A thorough exploration of the lives of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, and a consideration of their personal motives for participating in the American Revolution.
Revolutionary War historian Ferling (The First of Men, 1998) assesses the impact of our three great Founding Fathers by reconstructing their lives from the documents they left behind. This approach produces intriguing portraits of men with monumental ambitions who were frustrated by their status as colonial subjects. (Despite Washington’s command of the Virginia militia, for example, he was subordinate to even the greenest captain in the British army, while the most Jefferson or Adams could hope for was a royal appointment as a colonial magistrate.) As the British government adopted increasingly oppressive and hostile measures to subvert the American colonies’ discontented rumblings, these three found themselves drawn to the republican ideals that promised opportunity for men such as themselves—not just for those who were born in England and pandered to the right politicians. Washington and Adams weather this close scrutiny well: Washington’s character overcomes the reality that he was an amateur soldier and a mediocre strategist, while Adams’s often-overlooked role in negotiating the diplomatic conclusion to the war suggests that his efforts were as crucial to achieving American independence as Washington’s battlefield sacrifices. But Jefferson’s reputation suffers in Ferling’s analysis. He argues that Jefferson used his starring role in authoring the Declaration of Independence to cover up his avoidance of military duty and his lukewarm support for the revolutionaries during the earliest stages of the rebellion. In the end, Ferling masterfully weaves these men’s personal stories into a dynamic narrative that will grip general readers and scholars alike.
Ferling’s effective demystification of these three Founding Fathers transforms them from two-dimensional icons into remarkable and fascinating men and captures their passionate struggles to form a new republican nation.