The Revolutionary Rabble


1776, By David McCullough

Given the tone of the U.S. in modern times, it’s hard to imagine McCullough’s work on this book being well received. Imagine an indecisive George Washington. A Nathan Hale’s ineptness as a spy leading to his capture and hanging – and his famous quote taken from a play of the time- Cicero. An army replete with drunks, miscreants of all sorts who, due to their own slovenliness, had Washington’s army’s strength reduced by disease at times by a third.

In the end, however, McCullough’s view of Washington was that of a brave man, but a man with no battle experience, a man who learned generalship through the sternest self-discipline. The army fought well at times, due largely to desperation and some daring moves by Washington and his planners. 1776 is seen by most self-styled patriots these days as a bright and shining year of freedom and declared independence. It was, however, a year of gloom, of despair, of one defeat after another by overwhelming British and Hessian forces.


But I remain a bit confused by McCullough’s intent in this writing, i.e., there are many questions left unanswered. Why were the Americans seeking independence while its sister colony Canada wasn’t? Why was Britain so unwilling to loosen its hold on the American colony? McCullough is an astute enough writer to realize readers want personalities, the unknown facts (dirt) of history, and that’s what he gives here. But his historian instincts of giving underlying detail and trying to (unsuccessfully) dramatize such detail doesn’t work well for this reader.

While I can say I was eminently informed, I didn’t often enjoy the read.

15 of 20 stars



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