To create this lively study of the main players of the two Continental Congresses, Beeman (History/Univ. of Pennsylvania) draws on his wealth of research from his previous, award-winning works, Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution (2009) and Patrick Henry (1974).
The author concentrates on the fascinating human contrasts among the delegates, from the fiery Bostonians, including the Adamses, to the loyalist New Yorkers, as they brought with them their provincial biases and sincere and honorable hopes for fair, just government, but mostly a desire for reconciliation with the British crown. Indeed, Beeman’s leitmotif throughout his fluid study of the events of the key 22 months is the frank reluctance on the part of the delegates to make that rupture, as Pennsylvania lawyer John Dickinson would eloquently argue in moving speeches opposing independence up until the decisive vote of July 2, 1776. While Virginia’s “son of thunder” Patrick Henry harangued the delegates on the second day of the first Congress with an appeal to their “American” rather than regional identities, the others were not yet ready to renounce the British constitution, hammering out successive appeals to the king, despite the hardening of British sympathies against them. From voting on the banning of British imports and exports to appointing George Washington as commander of the Continental Army to the selection of little-known Thomas Jefferson to the committee to write a declaration of independence to the publication of Thomas Paine’s incendiary Common Sense, Beeman elegantly moves through the deeply compelling process of how these motley characters fashioned government as an agency for the people.
A welcome addition to a rich, indispensable field of scholarly study.