Popular historian Raphael (Founding Myths, 2004, etc.) expands the traditional cast of America’s founders and examines “the collective work of the Revolutionary Generation.”
“Great men get great praise; little men, nothing.” So said Continental Army veteran Joseph Plumb Martin, one of the “little men” Raphael highlights in this highly readable history about the messy work of revolution and nation-building. The author reminds us that this was not merely the business of a few talented geniuses, but rather a collective enterprise that also engaged such people as Dr. Thomas Young, the political firebrand who gave Vermont its name, and Timothy Bigelow, a Worcester blacksmith whose armed resistance to the British preceded Lexington and Concord. The narrative features three other primary characters: Robert Morris, the financier whose personal credit sustained the Army; Henry Laurens, the South Carolina aristocrat and reluctant revolutionary; and Mercy Warren, Plymouth’s poet and historian, who looked on disapprovingly as her countrymen betrayed the Revolution’s ideals. Raphael orders their stories around well-known career markers of the founder, George Washington. As the author charts Washington’s familiar progress, he checks in periodically with each of his six principals, updating us on their activities, their contributions to and sacrifices for their country, which included imprisonment, destitution and death. Even as he credits them, though, Raphael doesn’t shy away from noting their vanity, contradictions and self-promotion. Cameos by “second-tier” founders—including James Otis, Ethan Allen, John Laurens (Henry’s son), Thomas Paine and George Mason—and numerous others add color and context to a narrative that covers more than 30 years and touches each section of the colonies. Mercifully free of any political agenda—there’s no attempt to diminish the likes of Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton or Franklin—Raphael’s scholarship and scrupulously fair treatment deepens our understanding and appreciation, of what our ancestors wrought.
Splendid storytelling that effectively captures and humanizes the tumult of the Revolutionary Era.