Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 4, 2013
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In Revolutionary Summer, the eminent historian Joseph Ellis describes the events surrounding the birth of America during the summer of 1776 (loosely defined as May through October of that year). Ellis's stated aim is to treat the military and political events of the period in tandem, and he skillfully establishes that there were two different sets of goals at stake: George Washington’s Continental Army considered independence an inevitability, while the Continental Congress considered it a last resort. A Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winner, Ellis recently retired as the Ford Foundation Professor of History at Mount Holyoke College. Reading Revolutionary Summer is like receiving a distinguished lecture from a man who has dedicated many fruitful decades to breathing life into our understanding of history—he makes Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and others of the era come alive for the reader. —Chris Schluep
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Mr. Ellis' "Revolutionary Summer," is simply another example of replacing fiction with fact. In this book, he takes a short time frame, May, 1776 until October, 1776, to give us a dual perspective of the birth of American Independence. Crosscutting between the Continental Congress and the Continental Army, he gives us the political and the military views of the forming of a nation and the men behind the creation of the American Republic, notably George Washington, Nathanael Greene, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin; and he also gives us brilliant insight into the thinking of Britain's Admiral Lord Richard Howe and his brother General William Howe whose decisions on the battlefield would greatly affect the outcome of the war.
A note of warning: I would not recommend this book to someone with no knowledge of the 'Revolutionary War' (It is not a starter book) but for anyone with knowledge of that period I would highly recommend.
"Revolutionary Summer" posits the following Ellis observations:
1. George Washington's worst defeat of the long war was the retreat from Long Island and Manhattan into the wilds of New Jersey.
2. The British could not win the political war. The Americans were an army of amateur soldiers who managed to defeat a seasoned and smart British Army. 40,000 British troops died in America equivalent to our own losses in Vietnam. The war was unpopular in Great Britain though King George III wanted it be fought with vigor.
3. The war decided whether Republican government or a government of kings would dominate the American continent.
4.The British strategy of cutting New England off from the rest of the nation was wise but was foiled by Americans in arms.
5. Admiral Richard Howe and his brother William Howe wanted the war to end through negotiation and made many tactical mistakes in their conduct of the rebellion.
6. The fledgling United States was well led by such founding fathers as Thomas Jefferson the poet of the Revolution whose
"Declaration of Independence" still live in our nation's heart and mind; the wise Benjamin Franklin who helped secure the French alliance for America; George Washington who is the father of our land who kept the weak Continental Army fighting for eight long years. John Adams who served as the civilian organizer of military victory and worked well with General George Washington.
7.The cause of freedom from Great Britain and the establishment of a new nation grew during the long war. About 20% of the American population were loyalists.
This fine book is replete with quotable lines which stick in the mind of the reader:
"...during the final months of 1775, the military and political sides of the American Revolution were not aligned."-p. 5
"Each state government should be comprised of three parts, on the English model, of executive, bicameral legislature and judiciary."-pp. 16-17
"Slavery was the most blatant contradiction of everything the budding American Revolution claimed to stand for."-p. 20
"Washington...was...so comfortable with his superiority that he felt no need to explain himself."-p. 27
"The army marching behind Washington might charitably have been called a work in progress."-p. 29
"The Royal Navy ruled the waves like no other navy in modern history."-p. 34
"The big difference between the enlisted men of the British and American armies was age and experience. The typical British soldier was twenty-eight years old, his American counterpart almost eight years younger...the redcoat had seven years of experience as a soldier, while the American had less than six months and those in several units of the Continental Army had none whatsoever."-p. 70
"There were three fundamental disagreements: first a sectional split between northern and southern states over slavery; second a division between large and small states over representation; and third, an argument between proponents for a confederation of sovereign states and advocates for a more consolidated national union."-p. 93
On perceptions of John Adams: "...he came across to his colleagues as the indefatigable and inexhaustible revolutionary spirit running a marathon at the pace of a sprinter."-p. 102
"Franklin...was a genius at sensing what the political imperatives of the moment required."-p. 106
"The Cause could never die."-p. 125 (the cause of American freedom and the formation of the United States).
The book includes a good bibliography and provides color and black and white prints of the events of the summer of 1776 and portraits of many of the founding fathers and their British opponents. This short book is an excellent work of the historical craft by Dr. Ellis. Excellent and well done!
Joseph Ellis, one of America's leading historians of the Revolutionary period, takes a brief but incisive look at the remarkable year - 1776--when the armed rebellion against British rule spilled out of eastern New England, on into New York harbor and beyond. This is the familiar story, never better told, of an embryonic army fighting a well-trained and far larger British army; a Congress of representatives sitting through their first summer in hot, humid Philadelphia, trying their best to reach common agreement on the goals of the revolt; and a newly-appointed General-in-Chief, George Washington, who blew his first engagement with the British in Brooklyn but who saved his army with his daring dash across the East River to the relative safety of Manhattan.
Resentment of the powers of the British crown were not limited to the newly-formed colonies in North America. In fact, the British Parliament had had a long history of gradually growing power relative to the King. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 saw Parliament dethroning a king, James II, and essentially appointing new monarchs, William of Orange and his wife, Mary, James' daughter. Two great British political theorists, John Locke and Edmund Burke, took the rights of self-determination to another level, even more threatening to the crown.
But Ellis tells his story without much in the way of political theory. It is a story of bloody fighting, dark despair, gaping differences between the colonies, and the gradual coalescence of revolutionary opinion that this was a fight worth fighting. Few historians have said so much about this revolution in so few words. Indeed, Ellis' mastery of the detail of the revolution enables him to convey only the most important events with all their meaning.
In the end, of course, the lesson Washington learned in Brooklyn became the guiding principle of the Revolution: it is more important not to lose battles than to win them. This elongated the war, draining British will and resources. More importantly, it allowed the French fleet to gradually close off the North American continent from easy British entry, complicating Britain's ability to resupply its troops and equipment.
No account of the American Revolution moves as quickly and accurately as this wonderful small volume by Joseph Ellis.