Review by Leah Cooper
What better day to review David McCullough’s book 1776 than today, as we celebrate America’s independence from British rule?
In keeping with John Adams’ response to the Continental Congress passing the Declaration of Independence on July 2, 1776, we will be celebrating “with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
With the passage of 236 years since the United States won its independence from British in 1783, it is easy to forget that independence was not a foregone conclusion, but rather a treasonous act with an uncertain outcome.
Read noted historian David McCullough’s 1776 and you will begin to realize how close we came to remaining British subjects. This history is extremely well researched and based on numerous first-person accounts that bring the characters and their situations to life.
However, don’t open this book expecting it to be filled with juicy tidbits of their personal lives or to be a detailed review of the Declaration and its meaning. McCullough’s focus is on the military situation during the pivotal year of 1776, when the ragtag Continental Army is struggling in its battles against the stronger, healthier, better provisioned British army of King George III.
Battle strategy and decisions are obviously an important part of the story, but so are the effects of disease and weather. General George Washington is the central character of the book.
McCullough takes care to not portray him as a mythical person, but as a man with doubts who understood he had the responsibility for the fate of the Colonies in his hands. In McCullough’s words, “In truth, the situation was worse than they realized, and no one perceived this as clearly as Washington. Seeing things as they were, and not as he would wish them to be, was one of his salient strengths.”
He captures Washington’s exuberance when he describes how, in the midst of battle, Washington shouts, “It’s a fine fox chase, my boys!” Continental Army generals and soldiers are described, but much time is also given to the British side, including the sometimes lackadaisical and distracted Commander William Howe.
King George III, with his petulant attitude toward the colonists, believed victory would be easy. “How people with so much, living on their own land, would ever choose to rebel against the ruler God had put over them and thereby bring down such devastation upon themselves was for the invaders incomprehensible.”
No wonder the population of the Colonies was split between rebels and loyalists. If watching the Fourth of July fireworks has sparked your interest in how our country came to be, now is the perfect time to walk through the door of Jefferson Carnegie Library.
We have 1776 in print and CD versions, as well as other adult and children’s histories and historical fiction of this time period.
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