Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and the American Revolution

Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and the American Revolution

Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and the American Revolution

Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and the American Revolution

Synopsis

Setting the World Ablaze is the story of the American Revolution and of the three Founders who played crucial roles in winning the War of Independence and creating a new nation: George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. Braiding three strands into one rich narrative, John Ferling brings these American icons down from their pedestals to show them as men of flesh and blood, and in doing so gives us a new understanding of the passion and uncertainty of the struggle to form a new nation. A leading historian of the Revolutionary era, Ferling draws upon an unsurpassed command of the primary sources and a talent for swiftly moving narrative to give us intimate views of each of these men. He shows us both the overarching historical picture of the era and a gripping sense of how these men encountered the challenges that faced them. We see Washington, containing a profound anger at British injustice within an austere demeanor; Adams, far from home, struggling with severe illness and French duplicity in his crucial negotiations in Paris; and Jefferson, distracted and indecisive, confronting uncertainties about his future in politics. John Adams, in particular, emerges from the narrative as the most under-appreciated hero of the Revolution, while Jefferson is revealed as the most overrated, yet most eloquent, of the Founders. Setting the World Ablaze shows in dramatic detail how these conservative men-successful members of the colonial elite-were transformed into radical revolutionaries.

Excerpt

The swift appearance of the first histories of the American Revolution eased the worries of those activists who had wondered whether the struggle would be remembered. Yet those same histories aroused fresh concerns. Some believed that the initial historians had told a story that was unrecognizable. Some leaders had been slighted, or disappeared altogether, while the role played by others had been improbably magnified. By the early nineteenth century some old revolutionaries, including John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, had come to doubt that the history of the great events of their time, as well as the portrayal of the leading figures in the American Revolution, could ever be fully and accurately told. Adams once said that the record had been so muddied by self-seeking, embroidered, and outrightly fallacious accounts that it would be impossible to write an accurate history of the American Revolution. Jefferson was no less dismayed. A factual account of the events between 1763 and 1783 was possible, he declared, but what had occurred in private within the corridors of power, which he characterized as “the life and soul of history, ” was lost forever because of the paucity of accurate documentation.

If Adams and Jefferson could read much that has been written in recent years about early American history, they would be more bewildered than exasperated. Committed to social history, and shaped by political correctness and multiculturalism, professional historians during the past quarter century by and large have neglected the role played by leaders in important events. Indeed, they often have ignored seminal events. Today the “only creature less fashionable in academe than the stereotypical 'dead white male,'” historian David Hackett Fischer has written, “is a dead white male on horseback.”

Where once the likes of Benjamin Franklin and James Madison, or epic events such as the French and Indian War or the Constitutional Convention . . .

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