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Revolutionary Summer
Cover of Revolutionary Summer
Revolutionary Summer
The Birth of American Independence
Borrow Borrow

A distinctive portrait of the crescendo moment in American history from the Pulitzer-winning American historian, Joseph Ellis.

The summer months of 1776 witnessed the most consequential events in the story of our country's founding. While the thirteen colonies came together and agreed to secede from the British Empire, the British were dispatching the largest armada ever to cross the Atlantic to crush the rebellion in the cradle. The Continental Congress and the Continental Army were forced to make decisions on the run, improvising as history congealed around them. In a brilliant and seamless narrative, Ellis meticulously examines the most influential figures in this propitious moment, including George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Britain's Admiral Lord Richard and General William Howe. He weaves together the political and military experiences as two sides of a single story, and shows how events on one front influenced outcomes on the other.
Revolutionary Summer tells an old story in a new way, with a freshness at once colorful and compelling.



From the Hardcover edition.

A distinctive portrait of the crescendo moment in American history from the Pulitzer-winning American historian, Joseph Ellis.

The summer months of 1776 witnessed the most consequential events in the story of our country's founding. While the thirteen colonies came together and agreed to secede from the British Empire, the British were dispatching the largest armada ever to cross the Atlantic to crush the rebellion in the cradle. The Continental Congress and the Continental Army were forced to make decisions on the run, improvising as history congealed around them. In a brilliant and seamless narrative, Ellis meticulously examines the most influential figures in this propitious moment, including George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Britain's Admiral Lord Richard and General William Howe. He weaves together the political and military experiences as two sides of a single story, and shows how events on one front influenced outcomes on the other.
Revolutionary Summer tells an old story in a new way, with a freshness at once colorful and compelling.



From the Hardcover edition.
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  • Chapter 1

    Chapter 1

    Prudence Dictates

    By the spring of 1776, British and American troops had been killing each other at a robust rate for a full year. While the engagements at Lexington and Concord had been mere skirmishes, the battle at Bunker Hill had been a bloodbath, especially for the British, who lost more than 1,000 men, nearly half their attack force. The American dead numbered in the hundreds, a figure inflated by the fact that all the wounded left on the field were dispatched with bayonets by British execution squads enraged at the loss of so many of their comrades. Back in London, one retired officer was heard to say that with a few more victories like this, the British Army would be annihilated.

    Then, for the next nine months, a congregation of militia units totaling 20,000 troops under the command of General George Washington bottled up a British garrison of 7,000 troops under General William Howe in a marathon staring match called the Boston Siege. The standoff ended in March 1776, when Washington achieved tactical supremacy by placing artillery on Dorchester Heights, forcing Howe to evacuate the city. Abigail Adams watched the British sail away from nearby Penn's Hill. "You may count upwards of 100 & 70 sail," she reported. "They look like a forrest." By then the motley crew of militia was being referred to as the Continental Army, and Washington had become a bona fide war hero.

    In addition to these major engagements, the British navy had made several raids on the coastal towns of New England, and an ill-fated expedition of 1,000 American troops led by Benedict Arnold, after hacking its way through the Maine wilderness in the dead of winter, suffered a crushing defeat in the attempt to capture the British strong- hold at Quebec. Though most of the military action was restricted to New England and Canada, no reasonable witness could possibly deny that the war for American independence, not yet called the American Revolution, had begun.

    But if you widen the lens to include the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, the picture becomes quite blurry and downright strange. For despite the mounting carnage, the official position of the congress remained abiding loyalty to the British Crown. The delegates did not go so far as to deny that the war was happening, but they did embrace the curious claim that George III did not know about it. Those British soldiers sailing away from Boston were not His Majesty's troops but "ministerial troops," meaning agents of the British ministry acting without the knowledge of the king.

    While everyone in the Continental Congress knew this was a fanciful fabrication, it was an utterly essential fiction that preserved the link between the colonies and the crown and thereby held open the possibility of reconciliation. Thomas Jefferson undoubtedly had these motives in mind when he crafted the following words a few months later: "Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient reasons; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed."

    One might argue that those wounded American boys who were bayoneted to death on Bunker Hill amounted to something more than light and transient reasons. Washington himself, once he learned of those atrocities, let it be known that he had lost all patience with the moderates in the congress who were—it became one of his favorite phrases— "still feeding themselves on the dainty food of reconciliation." Though he made a point of...

About the Author-
  • Joseph Ellis is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Founding Brothers. His portrait of Thomas Jefferson, American Sphinx, won the National Book Award. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, with his wife and their youngest son.



Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from April 8, 2013
    If we must have another work on this shop-worn subject, Pulitzer and National Book Award-winner Ellis (for Founding Brothers and American Sphinx, respectively) is the one to write it—his latest is now the definitive book on the revolutionary events of the summer of 1776. Ellis’s prose is characteristically seductive, his insights frequent, his sketches of people and events captivating, and his critical facility always alive, even when he’s praising Washington and faulting British military strategy. Lightly applying what we’ve learned from our own recent wars, Ellis argues that Washington knew what, for example, the North Vietnamese later understood: “His goal was not to win the war but rather to not lose it.” Thanks to Washington’s preservation of the Continental Army, which he accomplished through both sheer luck and brilliant command on Long Island and Manhattan in these critical summer months, the former colonies held on to a chance to win their independence. Another brilliantly told story, carried along on solid interpretive grounds, by one of our best historians of the early nation. 8 pages of color photos & 3 maps. 125,000-copy announced first printing.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from April 15, 2013
    Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Ellis (First Family: Abigail and John Adams, 2010, etc.) writes book after book on the American Revolutionary period. Practice makes perfect. The author's latest alternates between 1776 colonial politics during which the Continental Congress, dominated by John Adams, finally put aside efforts at compromise and opted for independence and the fighting where George Washington's army marched from triumph in the siege of Boston to catastrophe in New York. Ellis delivers few surprises and no cheerleading but much astute commentary. He points out with no small irony that the Continental Congress was at its best in 1776 when thoughtful men debated the benefits of liberty versus the consequences of war with the world's most powerful nation and came to the right decision. Only in the following years, faced with governing the colonies and supplying the army, did it reveal its incompetence. When British forces withdrew from Boston in March, colonial rebels declared a great victory, but Washington worried. Sieges and fighting behind fortifications (i.e., Bunker Hill) were simple compared with standard 18th-century warfare, which required soldiers to maneuver under fire and remain calm amid scenes of horrific carnage. He suspected that his largely untrained militia army would do badly under these circumstances, and events in New York proved him right. Luckily, British Gen. William Howe, despite vastly superior forces, refused to deliver a knockout blow. He would never get another chance. Kevin Phillips' 2012 tour de force, 1775, delivered a massive argument for that year as the key to American independence. A traditionalist, Ellis sticks to 1776 and writes an insightful history of its critical, if often painful, events.

    COPYRIGHT(2013) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    January 1, 2013
    Even as the 13 Colonies determine to secede, the British send over the biggest armada ever seen. From Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Ellis.

    Copyright 2013 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Boston Globe

    "Throughout this volume we see the clear-eyed mastery of a historian with the acuity to distill a historical moment into a clash for the ages...But in describing the significance of these momentous events he does not boil off the romance of them."

  • Washington Independent Review of Books "Ellis, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, is always a dependable guide through the early days of the new nation...[He] gives us a feeling of that time when the quest for liberty began, and we come away knowing that those who took up that quest would not waver and, against all odds, they would win."
  • The Wall Street Journal "It's a poignant counterpoint to the well-worn narrative of Washington's deification and a tribute to Mr. Ellis's sympathetic grasp of human nature."
  • The Seattle Times "The best thing about Joseph Ellis' vast writings on Early America is his ability to construct unvarnished and original accounts, clear away myth and yet leave the reader with a sense of the color, irony, humor and--dare I say it--the great good luck present throughout our country's history."
  • AARP "What truly matters here is the insurrectionary spirit that suffused the summer of '76. Elis beautifully re-creates it in his compact but compelling book."
  • The Washington Post "Like any first-rate history, "Revolutionary Summer" leaves the reader wanting to know more."
  • Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs "As usual, Ellis combines powerful narrative with convincing analysis. His tale of the crucial summer of 1776 shows how political and military events wove together to create a new nation. Read this book and understand how America was born."
  • Ron Chernow, author of Washington, A Life "In Revolutionary Summer, Joseph J. Ellis serves up the spirit of 1776 with sparkling prose, lucid analysis, and knowing portraits of Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams. Best of all, he captures the subtle and often complex interplay between the lofty rhetoric pouring forth from the Continental Congress in Philadelphia and the perilous plight of the Continental Army in New York. This invaluable addition to the rich literature of the Revolutionary War is a volume to savor, ponder, and simply enjoy."
  • Edmund S. Morgan, author of Benjamin Franklin "Ellis once again demonstrates that a proper narrative of events, considered to be so well known as to present no puzzles, can exhibit the deep causes of the conflicts that forced men to war. His lucidity and insight make him the master story teller of theRevolutionary moment."
  • Tony Horwitz "Joseph Ellis has once again liberated the American Revolution from powdered wigs and patriotic cant. Riding briskly through the summer of 1776, he portrays the birth of independence as untidy, improvised, and at times, miraculous. This is a lucid and revelatory read for novices and buffs alike."
  • Publishers Weekly, starred review "The definitive book on the revolutionary events of the summer of 1776. Ellis's prose is characteristically seductive, his insights frequent, his sketches of people and events captivating, and his critical facility always alive...Another brilliantly told story, carried along on solid interpretive grounds, by one of our best historians of the early nation."
  • Kirkus, starred review "An insightful history."
  • Library Journal "With revolutionary-period expertise and extensive knowledge of the founders, Ellis contends that American independence was born during this 'long summer'...This thought-provoking, well-documented historical narrative is packed with insightful analysis."
  • David O. Stewart, The Washington Post "Terrific...chock full of penetrating analysis...Like any first rate history, Revolutionary Summer leaves the reader wanting to know more."
  • Barnes and Noble review "A brisk and astute history of the intertwined political and military developments of the summer of 1776...Ellis conveys an easy command of the Revolutionary era and its personalities."
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