Remember "1776"

10:39 AM

In 1976, the year of the Bicentennial, I was but six years old. I remember vaguely the patriotic observance, the parades, the Red, White, and Blue. Through my youth, my parents led us through the National Parks, learning of our nation's history. My education dutifully included study of our history and government, especially in high school, as well as selected readings, like The Federalist Papers in the university. Nonetheless, I have neglected serious study of the history of the American Revolution, preferring the popular films and occasional documentary. Thus, it was overdue that I dedicate some hours to David McCullough's simply titled 1776.

Like much of history, where the final outcome remains fixed with certainty, an historian may take a slice of the history, otherwise well-known, and tease out tension, not regarded in the dominant narrative. McCullough does this exceptionally in recounting the doubts and darkness that consumed the American campaign from the end of August to the final week of December in 1776. The nascent Independence declared in Philadelphia on July 4 could have slipped away amid the difficulties of this period.

While my academic training makes me suspicious of efforts to describe the inner workings of another's mind, except for what they might say and, more importantly, what they do, McCullough marshals an array of sources from more than 25 libraries and archives. His writing is unencumbered with copious footnotes, but the citations are at the end of the book.
David McCullough (Wikipedia)
McCullough, educated at Yale, a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, is widely regarded as America's finest living historian. However, history is always told from a point of view. In 1776, the point of view is that of George Washington and his closest confidants, as well as occasionally from the vantage of the Continental Congress or the British generals. Rarely, McCullough shares the voice of a lower officer or a soldier, preserved in their letters or diary. McCullough imagines vividly the battlefields in now urban areas of Boston, New York, and Trenton. I trust the storyteller, but I know that the writing of the Declaration of Independence is largely omitted, and the hardship of the common soldier is recounted only from the perspective of the general from his quarters or astride a horse. The legacy of slavery, the cultural difference of North and South, are scarcely concerns in 1776. I say this less as a criticism and more as an invitation to read other works as well, like Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States.

In 1776, David McCullough has written an engaging narrative of a slice of American history to tell an important tale in the campaign for American Independence. His tale illustrates anew how fragile the effort was, but how strong and persevering were those who endured to its end. Their struggle, their efforts merits our profound thanksgiving and commitment to greater pursue and live ideals spelled forth in the preamble:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

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