“LITTLE SHORT OF A MIRACLE”:
ACCOUNTING FOR AMERICA'S VICTORY
THREE YEARS into the war a scribbler in a London newspaper remarked that any “other General in the world than General Howe would have beaten General Washington, and any other General in the world than General Washington would have beaten General Howe.”1 Study the War of Independence long enough and you might be tempted to bend the wag's observation into the following: any major power other than Great Britain could have suppressed the American rebellion, and any nation other than the United States would have gained victory over Great Britain in a much briefer time.
Contemporaries on both sides of the Atlantic were the first to ponder the mysteries of the war's outcome. In Britain, the tendency was to blame the generals and admirals or to lay responsibility for the defeat either on the king, North, Germain, or Sandwich, or all four. For a great many, including some failed generals and members of the Opposition who had never favored using force against America, it was convenient to argue that the war had been unwinnable and should never have been fought. Americans attributed their near failure to a flawed constitutional structure or self-serving habits that ravaged the republican spirit of sacrifice. That victory was attained, it often was said, was due to the French alliance, the hand of providence, or the magnificent leadership of Washington, but especially the latter. For his part, Washington expressed “astonishment” at the American triumph, calling it “little short of a standing miracle.”2
How bewildering! Major figures on the losing side concluded that their country could never have won the war while the principal general on the winning side was astonished to have won.