A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic
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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.
that Vergennes found him to be pliable, and therefore quite useful. Franklin was aided too by the letters to Congress sent by Adams, who throughout 1778 had unfailingly portrayed his colleague as honest and the best man to represent America at Versailles.14 The post of peace commissioner, an official whom the committee of thirteen hoped would also be vested with authority to seek to negotiate a postwar commercial accord with Great Britain, had to be filled as well. The middle states backed John
that the greater “public good and private rights” would be secured, while “at the same time … the spirit and the form of popular government” could be preserved. In the unlikely event that one narrow faction gained control of the House of Representatives, the only national branch whose members were directly elected, it was improbable that the same interest could also predominate both in the Senate, which represented states, and the executive branch, which was a national office filled by a vote of
Greene, Understanding the American Revolution, 52, 54. The quotation is on 49–50. 10. Carl Degler, Out of Our Past: The Forces That Shaped Modern America (New York, 1959), 49–50, 67–70. 11. Jack P. Greene, “An Uneasy Connection: An Analysis of the Preconditions of the American Revolution,” in Kurtz and Hutson, eds., Essays on the American Revolution, 53–62. 12. Bernard to Lord Barrington, Nov. 23, 1765, in Edward Channing and Archibald Cary Coolidge, eds., The Barrington-Bernard
punch that was spectacularly successful. Joseph Galloway. Engraving (detail) by Max Rosenthal after anonymous artist. Their Assembly Party captured control of the legislature in 1757 and for the next seven years never faced a serious challenge. However, in 1764 an opposition faction that called itself the New Ticket—and was variously labeled the Presbyterian, or Proprietary, Party by its foes—emerged to fight against royalization. Diversity characterized this faction. There were proprietary
how the Anglo-American upheaval was beginning to break down the hierarchical barriers of the old order. Most who supported the rebellion welcomed this change. Indeed, most were anxious to kick down doors that had been barred in order to prevent their ascent and to open doors to the meritorious. However, those who sought independence were a diverse lot. While all were ready to escape London’s political yoke, the more conservative activists envisioned an independent America that bore a striking