In 1774 American independence was hardly inevitable—indeed, most Americans found it neither desirable nor likely. When delegates from the thirteen colonies gathered in September 1774, they were, in the words of John Adams, “a gathering of strangers.” With their differing interests and cultural perspectives, perhaps the only thing that bound them together was their common identity as subjects of the British Crown. But as they confronted the array of political, diplomatic, and military challenges facing them during the twenty-two months before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, they gradually shed both their provincial and their British identities and became leaders of an American cause. With narrative verve and deep historical understanding, Richard R. Beeman tells the remarkable story of how the delegates to the Continental Congress, through courage and compromise, came to dedicate their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to the forging of American independence.
In this comprehensive account, Beeman examines the American colonists transition from loyal subjects of the British Crown in 1774 to the radical rebels of 1776. The University of Pennsylvania history professor argues that the journey along the revolutionary path was a slow one, and freedom was never the guaranteed endpoint. His take on the matter is full of fascinating details, like the Sons of Liberty footing the bill for a pack of tailors to dress up the notoriously scruffy Samuel Adams for the First Continental Congress, as well as Patrick Henry s metamorphosis from failed merchant to lawyer to the Virginian son of thunder. Beeman also profiles lesser known figures like Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress, who burned all of his secret notes on the revolution in order to preserve the myth of the supposed wisdom and valor of America s foremost liberators. But fascinating particulars aside, the narrative contains little new analysis Beeman s Founding Fathers are the familiar ones. It s clear that the National Book Award finalist (for Patrick Henry) knows his stuff, but unnecessarily stodgy prose ( there was no shortage of places in which they could find opportunities for the convivial consumption of alcohol ) will likely deter casual readers. Illus.