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Our Lives, Our Fortunes and Our Sacred Honor: The Forging of American Independence, 1774-1776 Hardcover – May 7, 2013
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Like his account of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Plain, Honest Men (2009), Beeman’s depiction of political events culminating in the Declaration of Independence features the main characters in the historical drama, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and John Dickinson. Using the Continental Congress as his narrative vehicle, Beeman strives to recover its members’ proceedings in Philadelphia, not a simple task, considering the author’s condemnation of the assembly’s secretary, Charles Thomson, as “an abysmal record keeper.” But Beeman succeeds in showing readers the intricacies of the Congress’ activities. If history knows Congress traveled from petitioning the British king to denouncing him, Beeman counters assumptions of inevitability with the debates and political maneuvers of radicals and moderates. Showing how, during a two-year period, 1774–76, the position of reconciliation with Britain evaporated, Beeman as perceptively portrays the dilemmas of moderates like Dickinson as he does the drift of sentiment toward independence within each colony’s delegation. Capped by the editing of Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration, Beeman’s is an engaging history of the Founders of 1776. --Gilbert Taylor
New insight to an old story.... Beeman is a strong, direct writer, adept at bringing historical personalities to life.”
Our best history of the Continental Congress and the grand debate that led to independence.... With back-room deals and personality clashes in abundance, Beeman's tale of independence is as complex, worldly, and occasionally tedious as modern-day politics.”
Books & Culture
You walk away from Our Lives with the undeniable impression that the Founding Fathers really were giants, however flawed, who single-handedly created American democracy.”
Beeman's prose captures those tensions and facilitates the imagination so the reader can feel a part of the debate.... Our Lives, Our Fortunes and Our Sacred Honor is an appropriate complement to David Stewart's The Summer of 1787.... Beeman has produced an authoritative account of how this nation was imagined, and how the members from different sections of the continent were able to put aside their differences and to explore their differing philosophical, political and market needs to form an embryonic government that has grown to be a beacon for other communities seeking self-governance.”
An engaging history of the Founders of 1776.”
Full of fascinating details.”
Lively study of the main players of the two Continental Congresses.... Beeman elegantly moves through the deeply compelling process of how these motley characters fashioned government as an agency for the people. A welcome addition to a rich, indispensable field of scholarly study.”
Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
The American Revolution tends to bring out the best in its chroniclers. Case in point: Richard Beeman's latest book, Our Lives, Our Fortunes, & Our Sacred Honor: The Forging of American Independence, 1774-1776. It's a charming, fast-paced retelling of a narrative that's been retold a thousand times before.... It's not really the historian's trade he's plying in these pages but rather the epic poet's: reciting the grand old stories while the wine of patriot season flows and the night sky over Boston is filled with fireworks.
There's a worth to that, and Beeman has written a worthy book.”
Open Letters Monthly
This book should be required reading in every college survey course on American History... An outstanding book that should become an instant classic and needs to be on the bookshelf of anyone who fancies themselves knowledgeable about the Revolutionary Period.”
Battles & Book Reviews
[Beeman] demonstrates his virtuosity .the book abounds with colorful descriptions and personalities .vivid writing.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
[A] winningly delivered twice-told tale about the founding events of the United States.”
New York Times Book Review
Top customer reviews
Now, Beeman's Our Lives, Our Fortunes and Our Sacred Honor: The Forging of American Independence, 1774-1776 sets out to fill in the blanks and supply an accurately detailed account of the proceedings that produced, in Pauline Maier's title about the same document, "American Scripture" (American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence). Beeman reconstructs Thomson's missing account. Detail, detail, details are what make this book so valuable to anyone with an interest in the topic. The major theme is the conflict between the delegates searching for reconciliation with Britain and the radicals already convinced that independence is inevitable. Within that story are countless little episodes: the Powder Scare, Washington's contempt for the peace commissioners, Hancock's refusal to relinquish his temporary presidency of the proceedings, Samuel Chase's itinerant diplomacy, Caesar Rodney's famous ride, and anecdote after anecdote about more "other guys" in the story. Beeman thanks his fact-checker, Alicia DeMaio, in his Acknowledgments, as well he should, since fact-checking this book must have been a nightmare. On page 106 Joseph Reed is described as a delegate. He wasn't, at least until 1778, but the error highlights just how many tiny details have to be correct in telling this oft-told tale. Is the book up to the reviewers' "well-written"? On pages 191-5 Beeman provides such a lucid and stirring account of Revere's ride, Lexington and Concord, and Hancock's and Adams' escape to the Congress that it should be plagiarized directly into the next edition of American school children's textbooks. His version of how Tom Pain(e)'s Common Sense (Dover Thrift Editions) accelerated history by changing the temper of the American people to a Common Cause is another highlight. Perhaps the most important details of the book relate to the provincial legislature-by-legislature account of the final tallies for independence. In Maier's Ratification we learn that the final vote for the Constitution by all the states' delegates split 65%-35%. There was opposition. There was opposition to Independence as well, and Beeman's book tells another suspenseful, close-run tale about how the document finally became unanimous in the "The Unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America". The point of both books is that the final decisions went back to and were made by the American people through locally chosen representatives. And if you are curious about which delegates and opponents became Loyalists, Beeman supplies that answer too. Americans expect reverence when our founding documents are discussed, and Beeman supplies veneration aplenty. For a more cynical, ironic, and sardonic view of the same people and events try Conrad Black's Flight of the Eagle: The Grand Strategies That Brought America from Colonial Dependence to World Leadership, but for a deeper understanding of the Glorious Cause version Beeman's book fits the bill.
It is a lively well written narrative with a variety of strands that highlight the causes, players,meetings,correspondences, and written works of the Congress along with the popular sentiment and major influences of the provinces and their congresses. The likes of Sam and John Adams, John Dickinson,Thomas Jefferson and other members are brought to a new level of understanding and appeal through Richard R. Beeman's research and fine writing.
In spite of John Adams's acknowledged vanity and occasional obnoxiousness, I suspect, there is a sustained series of subtle undercuts by the author to Adams's wit, intellect,eloquence, character and contribution. (See p.374 where the author casts doubt on Adams's recollection in effecting an affirmative vote in favor of independence by the two New Jersey delegates after Adams's
speech.) Adams's ambiguous wording in his recollection may imply this or not. Yes, affecting but not effecting the votes could be the import of Adams's speech written recollection. This is a reasonable conclusion. There are numerous examples of such, see p.381 Adams's two letters to Abigail on July 3,1776.
On the other hand,John Dickinson receives the praise he deserves for his prominent role.
The book offers little on any probable correspondence between Congress members themselves and their respective provincial leaders over the last two months in 1774 after the adjournment of the first congress.
In summary, I would recommend this book to the general reader interested in the American revolutionary era, particularly in its raw evolutionary political impetus to democracy.