A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic

A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic

Language: English

Pages: 576

ISBN: 0195159241

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


It was an age of fascinating leaders and difficult choices, of grand ideas eloquently expressed and of epic conflicts bitterly fought. Now comes a brilliant portrait of the American Revolution, one that is compelling in its prose, fascinating in its details, and provocative in its fresh interpretations.

In A Leap in the Dark, John Ferling offers a magisterial new history that surges from the first rumblings of colonial protest to the volcanic election of 1800. Ferling's swift-moving narrative teems with fascinating details. We see Benjamin Franklin trying to decide if his loyalty was to Great Britain or to America, and we meet George Washington when he was a shrewd planter-businessman who discovered personal economic advantages to American independence. We encounter those who supported the war against Great Britain in 1776, but opposed independence because it was a "leap in the dark." Following the war, we hear talk in the North of secession from the United States. The author offers a gripping account of the most dramatic events of our history, showing just how closely fought were the struggle for independence, the adoption of the Constitution, and the later battle between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans. Yet, without slowing the flow of events, he has also produced a landmark study of leadership and ideas. Here is all the erratic brilliance of Hamilton and Jefferson battling to shape the new nation, and here too is the passion and political shrewdness of revolutionaries, such as Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry, and their Loyalist counterparts, Joseph Galloway and Thomas Hutchinson. Here as well are activists who are not so well known today, men like Abraham Yates, who battled for democratic change, and Theodore Sedgwick, who fought to preserve the political and social system of the colonial past. Ferling shows that throughout this period the epic political battles often resembled today's politics and the politicians--the founders--played a political hardball attendant with enmities, selfish motivations, and bitterness. The political stakes, this book demonstrates, were extraordinary: first to secure independence, then to determine the meaning of the American Revolution.

John Ferling has shown himself to be an insightful historian of our Revolution, and an unusually skillful writer. A Leap in the Dark is his masterpiece, work that provokes, enlightens, and entertains in full measure.

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ultimately materialized from his initiative, but he also proposed reforms that would have made land available to the propertyless and extended free education to gifted children. On the whole, Jefferson was a conservative reformer, quite unlike Paine, the supercharged radical who thought in terms of starting the world anew. Nevertheless, Jefferson who was guided by an abiding loathing for Great Britain, wished for American autonomy, longed to terminate monarchic and aristocratic domination, and

433 Chesapeake region, 31, 95, 116, 207, 290 China, trade with, 258 “Civis,”167 Clark, Abraham, 174 Clark, George Rogers, 439 class issues. See elite classes and aristocracy Clingman, Jacob, 421 Clinton, George, 353 Clymer, George, 384 Cobbett, William, 439 Coercive Acts: Assembly Party’s response, 111 effect of, 107–8, 116, 123, 177 reactions to, 110–11, 126, 155 repealed, 202 A Summary View of the Rights of British America (Jefferson), 329 trade embargo, 120 colonies: Britain’s

moment, moreover, Boston’s nonimportation agreement sprang more leaks than a sieve. Merchants, whose first loyalty was to earning profits, had begun to traffic in merchandise from the mother country. Every businessman who broke the boycott was an example, and a temptation, to others who contemplated following suit. The danger was great that Boston’s embargo might come unraveled. The threat was very real, too, that if the protest fizzled after coming this far, it might never again be revived. The

as best they could what until now had turned out to be a relatively pleasant morning. As the Americans were seen approaching, the regulars were ordered to hastily assemble. The Americans were tense and excited as they advanced; the regulars were no less anxious. As the Americans moved forward, a shot rang out, this time unmistakably fired by a regular, either in panic or by accident in the confusion of racing to regroup with his company. When the gunshot was heard, other shots—as at

predicted that immediately upon independence the radicals would “embrace their darling democracy.” He dashed off a pamphlet urging that the executive serve for life and that a council of state, insulated from popular control, be established.76 Others questioned whether the people were sufficiently virtuous to be entrusted with governmental responsibilities. In Virginia, Lee and George Wythe, the most respected legal scholar in the province, labored to overcome the objections. Elsewhere, the

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