Tuesday, September 27, 2011

American Crisis—a fascinating piece of history

Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Loretta reports:

“'You cannot conceive the uneasiness which arises from the total want of so essential an Article as Money.’”

So wrote General Washington to the governors of the United States in January 1782.  He was pleading for pay for the officers and soldiers who’d fought in the American Revolution—which wasn’t over yet, by the way.

This may be news to the vast majority who believe that the revolution ended with Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown in 1781.  In fact, the war didn’t officially end until November 1783, and the U.S.’s future cohesion and strength was by no means as inevitable as we’re often led to believe.

The army, which hadn’t been paid, was in real danger of mutiny.  In the South, General Greene reported “‘the distress of the Officers are great and many of them have drained every private resource in their power.  Many bear their sufferings to a certain degree beyond which it is dangerous to push them nay ruinous.’”  A similar discontent prevailed in the Army of the North.  Meanwhile, an ineffectual and nearly bankrupt Congress made the long-suffering military promises it couldn’t keep.

This was only one of the daunting problems the new nation faced.  In fact, given the difficulties and dangers—not to mention some extremely bad behavior on all sides—it’s astounding that our forefathers ever managed to forge a nation.

I was never a big fan of U.S. history or any Politics & Wars kind of history.  So when Walker & Company sent me  William M. Fowler Jr.'s American Crisis:  George Washington and the Dangerous Two Years After Yorktown 1781-83,* I wasn't all that excited, I admit.

Then I started reading, and found a fascinating, suspenseful story, just chock full of the exhaustive detail Nerdy History Persons hunger for: yes, lots of quotations from original sources, all beautifully footnoted.

Even better, it’s a terrific example of history’s relevance, offering insights into today’s battling factions in Congress, power struggles between the legislative and executive branch, issues of big vs. small government—and, of course that essential Article, Money.

*Unlike the majority of books referred to in this blog, which Susan and I buy with our own actual money, this one came gratis.


Anonymous said...

Hi Loretta,

I've worked at a Philadelphia-area historic site for decades, and I've never found any readable fiction based on American history. Anytime you want to take a stab at it, though, I'll be first in line!

nightsmusic said...

I'm familiar with the problems Washington faced. No money, less food, no standard uniforms for such a long time, sometimes they shot each other because they didn't know which side was which. You're right, it's a wonder we managed at all.

But what a thrilling story when you consider what they managed with nothing.

I think I'm going to have to pick this book up.

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