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

By John Ferling | Go to book overview

Preface

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. 1

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.” 2

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

-ix-

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Preface ix
  • Prologue - July 1, 1776 xiv
  • Part One - Children Who Were Fathers of the Men 1
  • 1 - The Vagaries of Youth 2
  • 2 - The Decisions of Youth 18
  • 3 - Toward Mid-Life 41
  • Part Two - Waging War and Independence 63
  • 4 - Revolutionaries 64
  • 5 - Independence 92
  • 6 - War and Reform 138
  • Part Three - From Despair to Triumph 185
  • 7 - The Great Peril, 1778–1780 186
  • 8 - Victory 223
  • 9 - Memory and Meaning 273
  • Epilogue - The “sword” and the “bulwark” of the American Revolution 296
  • Abbreviations 307
  • Notes 309
  • Select Bibliography 362
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