In Search of America: Transatlantic Essays, 1951-1990

By Marcus Cunliffe | Go to book overview

BIRTH PANGS

As I explained in the previous essay, "Backward Glances," my first teaching about the United States in an English University called for an expertise in history, literature and international affairs of the most startling dimensions. Fortunately the specification was reduced before long. Even so, job expectations remained large. Fortunately, so were my tastes. It was most enjoyable for a while to offer historical and literary courses.

To some extent, however, I did concentrate upon the Revolutionary and early national era. In addition to biographical and other studies of George Washington, which are represented in the next section, I became absorbed in the cultural as well as military aspects of the break with Great Britain and in the efforts of the newly independent United States to define its own identity and its appropriate political styles. Some of these themes were outlined in The Nation Takes Shape, 1789-1837 ( 1959), a book of mine commissioned by Daniel J. Boorstin for the Chicago History of American Civilization series. Subsequently in another book, Soldiers and Civilians: The Martial Spirit in America, 1775-1865 ( 1968), I carried forward for a few more American decades an interest in military history that had grown out of service in the British army during World War II.

In this Part I of the present book, a couple of essays on George Washington and on James Madison deal with military leadership in the Revolutionary encounters of 1775-83 and then in those of 1812-15: two conflicts often linked as America's formative pair of wars of independence. Although Washington and Madison can both be described as commanders-in-chief during those episodes, Madison was, of course, not a field general but acting as commander-in-chief by virtue of his position as president of the United States. By the time General Washington became president in 1789, his years of field command were behind him. Nevertheless the political-military overlap is an instructive feature of the

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