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Chapter One: The Year If permitted the historical license to stretch the definition of a year, then the fifteen months between the shots fired at Lexington and Concord in April of 1775 and the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in July of 1776 can justifiably claim to be both the most consequential and the strangest year in American history. It was consequential because the rationale for American independence and the political agenda for an independent American republic first became explicit at this time. It was strange because while men were dying, whole towns being burned to the ground, women being raped, captured spies and traitors being executed, the official posture of what called itself ''The United Colonies of North America'' remained abiding loyalty to the British Crown. Whether the American colonists were living a lie, an illusion, or a calculated procrastination is a good question. But when Thomas Jefferson finally got around to drafting the Declaration of Independence in June of 1776, one sentence enjoyed special resonance as an accurate characterization of the past year: ''Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.'' This was Jefferson's lyrical way of describing the quite remarkable feat of making an explosion happen in slow motion. After all, prudence does not ordinarily make its way onto any list of revolutionary virtues. The very idea of a cautious revolutionary would seem, on the face of it, a contradiction in terms. The standard story of most revolutions features a cast of desperate characters with impulsive temperaments, utopian visions, a surefire sense of where history is headed, and an unquenchable urge to get there fast. Indeed, tarrying along the way is usually regarded as counterrevolutionary. If that is what the standard story of a revolution requires, then one of two conclusions about the American Revolution follows naturally: either it was not really a revolution at all but merely (or perhaps not so merely) a war for colonial independence, the first of its kind in the modern world, to be sure, but not a fundamental shift in the social order that left the world changed forever. Or else it was a strange kind of revolution that did not fit the standard pattern because many of its most prominent leaders were convinced that the pace of change must be slowed down and the most radical of the revolutionary promises deferred. The result is another contradiction, or perhaps a paradox: namely, an evolutionary revolution. In short, the decision to secede from the British Empirewasaccompanied by a truly revolutionary agenda for the infant American republic. But the most prominent leaders, John Adams chief among them, insisted on the deferral of the revolutionary agenda and, in some instances, its postponement into the distant future. Instead of regarding this gradualist approach as a moral and political failure, a conclusion that historians on the left regard as, shall we say, self-evident, the argument offered here is just the opposite. In my judgment the calculated decision to make the American Revolution happen in slow motion was a creative act of statesmanship that allowed the United States to avoid the bloody and chaotic fate of subsequent revolutionary movements in France, Russia, and China. And so, within a very strange year of full-scale war occurring alongside political reticence, we find an equally strange pattern emerging that will establish the uniquely judicious framework within which the American Revolution proceeded. John Adams, the major figure in the Continental Congress, and George Washington, the commander in chief of
''Illuminating . . . Compelling . . . It is Mr. Ellis's achievement that he once again leaves us with a keen appreciation of the good fortune America had in having the right men in the right places at the right times.''--Michiko Kakutani,The New York Times ''Ellis is a storyteller, and a superb one too. He employs the same narrative technique he developed most successfully inFounding Brothers. Throughout there is the same captivating colloquial style for which he is famous, and the same clarity of exposition.'' --Gordon S. Wood,New York Review of Books ''Joseph J. Ellis'Founding Brotherswon the 2001 Pulitzer Prize in history.American Creationis at least its equal and perhaps its superior.'' --Richmond Times-Dispatch ''Mr. Ellis humanizes the founding generation without tearing them down--a delicate operation in a politically charged time.'' --The New York Sun ''He writes history as it should be: as a page-turner.'' --Library Journal ''This subtle, brilliant examination puts Ellis among the finest of America's narrative historians.'' --Publishers Weekly ''His books on early American history are national treasures.'' --Roger Bishop,Bookpage From the Hardcover edition.
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