moved adroitly to the cause of independence, and others less nimble, who lost all in the subsequent war. Briefly summarizing the war's military course, Ferling focuses on the politics of financing the war and the postwar debt, restoring to significance a host of historical personages in the tier below the Founders. A scholarly but accessible work for large collections. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (October 28, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195176006
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195176001
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 1.6 x 5.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #346,912 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Ferling is a leading authority on late 18th and early 19th century American history. He is the author of many books, including Independence, The Ascent of George Washington, Almost a Miracle, Setting the World Ablaze, and A Leap in the Dark. To learn more, please visit his website: www.johnferling.com.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 50 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 24, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I've read a number of works about colonial America, the American Revolution, and the subsequent founding of the United States.
In my opinion, this is by far the best single volume book on the subject of the birth of the United States. Not only do you get a great overview of the events leading up to the American Revolution and the Revolution itself, but the story about the struggle to create the new nation after the 1783 peace settlement is also fascinating. This book is very well written. It will be welcomed reading for both the knowledgable American history enthusiast and for those who for the first time may be seeking to understand the birth of our great nation.
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
As Ferling explains, "The title of this book was taken from a line in a newspaper essay written in 1776 by a Pennsylvanian who opposed American independence. [A substantial majority of colonials did.] To separate from the mother country, he cautioned, was to make 'a leap in the dark,' to jump into an uncertain future." Ferling goes on to note that, indeed, "Twenty years before independence, it would have been a leap in the dark for the individual colonies to surrender their autonomy and consent to a national confederation of thirteen provinces or for the imperial government in London to countenance such a union." In this volume, Ferling covers a period of time which extends from the Stamp Act of 1765 until Thomas Jefferson's inauguration as president in 1801.

His focus is less on the Revolutionary War itself, more on the immensely complicated, at times confusing political process prior to and following the Declaration of Independence. Those who signed that document fully understood that they were also signing their own death warrant if the subsequent war were lost. It is probably impossible for us today to appreciate the nature and extent of uncertainty for those who resisted British policies, declared independence, went to war against the (then) world's greatest military power, embraced republicanism, ratified the Constitution, enfranchised additional citizens, elected or selected officials who had no prior experience with public service, and cast aside the culture and values of their Anglo-American past. It is this great "darkness" of peril and ambiguity which Ferling enables his reader to explore.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By areaderfromnatick on November 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book does an excellent job of synthesizing the political beliefs of the many founders of our country, providing context of both time and economic conditions. It is a well-written, engaging book for those of us who got caught up in the new round of biographies -- John Adama and Benjamin Franklin, most notably -- that renewed our love of U.S. history. It puts these figures in context against each other and gives us something to build from as we continue the exploration of our country's roots.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Debra on October 11, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ferling is always a pleasure to read. I also recommend his "Almost A Miracle". This work is a great place to begin for an overview of this period, especially Ferling's account of the events leading up to the Revolution. However, it seems to me that Ferling generalizes too much in the years after the Constitution.
The portrait Ferling paints is one of the non-elite Anti-Federalists vs. the elite Federalists. However, many Anti-Federalists came from the elite whose power within states was threatened by stronger central government. The Clinton-Livingston machine that ran New York and the planter elite that controlled Virginia are examples. This over-simplification is extended into his discussion of Federalists vs. Republicans. For example the small farmers of Shay's rebellion benefitted from the Federal assumption of state debts and became enduring Federalists. Also, many of the "new men" Ferling speaks of, including the self-made Hamilton, were Federalists. The geographical split of the parties is not explained. By 1800, Federalists were strong in New England, but becoming virtually non-existent in the South. It is hard to believe that New England was composed of elitists and left-over Tories, while the South was the home of egalitarians.
I agree with Ferling's statement in his preface that people rarely adopt ideologies that conflict with their personal interests. This was no less true of Anti-federalists and Republicans, though Ferling shows this connection more clearly with their opponents. It is good to remember that the yeomen farmers of Virginia, whom Jefferson praises as the foundation of republicanism, were dependant on and deferential to wealthy planters like Jefferson making it safe for him to embrace them.
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32 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Warner Todd Huston on June 26, 2006
Format: Paperback
In "A Leap In The Dark", John Ferling turns out a well paced overview of the personalities and political philosophies of the Founding Fathers and their contemporaries.

I was happy to see him start with George Washington and Ben Franklin's younger life, previous to the Revolutionary era. All too often, this formative period is ignored or imagined as unconnected with the beginning days of our Republic.

Only one thing about this book annoyed me, however. Ferling's constant denigration of James Madison revealed his obvious lack of respect for that indispensable Founder. Madison was an incredible man who outlived all the other Founders and was totally integral to every era of our early Republic. From shepherding the birth of the Constitution to becoming an early creator of our two party system, Madison was everywhere. He was even there to disavow what became the Confederate ideas of secession during the 1830s Nullification crisis.

But, Ferling treats Madison like a bumbling idiot. Of course, he is parroting much of the writing of other historians who shares his opinion and since it seems that this entire book is based on secondary research (other scholar's works) and not his own primary research, I guess his dislike of Madison might be expected. After all, Madison had gone through a phase of being unduly discounted by many current historians.

Still, this is a good overview book and should be read by anyone who might be a bit less informed about our Founding era. It most surely will spark interest in further reading.
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