Academic journal article Parameters

Ambition

Academic journal article Parameters

Ambition

Article excerpt

A prominent Boston Tory in the American Revolution, after the Battle of Bunker Hill, visited the Boston jail, where a number of American prisoners were languishing. Approaching one, a wounded lieutenant named Scott who appeared to be a man of some intelligence, he asked him how he had come to be mixed up with the rebellion. The Tory, in a book published after the war, recorded the lieutenant's answer verbatim:

The case was this Sir! I lived in a country town; I was a shoemaker, and got my living by my labor. When this rebellion came on, I saw some of my neighbors get into commission, who were no better than myself. I was very ambitious, and did not like to see those men above me. I was asked to enlist as a private soldier. My ambition was too great for so low a rank; I offered to enlist upon having a lieutenant's commission, which was granted. I imagined myself now in a way of promotion: if I was killed in battle, there would be an end of me, but if my captain was killed, I should rise in rank, and should still have a chance to rise higher. These sir were the only motives of my entering into the service; for as to the dispute between Great Britain and the colonies, I know nothing of it; neither am I capable of judging whether it is right or wrong.

It turns out that Lieutenant Scott was a real person. American records show a Lieutenant William Scott of Peterborough, New Hampshire, wounded several times and captured at Bunker Hill. Everything the Tory said about him that can be checked appears to be accurate. But we also know, as the Tory did not, what happened to Scott after his interrogation. …

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