Been doing an awful lot of catching up on the history of the Revolutionary War period; knowledge I should have acquired as an undergraduate 30 years ago at college but I was preoccupied with recreational activities (wasting a considerable amount of my college life with bongs and beer). I'm gonna ramble a bit tonight and hope some of this stuff sticks. Forgive me if the following lacks formal structure. I love American history, just the same.
The personalities of Washington, Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin make for fascinating study. Dynamic individuals, perhaps, but also highly dysfunctional, or another way of putting it, extremely human when you remove all the buff and glamour of being our Founding Fathers.
Recently I've read three Joseph Ellis books (Founding Brothers, American Sphinx [superb bio of Thomas Jefferson], and His Excellency, George Washington [anonther fascinating perspective on the distant enigmatic First President]. Ron Chernov's Alexander Hamilton is a lengthy treatise but really a page turner: gripping and revealing. Walter Isaacson's Benjamin Franklin is another worthwhile read, and of course David McCullough's John Adams. There is something really special about McCullough: he puts you in the saddle next to Adams as he rides from Philadelphia back to his farm in Quincy, or at the table in Phila while the 'rabble revoluntionaries' are at each other throats.
I've learned that the Revolutionary War, contrary to popular myth, was not simply "patriotic citizens against the big, bad redcoats." Actually, you had all sorts of sub-set conflicts going on: settlers moving west into the Ohio Valley were pissing off the Indians who allied themselves with the French against the British and colonists moving west (when the indian tribes weren't busy warring against each other). You had large segments of American loyalists (Tories) literally at war with their patriotic breathren, with revenge and counter-revenge actions taken by either side throughout the war, depending upon where the British troops were in support of the Tories. You had Virgina against New England, Adams against Jefferson, Adams against Hamilton, Hamilton against Jefferson, Jefferson against Franklin, all initially favoring Washington, but Jefferson secretly plotting against 'his excellency,' the title Washington demanded others call him (he hated anyone to touch him in any way). Madison was essentially Jefferson's secret flunkie political plotter, enabling Jefferson to claim innocence even though he habitually engaged in subturfuge. Hamilton loved to write nasty pamphlets about Jefferson, and even while Madison was writing the FEDERALIST PAPERS with Hamilton, he was working with Jefferson to politically disarm Hamilton at every possible opportunity.
Never mind the fundamental question of whether Jefferson's vision of a pastoral republic where state's rights would rule supreme, or Hamilton's version of a strong central government with a standing army and navy, a national bank, and a strong executive, would ultimately prevail. It is not too far off the mark to conclude that Jefferson was much less pragmatic and much more the idealist than were his Federalist Party opponents Adams, Washington, and Hamilton.
Jefferson was a superior architect, a gifted writer, and well educated. But he could never reconcile his writings and musings about the evils of slavery with the fact that his wealth was largely tied up in slave-related enterprises, including his seven or eight properties in Virignia.
And like many of his slave-owning breathren, Jefferson was not above engaging in dalliances with the female slaves. Not sure how he reconciled all that, but that is not for me to understand.
When the British invaded Richmond, Virginia and moved towards Monticello, legend has it that Jefferson lit out in the opposite direction towards the Blue Ridge Mountains, although a formal investigation later exonerated him. Knowing what I have learned about him, I would venture to say Jefferson was the Revolutionary War's equivalent of today's CHICKEN HAWK contingent. I would add that Adams never saw action, although Hamilton was brave to the point of being absolutely reckless in battle. [Washington has been criticized for needlessly exposing himself to harm in critical fire fights, but somehow the bullets never found him.]
Jefferson was something like an enlightened agnostic in terms of religious beliefs, if there was such a person. Franklin had little use for the rituals of Sunday worship although he sometimes made a nuisance of himself by attending church and later contesting the points raised by the pastor. If Hamilton was a religious man, his conduct was hardly that of a sober Christian. He loved his wife but he also loved women in general and was widely known and villified by his opponents for his torrid affairs.
Then there was Aaron Burr: the scoundrel of scoundrels, who reluctantly became Vice President under Jefferson only after a long drawn out House of Representatives voting debacle. We know Burr best for killing Hamilton on the banks of the Hudason River and then later conspiring (without much success) to become some sort of Western Region Emperor.
The fundamental issue about slavery was basically shelved in the early years of America's birth. All parties put it to one side, leading to disaster (American Civil War) eight decades later on.
Folks, here is the bottom line about the American Revolution: we were lucky as hell this thing came off. France jumped in and saved our ass even though they were reluctant to see us succeed, because they valued harming British interests in America and at sea, over allowing America to throw off the yoke of European monarchial rule. It can be argued King Louis XVI (hope I got that right; the one married to Marie Antoinette) helped put his own head and his wife's head in the guillotine by rendering aid to America when we needed it most.
Washington lost more battles than he won, but he chose to win the critical ones. He had major league problems holding the state militias together, never mind cajoling Congress to pay his troops on time, send food and supplies, and basically keep his troops together as a fighting force.
We got lucky in the Revolutionary War. Combining an extraordinary group of personalities, with exceptional timing at key places (Yorktown, Cowpens, winter battles in New Jersey), and British sluggishness and stupidity allowed us to become the United States of America.
I'm glad it worked out.
I just wish the idiots in charge today would take the time to read some history. It might open their eyes. Then again, it might not.