Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Causes of the American Revolution: Part 6 – The 1st Continental Congress 1774

When any group, political, business, social, sees a problem, what’s usually the first line of action?

Call a meeting!

In 1774, our American colonies did just that.

Their relationship with Great Britain was a huge problem, and deteriorating.

Fifty-six powerful colonial representatives (all except Georgia) met in Philadelphia for two months. What came out of that meeting was the colonial agenda for the future, independence from Great Britain completely, whatever the cost. That probably meant war.

There was a wide difference of opinion among the delegates. The first group were radicals, including the champion rabble-rouser, Sam Adams. Their view prevailed ultimately.

Popular support for their position was by no means universal.

This is a fact which I really had to recognize. Generally, we think of the American Revolution as being widely supported. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The position of the moderates was defeated by only one vote.

They did not favor independence. The colonies should rather pledge allegiance to the British royalty, but little else. It resembles a more modern dominion status such as Canada. The moderates’ defeat caused understandably many hard feelings and some outright defections to the loyalist cause.

The staunch conservative loyalists wanted only to maintain our British connection.

Somehow, problems would be resolved. Loyalists existed all over the colonies. Many were concentrated in the South, and when war came, the British looked to them for active support.

Their position as a group was intolerable. Hounded and persecuted, property seized, thousands fled to Britain in Canada. It is not a pretty story. No wonder the American Revolution is often designated as a civil war. There were no good-will overtures such as Lincoln extended to Confederates at the end of our Civil War.

The British believed, not incorrectly, that they would win the war in the South, with help from many loyalists. But in war, the unexpected seems to happen. A stronger French involvement on our side and amazing maneuvers by American generals changed the military picture. Also, after years of war, the British had increasing problems keeping its distant army adequately supplied.

After 1774, colonial attitudes had hardened. The colonies had their own political and economic agendas. In a few years, there would be a Federal constitution. Colonial borders would see vast expansion.

And to bestow true legitimacy on this Congress, it set its second meeting for May 1775. – Renata Breisacher Mulry

Causes of the American Revolution, an ongoing series
Part 1 – The French and Indian War
Part 2 – The Stamp Act
Part 3 – Samuel Adams, 1722 – 1803
Part 4 – Tom Paine and Common Sense
Part 5 – Boston

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Book Review Mini-post: Boone – A Biography, Robert Morgan

Published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2007 538 pp. Includes extensive notes, bibliography.

This book provides a detailed, balanced treatment of the life and character of Boone, but certainly not the semi-fictional Boone created by the media.

The media has been kind to him, contrary to for instance Jefferson; I think the latter has taken a beating in recent years. Morgan’s biography is not the easiest reading. He includes a great deal of information on Boone’s many business dealings in land with a very large number of clients. Many of these transactions were unsatisfactory.

Sources for Morgan were provided by many contributors, including relatives. The source authenticity must always be questioned.

The focus on Boone’s public life, rather than just his exploration and life on the frontier, succeeds in defining Boone as basically a moral, kindly man. I wouldn’t call him a saint, but he wasn’t a sinner, either.

Writing biography automatically sets up a need to include and explain everything possible about the subject’s life. Some types of biography are very popular, particularly if the subject is in any type of show business. These biographies embellish rumors, then add depth and mystery where actually none may exist. Even a provocative title can set up great expectations. They are not trashy, just not scholarly. I enjoy them very much.

Choosing a more obscure subject may generate a lot of interest. Some years ago, a biographer, instead of choosing a blockbuster subject such as Winston Churchill, chose his mother, Jennie. It was a great success.

How does Morgan relate Boone’s long life (1734 – 1820) to the American Revolutionary War?

He shows that America’s frontiers were fighting their own war, predominantly against hostile Indians hired by the British. The frontier did not end its war when the colonies did. Essentially, there were two wars. Boone’s was part of the frontier war. His family’s Tory sympathies existed, although the extent is unclear.

There is good information on Boone’s later years in Missouri. It is not definite if he ever returned to Kentucky. He was treated with great honor and respect. There was always interest in his years on the Kentucky frontier.

This biography fills a gap. Boone needed some serious study, not more entertainment wearing a coonskin cap. 2007 is not a moment too soon. –Renata Breisacher Mulry

Hardcover Edition

Paperback Edition

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Daniel Boone (1734 – 1820)

Boone became a legend in his lifetime. An adventurer, a man with many skills, much sought-after to tell about his wilderness experiences, he is a genuine American folk hero.

Forget the cartoonish coonskin hat. It was never part of his attire.

He is referred to as an icon.

Already as an adolescent, Boone had a reputation as an outstanding trapper and hunter. There was good money in furs and hides, not only for food but as a source of cash. They were good currency.

He established a reputation as an excellent surveyor.

Boone learned tough times early. Already in the French and Indian War, he was a teamster in Braddock’s disastrous campaign (1755), and barely escaped with his life. His exposure to danger never diminished throughout his years on the frontier.

The Appalachians were Boone’s frontier. He first reached Kentucky in 1767. His long life included extensive exploration and discovery, in a wilderness full of resources and beauty, before coal mining perpetually changed its face. He endured periods of extreme violence, great family tragedy, injustice and disappointments.

Many people, including his extended family, were part of his life, but I consider him ultimately a solitary man.

America has always had a frontier, always looking west. The boundaries of the original colonies were a challenging, dangerous area. Boone really extended the whole concept. He opened up territory which was formerly unknown to American colonists. Before and through our Revolution, we had to fight for and defend our frontiers, from the British, French, and continual attack by Native Americans.

Our struggles to maintain what little frontier we had settled was a war almost in addition to the battles of the American Revolution being fought further east. Actually, our frontier battles did not automatically cease when we signed our peace treaty with Great Britain. Few settlers had the courage to choose Kentucky as a future home. The ones who dared faced unbelievable hardships. Many left, never to return. Boone’s efforts were unceasing to establish some stability in the few settlements that existed. He saw periods of some success and also utter desolation.

America’s fascination and quest for frontier has always been a deep part of our psyche. We were never content to just develop the colonies as we knew them. The ultimate reason was our insatiable search for land, free, or cheap, able to be obtained through speculation or maneuvering. George Washington and Patrick Henry were heavy speculators.

Land was wealth, opportunity. If handled advantageously, land could make fortunes, and did. But if handled naively and poorly, land’s value would vanish overnight leaving the owner impoverished and full of debts.

Boone was a solitary hunter of great reputation. He moved his growing family continuously, often to very primitive conditions. Sometimes he was absent for years. His skills were great, but he had no head for business and apparently not a whole lot of interest.

Land claims, just as today, legitimate or phony, were a constant threat to the landowner. The larger the holdings, the more claims. Boone was careless. He neglected basic procedures such as paying taxes. Judgments were always being recorded against him. He was constantly in debt. Sometimes he managed to settle debts years after they were due, or others did. I think this carelessness was a definite flaw in his character. Being scrupulous in business details is not evil.

But Boone just wanted his life opening up a frontier. If too many settlers appeared to be coming, he became unhappy. He learned an early lesson in ecology. As more settlers came, Boone had to travel further and further into the wilderness to locate abundant game. Over hunting had produced its predictable results.

From 1775 – 1783, he was a militia officer in the Revolutionary War. From time to time, Boone also served in government, without much enthusiasm. His solitary tendencies and pleasant adaptability when required were not the qualities which he needed to wheel and deal in government. Maybe an astute business sense would have made him a more effective legislator.

I don’t think he was a vengeful person. In politics, participants remember their injuries to use as bargaining chips later.

His frontier years always exposed him to the dangerous proximity of Indians. In league with the British, they were constantly ready to capture or kill Americans. At one point, Boone was the captive of the Shawnees and even became an “adopted” son. He was not unhappy.

Even with all his hardships, Boone lived into his eighties, surrounded by family who took care of him. His stories from the frontier were very much in demand. He had finally moved to Missouri in 1799. Initially, he was under the jurisdiction of the Spanish and very honored and respected. The Louisiana Purchase changed his fortunes once again.

The American frontier was changing and expanding. No one was better equipped to deal with this than Boone. He had opened up our first western frontier in Kentucky decades before.

Please note: I don’t know how much interest exists about Daniel Boone today. Therefore, it is significant that a detailed biography was published in 2007; this will be briefly reviewed next. Also, a long-running TV series from the mid-sixties based fictionally on his life is available; it was very popular with children. TV doesn’t offer this kind of entertainment today, based loosely on history. – Renata Breisacher Mulry

Meanwhile, back in the city, revolution stirs in Boston

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Children Reading About the American Revolution

I once heard that if you want to learn something about anything, get a kid’s book on that subject. There’s a lot of merit in that advice.

The personalities and events of the American Revolution can be explained to even very young children. How is this information being presented?

Wrapped in large print, decreasing according to age, basic; very simple, short sentences, with many pertinent facts omitted. And therein lies the catch. Pertinent facts are the links which carry events forward, which explain why certain events turned out the way they did. Young readers want facts, but the reasons behind them may not be included at all. They probably like the story of the Boston Tea party, but don’t read much about the long list of grievances that lead up to it.

The selection of personalities featured seems quite random. It’s not just about Founding Fathers. Some selections may even seem a trifle gimmicky. A harsher critic would probably agree.

For instance, a title featuring Paul Revere is all his ride, most of the time. After all, he is a cult figure as much as a historical personality might allow. We know that Revere’s purpose was to warn notorious Patriots such as John Hancock to avoid capture by the British at all costs. That might have changed the American Revolution. But this very pertinent fact is really not brought out at all. But information needs to keep moving for young readers, and introducing too many personalities certainly won’t do this.

Please don’t think my intention is to disparage juvenile biography. Absolutely not. Anyone can get information this way quickly and simply. That is a real value.

Another example, John Hancock, comes to mind. A title praises Hancock for signing the Declaration of Independence first. There was a reason for this, which is really not mentioned. Hancock was President of the Congress that adopted the Declaration; he had a great deal of power running the show. So it wasn’t surprising that his name would be prominent on that document.

Some of the Revolutionary War personalities were interesting. They are all important, but not on the Founding Fathers’ tier. Information on Patrick Henry was surprisingly complete, with heavy emphasis of course on his “give me liberty or give me death” speech. I think we can call that the most famous quote of the war.

Abigail Adams gets her own volume, mostly discussing her long correspondence with husband John Adams. I doubt that the later correspondence of Adams and Jefferson is discussed as much.

For adolescent readers, the print gets smaller and the treatment longer; a George Washington biography is complete, although the title “Frontier Colonel” seems to indicate only his early checkered military career. He is never treated too harshly.

A volume on John Paul Jones gives basic facts on someone not mentioned all that often. Once you reach biography for adolescents, there is competition for the fact-seeker. A simple, short handbook can often give you the information very concisely and quickly.

The Internet of course has become a font of all knowledge but may not save one time over just checking an index.

Landmark Books (2002) has a lavishly illustrated history Liberty!: How the Revolutionary War Began (for adolescents) listing all the familiar reasons quite completely. However, it has no real advantage over a simple handbook or encyclopedia, designed for general reference.

I read an adolescent biography on Daniel Boone (subject of a forthcoming post) completely and I found that certain portions were very violent. It brings up again a perennial dilemma, how much violence should be included in items marketed to young people? The times of Daniel Boone were incredibly violent. Those who attempted to settle in frontier Kentucky lived in constant danger from many sources. This Boone biography stresses this very effectively.

I’m glad juvenile biography titles are available. I hope more personalities from the American Revolutionary War will be featured. I’ll look forward to reading their titles, too. – Renata Breisacher Mulry

Sterling Point Books | Landmark Books

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor: July 4th, 2009

Please read the Declaration on July 4th.

Consider the well-known words at the beginning:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

And later, the Second Continental Congress declares

That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved

And the stirring words of its conclusion:

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The American Pyrotechnics Association recommends a dozen more fireworks displays (in addition to those well-known cities such as Boston and New York). Listed are Addison, Texas; Branson, Missouri; Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; Stone Mountain, Georgia; Charlotte, North Carolina; Falmouth, Massachusetts; Las Vegas; Nashville; Oahu; South Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Source:
San Diego Union Tribune, 6/28/2009.

Does your community have a spectacular or very original display? Please send comments.

Whatever your plans, you will enjoy them. Even a massive thunderstorm, at the end of a sultry day, will fit right in. I remember storms like these in Washington, D.C.

It’s a grand day for our national party. –Renata Breisacher Mulry

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