A TIME FOR COURAGE: The Story of the Declaration of Independence by Esmond Wright

A TIME FOR COURAGE: The Story of the Declaration of Independence

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KIRKUS REVIEW

What matters in history is not what men say or do or intend, but that their words and deeds then become part of a tide of events"" recognizable only in retrospect. Wright, professorial and wry/ arrogant/disorderly/incisive, laces pithy hindsight perceptions of a pattern into his profiles of men and events as they were; thus, when we first meet ""The Man from Monticello"" (Jefferson) or ""The Man from Hanover County"" (Patrick Henry), they are not yet movers in a movement. With the passage of and response to the Stamp Act, examined like most else from both sides, a precedent is discernible: ""Defiance had been successful and had been so because it was intercolonial."" The precedent would be affirmed and advanced by the Boston Massacre (aside: ""Nothing so much helps a revolution as a corpse""; also, but pointlessly and therefore tastelessly, ""A sentry. . . had his musket grabbed by a big mulatto, Crispus Attucks""), and again by the Tea Party -- even though England still ""piously"" proclaimed her authority. Emptily too, since her laws were ""devoid of sanction and permanence"": one minister's policy was left to another for (non-)implementation, and Wright muses characteristically -- ""Fate assisted the malevolence of faction""; later, in postulating seven 'factors common to all revolutions' (this after rebutting the usually ascribed causes), he numbers fate among them ('exploitable advantage'). But only the propagandists took issue now, when as yet there was not one. . . and enter Sam Adams: ""A new political phenomenon in the colonies: an organizer and an operator. . . what the Russians call an apparatchik, the man who runs the machine."" Legends are stripped all over, not to expose but rather to reveal the person underneath -- for instance Washington, who had his share of private life complete with motivating grievances (and sans cherry tree) -- or the circumstantial revolution itself: ""It was not predestined that America should become 'free' and 'independent' in 1776 or at any time."" There are holes and opinions and ambiguities to resolve here but Wright's organic argument could be productive; ideal as an analytical complement or follow-up to the Bakeless Signers and the Phelan Four Days, it has the makings of a research springboard or even, perhaps, a mature-classroom sparkplug.

Pub Date: April 21st, 1971
Publisher: Putnam