Prolific historian Weintraub (General Washington’s Christmas Farewell, 2003, etc.) turns in a readable survey of the American Revolution, concentrating on political battles more than military ones.
The phrase “iron tears” is Edmund Burke’s. A member of Parliament at the time, Burke worried, Weintraub writes, whether the “inevitable separation” of Britain from its colonies was worth a war that would be fought as much in sadness as in anger. Burke’s peers were less concerned with such things, and when Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in 1766, its members overwhelmingly reasserted that body’s authority to make law and policy for the colonies, much against the wishes of the growing self-rule movement across the water. (Interestingly, Weintraub notes, “one of the tiny band of five peers to vote against the bill . . . in sympathy with colonial grievances was . . . Lord Charles Cornwallis, twenty-seven, and a colonel of the 33rd Foot, who would change his mind when the colonists took to arms.”) Weintraub skillfully guides his readers through the tangled politics of the time, writing of the struggles that surrounded both the revolutionary effort and King George’s campaigns to control his government, particularly as antiwar sentiment grew in London. Along the way, Weintraub explains why it was that George and his commanders resorted early on to the use of mercenary soldiers, so outraging the colonists: The defeated Irish and Scots couldn’t be trusted, and arming proletarian Englishmen posed similar risks. William Pitt correctly predicted the outcome: If foreigners were to occupy his nation, he argued, then, “I would never lay down my arms—never—never—never!” Why, then, would the colonists do otherwise? Weintraub’s accounts of various armed engagements are good but hurried. Readers with an interest in the military history of the Revolution will want to turn to sources such as Robert Middlekauff’s essential The Glorious Cause (1985).
That aside, Iron Tears does a respectable job of sorting through the causes of the colonial break.