Wednesday, June 30, 2010

1775: The Start of the American Revolutionary War

As probably a lot of other people, I always considered 1776 to be the important, definitive year of the American Revolution. It’s the year of the Declaration of Independence. I gave short shrift to 1775, although that year defined the independence that so many Americans wanted and were willing to wage war to achieve.

1775 absolutely changed the relationship between Great Britain and America forever. Not that there weren’t many people who desperately remained loyal to Great Britain and King George III. But those who did became the enemy of the Patriots who were ready to fight. As yet there was no army to speak of, but when George Washington, after much controversy, was appointed General, that gradually changed. Farmers were “Minutemen”, ready to fight at any minute; militias were mobilized to take on the well-trained professional British troops.

In 1775, colonies, particularly Massachusetts, were no longer content to be obedient subject of their British masters. The time of revolution had come. Incidents such as the Boston Tea Party were behind them. Pitched battles were the order of the day.

What the revolutionaries achieved in 1775 is, in retrospect, absolutely amazing. The American forces had practically nothing. They were a skeleton force, with hardly ever sufficient ammunition or much else, for that matter. Discipline had yet to be established. But our fighters had firm resolve, courage, and cunning. The British realized that they were not going to have a quick victory over their audacious American enemy.

The Second Continental Congress’s agenda for formally declaring Independence in 1776 could never have been realized without the tumultuous year preceding it.

April 19, 2010, was a big day in Boston. The running of the Marathon set a new time record. The day also commemorated what is officially designated as the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, the battles of Lexington and Concord in the Boston area. There was nothing unexpected about the fighting location. Already there were British occupying troops, the Boston Massacre, the Tea Party; the British considered by now the Boston area to be at the root of all her colonial problems. Boston residents were anti-British and quarrelsome; they could degenerate into mob action at a moment’s notice, encouraged by powerful agitators such as Sam Adams.

The British at Lexington and Concord had the primary objective of capturing American weapons and ammunition. If they could do this secretly, it might put the American forces out of commission, given our chronic shortage of arms. If the British could also lay their hands on Adams and Hancock, so much the better.

None of these plans worked. The arms had been moved elsewhere and Revere had done a good job warning Adams and Hancock. Secrecy was not very effective against the canny and treacherous Bostonians. Other pitched battles such as Bunker Hill followed quickly. A real war was on. – Renata Breisacher Mulry

This period of the American Revolutionary War is well documented. I found some sources to be particularly interesting and easy to follow. Military history can get quite complicated. Here are a couple of useful citations:
American Battlefields. Hubbard Cobb. McMillan USA. 1995. 382 pp. Emphasis on maps and illustrations. Covers all wars. Amazon | AbeBooks |

Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence. John Ferling. Oxford University Press. 2007. 679 pp. Covers the whole war in as much detail that one could possibly find in a single volume. I think this is a must-have for the subject. Amazon | AbeBooks |

Notable American Battles in 1775
Lexington and Concord, Boston area | April 19
Capture of Fort Ticonderoga | May 10
Control of Lake Champlain
Bunker Hill | June 16 -17
Invasion of Canada
Montgomery Captures Montreal | November 13
Assault on Quebec | December 31

Although the American forces committed significant troops in Canada and there were many maneuvers, our invasion of Canada ultimately failed. The War in the South was predominantly a conflict between Patriots and Loyalists.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The California Primary Election

Last Tuesday was primary election day. Republicans and Democrats chose their candidates for the big contest in November. Some won, some lost, some are in limbo facing a run-off, and a few are in election hell as they still don’t know the result. Many candidates were quite unknown to the voters so generally incumbents did well. That makes a lot of voters angry enough to vote for term limits. Not that it always makes much of a difference. Politicians don’t fade quietly from view. They go on to compete in a different political office be up for grabs. These may not have term limits at all.

Not many people vote in primaries. I think that’s due to a massive dose of inertia, lack of any

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Memorial Day 2010

Memorial Day has come and gone, with flags, tears, huge crowds spending the day at the beach, and barbecues sending out delicious aromas of hamburgers and hot dogs sizzling for a festive holiday meal.

The weather might be a challenge, traffic jams are expected, but a lot of people are happy they have the day off.

Many people feel that the real significance of Memorial Day has been lost -- now it’s nothing more than a chance for a three-day weekend. I don’t agree. Americans are hard workers; we actually don’t get that many

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Friends of 1776 Anniversary

Friends of 1776 celebrated its first anniversary last month.

I thank you sincerely for all your interest and support. Birthdays for people and events come around quickly.

Some things I would have done differently: generally, I found writing posts more difficult than I expected. I would have enjoyed more comments; these keep one sharp.

I am amazed though at the huge variety of opinion expressed in this country, and with so much conviction.

After one year, the story of how America became independent from Great Britain is still incredible. And after

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Tea Party Movement

There were many reasons for the American Revolution. If you asked the general public you would probably get one answer. The colonists didn’t want to pay taxes. Benjamin Franklin set out the permanent reality of death and taxes. So what else was new? Governments have always wanted to levy taxes, and nobody wanted to pay them. The tax code always seems eminently unfair; tax allocations don’t benefit us personally.

Who should we pay taxes to? King George III of England? His Parliament? Don’t tax us, was the clear message; we’re not represented at all in your government. It is illegal for you to levy taxes on us.

The British wanted to bail out its monopolistic East India Tea Company by

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Mini-post on HBO’s The Pacific

March 14 will air the first episode of HBO’s ten hour epic TV miniseries, The Pacific, a very expensive, graphic retelling of the US battles against the Japanese in the Pacific during World War II. Much of the ferocious fighting took place on countless islands such as Peleliu. Many of these campaigns are long forgotten.

Co-producers are Tom Hanks

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Two Military History Episodes to Celebrate George Washington’s Birthday

Washington’s Birthday should be commemorated as more than a retail bonanza.

The previous post for Friends of 1776 has tried to revise his birthday celebration as more serious, more patriotic, something more fitting for the occasion.

One suggestion was to award each year a military history literary prize. Washington was a general for much of his active life; he was our Supreme Commander during the Revolutionary War.

Here are two military stories that have produced good reading.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Celebrating George Washington’s Birthday

On February 6, 2011, we will celebrate what would have been President Reagan’s 100th birthday (Los Angeles Times, February 6, 2010).

It’s going to be a big day.

For one thing, Reagan’s birthday will share the day with Super Bowl Sunday. Combining these two events will be a terrific challenge.

Many events are planned, from locations in Illinois where Reagan spent his adolescent years, to the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. I imagine his widow, Nancy, is heavily involved in the planning of events honoring her late husband.

Next week, we will again mark the birthday of our country’s most major political figure, George Washington, born February 22, 1732 (died 1799).

The history judging Reagan has yet to be written, but the verdict for Washington is in

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Two Hundred Years of the State of the Union

Last Wednesday, January 27, 2010, President Obama delivered his first State of the Union address.

Traditionally, it is the message of the current President to the US Congress.

In the US Constitution, Article II, Section 3, under a rather scant paragraph “Duties of the President”, the President is directed to give Congress information on the state of the nation and what he considers measures that are just, expedient, even necessary. In other words, what he considers future policy. The frequency of this duty is vague.

But about 200 years later (George Washington delivered a State of the Union address),

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

New Year Message for 2010 to all Friends of 1776

It’s a New Year, a new decade, a good time to discuss topics of interest to you about our American Revolution. Your participation and appreciation in this amazing story continues at a time when its significance seems more important than ever. The American Revolution, as with other wars, had its causes many years before any shots were fired. This ongoing series will continue this year. Some causes were obvious; some were more obscure, involving basically individuals. The social history, emigration, and even religion of the earlier colonies provided causes.

One cannot consider the American Revolution without the complicated actions of the British Parliament and its last American monarch, George III.

Once the Revolutionary War started, it developed on a large scale, hardly advantageous for the American patriot soldiers even with Washington as their leader. Previous posts have considered the battles only sketchily. The war could be divided broadly into three parts: the early years, in the northern and north-eastern colonies; the later years in the predominantly southern colonies, with very hard fighting, often very successful for the British; and a continuous, vicious civil war between the patriots and loyalists. These campaigns were fought in the western territories of the southern colonies.

Many British and American generals were very talented, became famous, and led decisive battles. A question can always be raised, did the American colonies win or did the British lose, trying to continue supplying an army thousands of miles away? Both did not occur simultaneously.

By the end of the war, 1783, the Americans were technically the winner, but in reality complete losers, because we had no money, nothing but debts, no agreement on the future; only a collection of states concerned with their own prosperity.

Early in the war Canada was a foreign power playing a significant position; years later France had a very pivotal role; the Dutch became critical lenders.

Brilliant individuals such as Madison, Adams, Hamilton, and of course Washington became the new leaders of the United States and our Constitution.

You can see that the topics which can be considered are endless. There will also be book reviews of excellent texts.

2010 will be exciting. Please join me and comment on our blog. – Renata Breisacher Mulry

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Abigail and John: Portrait of a Marriage – Book Review

Christmas brought a nice addition to the library here for Friends of 1776. A lot has been written about this famous Presidential marriage, their letters, and the well-known salutation, “My dearest friend”.

This book is not about the many letters and wide variety of topics they cover, although Gelles quotes extensively from them. Rather, this book is biographical n scope, bringing great detail to the personality traits of both people. This marriage had its share of triumph, great personal tragedy, and strong disagreements. If I can describe the marriage in a few words, it was a marriage of separation. Nothing turned out as one might expect. The author focuses on Abigail in greater detail than for John. She was a typical late 18th century woman, from a solid “good family”. She was also brilliant, very intelligent, and surprisingly modern in outlook.

Considering what Abigail had to face, alone, over decades, I have no idea how she coped. Fortunately, in spite of many periods of illness, for children and family, she had basically a healthy constitution.

When illness struck around her, she did what she had to do. She was not a whiner. She knew how to pick extraordinary friends. Many of the letters’ substance are dominated by domestic problems. Why did this happen? Gelles effectively explains that from the beginning of their marriage, John more and more abdicated home life for a life of public service, calling for prolonged absences from Massachusetts and his growing family. Once, later, it was for five years!

Also, the extraordinary time it took for correspondence to reach its destination, weeks, often months, left Abigail to often have little contact with John. The time factor for correspondence is well handled in this book.

In a way, the marriage was very modern. Leaving Abigail at home on the farm in the Boston suburb (Braintree), John goes to the city to pursue his career and financial future. People recognized his talents quickly. He was invited to join he right political and legal organizations, where he rapidly met many influential people. In many modern marriages, he would catch a late commuter train, meanwhile leaving his wife to deal with the plumber and the children’s schools.

When Jefferson wrote our Declaration of Independence, it was John Adams who put it into place. John earlier had recognized the special talents of George Washington and pushed for his selection of general of our revolutionary army. But the more John rose in importance and prestige, the less chance he had to build his wealth. His earlier highly esteemed legal practice couldn’t grow. Thank goodness for Abigail’s abundant energy; much later Abigail was essentially the family financial manager. Her aim was not to amass riches, but to stay out of debt, the danger was all farming operations. She was successful at that. It showed again that in this marriage, both partners were good at what they did. Throughout these long years, they maintained their mutual affection and respect. They never took each other for granted.

So many years of their marriage played out in the Revolutionary War, with campaigns and battles over a large area. I do criticize this book for rather neglecting the military history. Important, decisive battles are often given scant attention. But maybe this can be justified by the fact that John was never a military leader.

Everything in Abigail’s background would predict that she was a sober, righteous New England housewife. But when she began to accompany John on diplomatic missions, she acquired an elegance and culture perfectly suited to her new social position (particularly in Paris and later London). She maintained a friendship with Jefferson. She attended the theater, ballet, concerts and recitals, and saw important landmarks as a tourist. She began to enjoy and appreciate some of the outstanding furniture and décor of the late 18th century. She was no country bumpkin from the farm.

Did John miss a great deal because his family life was essentially subject to the demands of his public life? I think you will judge this for yourself.

If anything, the devotion and compatibility in this marriage was particularly strong in their later years. Deaths of adult children were a terrible grief for them, but not described as morbid. The presence of many grandchildren was a great satisfaction and happiness for them now being together, retired, back on the farm, John’s most lasting preference for his whole life.

This portrait of a marriage shows why it earned an absolute right to be considered an outstanding Presidential marriage. Maybe Jack and Jackie Kennedy’s much briefer days together as celebrities also earned an outstanding designation, or perhaps that of Franklin and Eleanor.

But Gelles has drawn up a portrait of two extraordinary people, living in extraordinary times. I don’t think a reader will ever tire of them. – Renata Breisacher Mulry

Abigail: 1744 – 1818; John: 1735 – 1826
Lived in Braintree, Family Farm
Abigail and John: Portrait of a Marriage Edith B. Gelles, author. William Morrow, 2009. 285 pp.

Notes: Over a century later another celebrated marriage, that of the last Czar and Czarina of Russia, Nicholas and Alexandra, was also known for their voluminous correspondence through tumultuous times. See A Lifelong Passion: Nicholas and Alexandra Their Own Story. Andrei Maylunas and Sergei Mironenko. Doubleday, 1997. 667 pp.