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Posts Tagged ‘Joseph J. Ellis’

Revolutionary Summer The Birth of American Independence

 

While the book is titled “Revolutionary Summer” early in the book the author makes it clear that this is a history book on the latter half of 1776 in Colonial America and the pursuit for American Independence.  The author noted that often books on the War of Independence would focus either on the political aspect of things or the military side with the war but for the founding fathers these two were intertwined and were part of any founding father’s holistic experience.  The book covers various figures in the colonies such as George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson while also exploring important figures from the British side notably the Howe brothers and General Clinton who led the military campaign against the Continental army.  I learned quite a bit from the book such as how George Washington lost New York to the British and also how among the thirteen colonies New York probably had more British sympathizers.  I also learned how the British could have crushed the Continental Army but both Howe brothers wanted to pursue a path of reconciliation and diplomacy rather than pursue a victory that is purely military.  The Howe brothers explained that the reason was to avoid unnecessary bloodshed—but it was also because of their desire to seek future political opportunities as diplomats for the British government.  It is easy to see things in hindsight but the book makes you feel the tension and uncertainty during the summer of 1776 when the colonies took the course that would change world history by seeking independence.  This book also explains the difficulties George Washington and his army faced with bad supplies and always short of soldiers.  An excellent read.

What’s In It for the Christian:

I think history is a great opportunity to see the Providence of God.  While George Washington was defeated in New York, fortunately there was a deep fog that allowed him and his army to escape New York without the British being aware which years later many in the Continental Army saw as a providence of God.  I think it is the providential working of God.  The book also reveal how it is not by might or by wit that history is shaped–that wise men can err and strong figures may not be as strong as one think.  This reminds us that we are not as in control of our paths as we may think (I like the book’s discussion of Thomas Jefferson getting upset that the Declaration of Independence was being changed by others).

 

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I wanted to apply Christian principles of reading a non-Christian, non-theological book in light of a biblical worldview as it’s been expounded in this series.

first family adams

I like the direction that the author Joseph Ellis has taken in this book by focusing on John Adams and his relationship with his wife Abigail. Many biographies can easily focus too narrowly on the individual while neglecting the family life or see it as a side-line to the story even though family life might not be (or should not be) as peripheral in that individual’s actual day to day life. As a Christian, I find biographical sketches that discusses an individual’s family life helpful in that it reveal more about a man or woman’s character and who they really were versus their public persona; while this also serves as a helpful tool to “demythologize” our heroes whom our hearts (an idolatrous factory indeed) are prone to make into a idealized figure rather than the historical person with flaws, idiosyncrasies, etc. This makes Ellis’ book all the more interesting since it explore the relationship of John Adams and his wife! The author does this largely by studying John’s and Abigail’s written correspondences over the span of several decades. Those decades cover some of the most important moments during the founding of America by an influential figure involved in charting the new nation’s direction. The author makes it clear that the archive of the Adams’ correspondence is rather unique—in terms of the volume of letters that survived and how much the two wrote to one another compared to their contemporaries. These correspondences were also unique in that Abigail was quite informed and involved in John Adams’ political career than most wives were during the era. She freely shared her opinions about political matters in her discourse. This does not mean that Abigail fit the modern notion of a feminists; Quite the contrary her letters demonstrated that she was incredibly submissive to her husband’s decisions that was difficult for her especially those concerning long separation for the sake of John’s legal and then eventually political career. It gave me a deeper appreciation of the risks and sacrifices that the founding father took in the war of independence. For the sake of personal curiosity, I was keeping my eye out in the book for any information on John and Abigail’s spiritual life and I wished the author could have explored that more.

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