Sunday, July 30, 2006

"Patriots" by Langguth

It’s still July and I have my first “summer book” finished! This year I kicked off the “summer pool fare” with a historical selection: Patriots: The Men Who Started The American Revolution by A.J. Langguth (©1988 Touchstone).

Patriots spans the politics of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (1761-62) to General George Washington’s “farewell” before Congress at the Maryland State House in Annapolis in 1783. Langguth does not add the “pomp and dramatics” of a historian like David McCullough. Nevertheless, Patriots is a nice read that balanced the key personalities and significant events very well. It is not a biography on any particular person, although it did give sufficient detail — without the drudgery— about the lives of the key men and women in America, Britain and France. The significant events are presented in context of the day without any gloss of ideology. This is something that all good history books should do.

Patriots avoids an iconic presentation of the patriots, the British and their sympathizers (the Tories) by which the activities of the American Revolution overshadow the real men themselves. Rather, the men in Patriots appear human with both virtues and flaws. The patriots, not surprisingly, were not “one big happy family.” Their common cause was Liberty and they were willing to pay the price for this ideal.

I found most interesting the activities of Massachusetts (1761-1775) with James Otis, Samuel Adams, Massachusetts Governor Francis Bernard, Massachusetts Chief Justice and later Governor Thomas Hutchenson, John Adams and John Hancock (later Governor as well) as the lead characters. The British and Tories in Massachusetts certainly suffered injustices from the Patriots. Likewise the colonists suffered at the hands of the British. It was interesting to read how disturbances and grievances escalated into full rebellion. It was also nice to read about familiar towns such as Lynn and Salem!

General Washington’s command of the war naturally took center stage in Patriots for the period of 1776 to 1783. After reading Patriots I now have a greater appreciation of France’s aide of money, troops and navy in helping America to win independence from Britain. I also have gained a greater admiration of George Washington and his leadership in the face of numerous discouragements.

After the peace treaty with England signed in Paris on September 3, 1783, American representative John Jay wrote, “If we are not a happy people it will be our own fault.”

So, if you want to learn more about Paul Revere, Billy Dawes, King George III, British Generals Thomas Gage, Henry Clinton, William Howe, and John Burgoyne; Britain’s Lord North, William Pitt, Admiral Richard Howe and Lord Cornwallis; Alexander Hamilton, Nathan Hale, John Adams, Abigail Adams, Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine, Nathanael Greene, Ben Franklin, Dr. Benjamin Church, Dr. Joseph Warren, Richard Montgomery, Lord Stirling, John Sullivan, Charles Lee, Horatio Gates, Silas Deane, Aaron Burr, Benedict Arnold, Ethan Allen, Mary Hayes (a.k.a. “Molly Pitcher”); France’s Marquis de Lafayette and Admiral de Grasse; Thomas Jefferson, Martha Jefferson, Martha Washington and of course General George Washington, and the events of the American Revolution written in a popular and engaging style then Patriots is the book to read.

A.J. Langguth’s Union 1812: The Americans Who Fought the Second War of Independence is due in November. I’ll wait to read the reviews before considering this one.

Photo: Colonial re-enactment © Mark Grenier
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