1776: The Year Liberty Stood In The Balance

Today, we celebrate 1776, and more specifically the 4th of July as the birthday of American freedom, the day that the American colonists courageously stood up to the most powerful monarch on the planet and declared the independence of the thirteen British colonies on the Eastern seaboard of North America.

The truth of the matter is that, even on that hot Philadephia day in July, the future of freedom in America was far from secure. The American Revolution had barely started and, only ten months before King George III had vowed before Parliament that the colonies would remain in the British Empire, and had dispatched the world’s most powerful Navy and Army, backed up by some well-paid Hessians, to make sure that his will would be followed.

In 1776, David McCullough tells the story of that year and of a military campaign that, but for fortunate leadership and even more fortunate luck, could very easily have ended in disaster and snuffed the infant nation in it’s sleep.

The year started out well enough. The Continental Army, newly under the command of George Washington, had stood down the British in Boston and forced them to retreat from the city. That victory, though, came without a decisive battle and was merely a prelude to the confrontation that would come in New York.

For a time, New York was secure but that proved to be quickly short-lived when the British Army and Navy appear off the coast and quickly land on Long Island. What follows is a tale of what can only be called ineptness at times. The Americans were always outmanned and outgunned by the British but, on more than one occasion, the defeat they would suffer would be the result of bad decisions, even bad decisions by Washington himself.

In the end, Washington was forced to retreat. First out of New York, and then clear across New Jersey and the Delaware River. It was only thanks to an attack on Trenton that combined equal degrees of bravery and audacity that the Americans were able to end the year on a high note, even if the war itself didn’t end for another six years.

As with everything else McCullough has written, 1776 is both informative and enjoyable. Someone once said that history is a story, and McCullough does a great job of telling this one in a way that makes you want to keep reading on, even though we all know how the story ultimately ends. If nothing else, the book will make you appreciate just how brave the men who fought for American freedom were, and just how lucky we are they that they were successful.