LIGHT-HORSE HARRY LEE and the Legacy of the American Revolution by Charles Royster
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LIGHT-HORSE HARRY LEE and the Legacy of the American Revolution

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Light-Horse Harry Lee (1756-1818) made a dreadful mess of his life, and this wonderfully astute book--by the author of A Revolutionary People at War--goes a long way to explaining what went wrong. While still in his early twenties Lee became famous as the brilliant, swashbuckling cavalry commander who captured Paulus Hook from the British and helped Nathanael Greene keep the Carolinas in American hands. After the war he sat briefly in Congress, served as the Governor of Virginia, and led the federal troops that suppressed the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania in 1794--another of those precocious young men who got their start in the Revolution and seemed destined to play a leading role in the affairs of the Republic for years to come. But Lee somehow lost his way, He destroyed his reputation in a series of reckless and fraudulent business deals, got himself imprisoned for debt, and was beaten senseless by a Baltimore mob because of his arrogant opposition to the War of 1812. His private life was punctuated by bleak depressions and a consuming hatred of Thomas Jefferson, whose election to the Presidency he attempted to prevent and whose character he ever afterward sought to destroy. In the end he even ran out on his wife and children, the youngest of whom, Robert E. Lee, would rebel against the union his father had helped to create. At the root of all this trouble and disappointment, Royster tells us, was Lee's rising apprehension during the 1790s and early 1800s that the Revolution had been betrayed and that only men such as himself--courageous men, men who had been tested on the battlefield--were capable of leading the country back to virtue, liberty, and prosperity. But the harder he tried, the further he drifted from reality and the respect of former friends and comrades. When the end finally came he was a sick and lonely old man, raging against a fate he could not understand--not a pretty story, to be sure, but the first solid biography in 50 years and an important addition to our knowledge of what the Revolution meant to those who lived through it.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1981
ISBN: 0807119105
Publisher: Knopf