The Most Successful Revolution

WHAT IS THERE TO CELEBRATE?

As we approach the bicentennial of the American Revolution we find ourselves in a paradoxical and embarrassing situation. A celebration of some kind certainly seems to be in order, but the urge to celebrate is not exactly overwhelming. Though many will doubtless ascribe this mood to various dispiriting events of the recent past or to an acute public consciousness of present problems, I think this would be a superficial judgment.Read more »

Men Of The Revolution: 12. Richard And William Howe

The brothers were expected to perform an almost impossible task, subduing a people of the same flesh and blood and heritage.

Wars are more often lost than won, but in 1775 a man who predicted British defeat in the Revolution would have been taken for a fool. The mightiest, richest empire since Rome, Great Britain ruled the seas unchallenged; there seemed no limit to the power and resources that could be brought to bear against the uprising across the Atlantic. Yet after seven years of fighting, England withdrew from the contest, yielded up its sovereignty over thirteen American provinces, and left its lonely monarch to contemplate the wreckage of his hopes.Read more »

As Well As The Art Of Diplomacy, There Are Also The Arts Of Diplomacy

On any list of events that have altered the course of history the opening of Japan to foreign trade in 1854 must surely rank high. While the United States was pushing its boundaries westward to the Pacific and reaching the early stages of industrialization, Japan lay cradled in the tight shell of its own seventeenth century. Under an absolute ban on intercourse with the rest of the world imposed in 1638, Japanese citizens could not leave the islands, and foreigners could not enter them.Read more »

The French Connection

Rakehells, men of good will, adventurers, and bunglers were all in the glittering pageant when the Old World came to help out the New

Two great historic figures, men who have merged into myth, are almost the sole remains of the alliance between France and the revolutionary forces of America—Lafayette and Benjamin Franklin. And like most myths time has changed them, clothing the reality in a web of romance. The young Marquis de Lafayette, plunging ashore on North Island, South Carolina, is seen as the personification of those forces in France that yearned for liberty, for freedom from the oppressive hierarchical regime of an absolutist monarchy.Read more »

Protégé Of Cornwallis, Guest Of Washington

“1795.—The state of my health rendering a voyage to Europe necessary, I determined to proceed by way of America. Accordingly, towards the end of November, I left Santipore, taking with me a small Bengal cow, in addition to my doombah and other curiosities brought from Delhi. The natives would not have consented to sell me a cow if I had not assured them that it would be an object of particular interest and care in the countries I was taking it to.” Read more »

Men of the Revolution: Cornwallis

In war the final defeat is the one that counts. Yet there are wars and wars, and only rarely do historians conclude that a particular surrender was not only a cessation of fighting but a watershed marking the end of one epoch and the start of another. Otherwise there would be no memorable pairings of the vanquished with the scene of ultimate disaster—Harold and Hastings, Napoleon and Waterloo, Lee and Appomattox. Read more »

Stand-off At White Plains

Second in a series of paintings for
AMERICAN HERITAGE

Mid-October of 1776 found a badly beaten American army in full retreat from Manhattan Island into the forests and farmlands of Westchester County. It was by no means a rout; units of Washington’s army fought skillful and rugged rearguard actions every step of the way. William Howe, in command of the king’s forces, followed the Americans in a pursuit sluggish enough to allow Washington ample time to settle his troops in the hills surrounding the village of White Plains.Read more »

Battles Of The Revolution

Two hundred years ago men grown tired of a king shouldered arms and marched away to a quixotic and seemingly hopeless campaign against the greatest military power in the world. It was all a very long time ago, and it is perhaps too easy for us to see them as West, Trumbull, and all the artists schooled in the European tradition painted them: solemn demigods sacrificing themselves willingly on the altar of history, falling bloodlessly amid clusters ojflags beneath rich, rococo skies. Read more »

A Dearth Of Heroes

In America the status of hero—durable, full-fledged hero—has been awarded to few men. The subtle, complex factors that have led us to be so selective were brilliantly described three decades ago m a book, The Hero in America , by historian Dixon Weder. For a reissue of this book, which will be published later this month by Charles Scribner’s Sons, novelist and poet Robert Penn Warren has written an introduction examining Mr. Wecter’s categories for glorification and speculating about who today—in this present age.Read more »

Men Of The Revolution: 4. Charles Lee

One acquaintance nicknamed him Naso, for the long beak that dominated his dark, pinched face. Mohawk warriors, with whom he lived during the French and Indian War, called him Ounewaterika, or “Boiling Water”—a name that only partially suggested his disposition. And during the first year of the Revolution certain members of the Continental Congress regarded him as the greatest general in the world—the officer who should have led the American army had he not been an Englishman.Read more »