History, as the cliché goes, is written by the victors. Nowhere is this more evident than in the mythology of the American Revolution. The men who orchestrated America’s revolt against England have earned an almost religious reverence in the history books (the very act of calling them collectively the Founding Fathers has a certain Divine righteousness to it). But with all great mythology, the heroes must have their adversaries. And those adversaries are bound by the laws of myth to serve as dark mirrors to the heroes, taking in all of the virtues assigned to the victors and reflecting back the vices against which the heroes fight.
Accepted history and truth, however, are not always the same thing. In Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy’s The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the Empire, we are reintroduced to the villains of the Revolutionary War. What we learn is that far from being the corrupt, inept, and tyrannical men the history books have presented to us, these men were capable, honorable, and often hamstrung by a host of geopolitical, economic, and sociological constraints that made negotiation with the Colonies impossible and dragged on the war far longer than anyone had wanted.
Much of O’Shaughnessy’s book rests on the key point that the origins of revolution did not have their seeds in hatred for King George III, but rather distrust of the British Parliament and the feeling that Parliament did not take the needs of the colonies into consideration. Indeed, early in the war, men on both sides claimed they were fighting for the preservation of both the King and the Empire. It was only as the war dragged on and it became apparent that King George would not (in truth, could not) scale back the excesses of Parliamentary power that the king became viewed as a tyrant and full succession from the British Empire became the only option for the Colonies.
The author does a brilliant job of presenting the profiles of the key British figures of the war and how a host of outside influences undermined their ability to adequately wage war or negotiate for peace. Drawing from a wealth of personal letters, journals, biographies, and news reports of the period, O’Shaughnessy shines a light into the thoughts and hearts of these individuals who were at various times during the conflict more respected in the Colonies than in their own homeland.
The Men Who Lost America is a valuable addition to our understanding of the Revolutionary War and how it shaped both American and British history.
Reviewer’s Note: I was given an Advance Reader Copy for review.
Reviewer’s Note: This title will not be released until June 2013. Review is based on an Advanced Review Copy.