The declaration, written in mid-year, became historically significant, but much more happened in 1776 to shape America’s future
In a way, the colonies had experienced a slow political upswing since the Stamp Act of 1765. And with the Coercive Acts of 1774 came the turning point. Passions flared up and rebellion kindled. Thus historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer David McCullough begins “1776” by quoting General George Washington on January 14: “Few people know the predicament in which we find ourselves.”
In a far from boring prose that is far from boring, McCullough weaves the threads of the revolution’s foundation. It does not begin on American soil, but in England, where His Royal Majesty George III. insists that the subjugation of the colonists is necessary. McCullough emphasized the king’s position: “America must be brought to obedience.”
Lexington, Concord, and the Battle of Bunker Hill had taken place before 1776 began. The Continental Congress appointed George Washington Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army on June 19, 1775. By early 1776, therefore, the Patriots were fully involved in the conflict.
In order for the action described to be relevant, the book provides crucial background information on key players – Nathanael Greene, Benjamin Rush, John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson and so many more. The key figure is, of course, Washington. McCullough writes, “Washington’s great teacher was experience.” However, the man who would become the great military and then political leader had an air of humility that ironically enhanced his character. After being commissioned, Washington wrote to John Hancock, “I do not think I am up to the command with which I am honored.”
Readers find themselves near Boston, months before the momentous Declaration of Independence was drafted and signed in July, and hear the “first cheer from the American front lines” as the “lobster backs” were driven out, to “drums beating, flags waving.” “. In 1776, readers will savor these sprees of victory, but they will also endure the humiliation of New York’s campaign losses and the fear of risking “life… fortune… sacred honor” for a document that would officially found a nation.
(For a more complete experience, the 1776 supplement comes with the Illustrated Edition, featuring removable replicas of historical documents: letters, maps, battle plans, and more.)
“1776” by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster, 2005).
This article was originally published in American Essence Magazine.