France And Us

The French helped us win our Revolution. A few years later we were at war with Napoleon’s navy. The two countries have been falling in and out of love ever since. Why?

Congress serves freedom fries, American military wives talk of freedom kisses, vandals in Bordeaux burn and deface a model of the Statue of Liberty. It’s a good time to remember that American-French relations have had many ups and downs. The ups include the Franco-American joint operation that was the Yorktown campaign; the tough-minded love letter to the United States that Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America; fighting on the same side in two world wars; and cinéastes taking inspiration from John Ford.Read more »

1775, Two Hundred Twenty-Five Years Ago

The Battle of Bunker Hill

Early on the morning of June 17, Gen. Thomas Gage, governor of Massachusetts and commander in chief of British forces in North America, awoke in his Boston home to learn of a serious new threat. On the Charlestown peninsula, which was connected to the mainland by a narrow neck of land, rebel soldiers were building military fortifications on a rise known today as Breed’s Hill. If left alone, they would surely fortify neighboring Bunker Hill as well. Gage conferred with his officers and decided on an immediate attack. Read more »

George Washington, Spymaster

Without his brilliance at espionage the Revolution could not have been won

 

George Washington a master of espionage? It is commonly understood that without the Commander in Chief’s quick mind and cool judgment the American Revolution would have almost certainly expired in 1776. It is less well known that his brilliance extended to overseeing, directly and indirectly, extensive and very sophisticated intelligence activities against the British.

 
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The Turning Point

A few hundred yards west of the Hudson, as you enter Schuylerville on Route 29, the sign is on your right. It’s an old, faded sign, not very large, and unless you slow down, you’ll miss it. And that would be a shame, because it carries a profound and haunting message for all Americans: Read more »

America The Ungrateful

CAPT. LOUIS FRAN’OIS BERTRAND DUPONT D’AUBEVOYE, COMTE DE LAUBERDIÈRE, served the patriot cause in the Revolution, did all he could to teach Virginians proper French manners, made love to the local women—and found every American inferior. Except for one.

“In 1492, Christophe Colomb discovered America!! 300 years later, on 21 January 1783, a vast country raised itself up in the north of this continent, acquired its independence from British power and monarchy with the help of the arms of France and by a solemn treaty of peace!!! Liberty reigns here! Who can as yet say and predict what the consequences of this immense and glorious event will be??” Read more »

The Conway Cabal

The English writer G. K. Chesterton once observed that journalism largely consists of saying “Lord Jones is dead” to people who never knew Lord Jones was alive. So perhaps does telling the story of the Conway Cabal, a military-political convulsion of 1777 that might have sent Gen. George Washington home to Mount Vernon prematurely. It ended up accomplishing nothing, and historians tend to label the affair a nonevent.Read more »

The Home Front

It was bitter civil war, and a remarkable book offers us perhaps the most intimate picture we have of what it was like for the ordinary people who got caught in its terrible machinery

What was the American Revolution really like, for real homes and real families caught up in its hardships and dangers? It is over two centuries since that famous “hurry of hoofs in a village street … the voice in the darkness, the knock at the door” alarmed our now-distant ancestors, and the vast literature of that war tells us very little about how it was for plain people—matters rarely recorded in the days before there were news media, feature writers, television coverage, and a history industry. We have lost human contact. Read more »

The Radical Revolution

For years people have argued that France had the real revolution and that ours was mild by comparison. But now a powerful new book says the American Revolution was the most sweeping in all history. It alone established a pure commercial culture—a culture that makes America the universal society we are today.

The French Revolution followed American independence by six years, but it was the later event that went into the books as “the Great Revolution” and became the revolutionary archetype. It is not only the contrast of the conspicuously greater political violence of the French Revolution that has led historians to play down the comparative radicalism of its American counterpart but the fact that the French Revolution swiftly became the model for radical political transformation.Read more »

Loyalist Refuge

When their side lost the Revolution, New Englanders who had backed Britain packed up, sailed north, and established the town of St. Andrews, New Brunswick. It still flourishes.

When in 1783 it became clear that a band of American rebels had succeeded in their insurrection against King George, Robert Pagan and 443 of his neighbors in Castine, Maine, did the only thing loyal subjects of the Crown could do: they dismantled their houses and pubs, board by board and nail by nail, piled them onto schooners, and sailed for the northern Crown colonies. There, at the confluence of the St.Read more »

Liberté Egalité Animosité

When the French Revolution broke out two hundred years ago this month, Americans greeted it enthusiastically. After all, without the French we could never have become free. But the cheers faded as the brutality of the convulsion emerged—and we saw we were still only a feeble newborn facing a giant, intimidating world power.

There were two great revolutions against European monarchs in the late eighteenth century. In the first, the French nation helped Americans achieve their independence from George III. Without that help our revolution could not have succeeded. Yet when the French rebelled against Louis XVI, Americans hailed their action, then hesitated over it, and finally recoiled from it, causing bitterness in France and among some Americans. Why had the “sister republics” not embraced each other when they had the opportunity?Read more »