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Independence: The Struggle to Set America Free (original 2011; edition 2012)

by John Ferling

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1421384,396 (4.38)9
Member:jmcclain19
Title:Independence: The Struggle to Set America Free
Authors:John Ferling
Info:Bloomsbury Press (2012), Edition: 1, Paperback, 448 pages
Collections:Your library, Kindle
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Tags:Non-fiction, American history, us history, independence, revolutionary war, revolution

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Independence: The Struggle to Set America Free by John Ferling (2011)

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Independence: The Struggle to Set America Free, by John Ferling, is another recent history that revisits and refocuses our attention on the seminal events of the founding of the Republic, this one centering upon the confluence of people and events that led to a tenuous union of American colonies declaring its independence from Britain. Ferling, a noted scholar of early American history who is the author of a long list of titles directed at academic as well as popular audiences, succeeds remarkably well here.
While little new ground is covered, Ferling’s achievement is to assemble all of the various threads of the latest scholarship into an engaging narrative that manages to bring fresh nuance to various aspects of the ideological struggle for and against independence, both in the Americas and in the mother country, where George III, his ministers and Parliament manage to demonstrate that the colonies are theirs to lose by misstep – and then actually make all of those missteps and lose them! I knew a great deal of this story from Don Cook’s masterful The Long Fuse: How England Lost the American Colonies 1760-1785 and other sources, but again it is refreshing to observe Ferling speaking from the latest historiography which tends to view the conflict simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic, rather than the traditional approach which is all about the “Founders” and how they alone forged a divorce that was universally welcomed by all of the colonists and bitterly contested by all of the Brits, something that not only is an oversimplification but is also patently incorrect in many particulars. In Ferling’s coverage, there is the subtly unstated hint (that other authors emphasize more loudly) that the British Parliament’s intransigence in its refusal to show weakness in the face of resistance is often echoed by contemporary American foreign policy, with similar disastrous results. As in the latter, the eighteenth century MP’s seemed dully aware that every step they took carried them closer to a doomed outcome, yet they proceeded in step, not unlike a carefully formed regiment marching in cadence towards an entrenched machine gun nest. In Independence, Ferling resurrects a story that I think most Americans are largely unaware of.
While most of the material on the colonial side is more familiar, I did run across some new bits that piqued my curiosity. Ferling, a biographer of John Adams, details how a canny Sam Adams maneuvers and manipulates his more conventional cousin to eventually take the leading role in the Continental Congress that champions and finally wins independence. (In return, John teaches the urban squire Sam how to ride a horse!) I knew little about Sam Adams, a kind of squirrelly historical figure, and his relationship with his more notable relative, and Ferling succeeds in outlining how the two Adams’ played off each other’s strengths and weaknesses to achieve their common purpose – separation for the colonies. Ferling also spends more time here on other leading characters from the drama -- such as Richard Henry Lee and Joseph Galloway -- that many other treatments tend to minimize or entirely overlook.
Another arena Ferling treats is the complicated results of the near cataclysm in Benedict Arnold’s failed invasion of Canada. It turns out that this disaster, counter-intuitively to my mind, encouraged rather than discouraged the more radical bloc in Congress in their vociferous efforts to defeat the more moderate “reconciliationists,” led by John Dickenson, largely because this calamitous rout underscored to both sides the need to aggressively seek foreign assistance in order to stay in the game on the military side. Of course, the eventual success that brought the war to a close many years hence at Yorktown could not have been achieved without French intervention.
I was also struck by the debate over calling for the ban of the African slave trade. Jefferson, ever ambivalent about the peculiar institution, does write a passage in the Declaration – excised from the draft by other more circumspect legislators – that vehemently condemns George III for profiting on the evils of the slave trade. But while Jefferson may have been genuinely offended by the practice, other less moralistic Virginia planters called for the abolition of the slave trade primarily because they had a surplus of slave property they hoped to retail at higher prices to the lower South, where the market showed by a scarcity and a growing demand.
I have read Ferling before and while I have enjoyed his material, in general I tend to find his writing less compelling than a David McCullough or a Joseph Ellis. While that still may be true to some degree, Ferling’s style has improved over time and in Independence his narrative is much less stilted and far more engaging than in previous works. I would urge those who are interested in a single volume that explores the forces that led to the Declaration of Independence to read Ferling’s finely crafted book. ( )
1 vote Garp83 | Jun 8, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
John Ferling is extremely knowledgeable concerning the American War of Independence and has written several good books about it. This is another in that line. Here he covers the period between the Boston Tea Party and the Declaration of Independence describing for the reader the events on both sides of the Atlantic that eventually leads to July 2, 1776. Ferling provides an interesting and readable account of a period that is often glossed over in accounts of the Revolution.

I received this book as a part of the LT Early Reader program.
1 vote sgtbigg | Feb 4, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
One would think that there's little new to be written about the American Revolution, and in some sense that's true. But the complexity of the events, personal relationships, and political machinations that led up to the Declaration of Independence continue to--and perhaps always will--provide fertile ground for historical analysis and re-examination.

And it's always profitable to study history in this way--both to understand the events themselves and to see what light they throw on our own times.

Ferling has taken as his task to provide the story of the 40+ months of colonial/revolutionary history that leads up to the Declaration of Independence in 1776, with a particular focus on all of the "turning points" where things which now, in the hindsight sharpened by more than 200 years of historiography (and mythologizing), seem inevitable.

In the course of this narrative, we come to understand that the Revolution itself, and nearly every turning point in the process that led up to independence itself was a near-run thing, and that it was often a confluence of events--and some singularly bad decision-making in England--that pushed the American states toward independence, even though for a good part of the time, not that many of the colonists wanted to break with the mother country.

I'd recommend this book for anyone interested in American history--and really anyone at all. ( )
  cornerhouse | Feb 20, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received this book in hardcover from LT Early Reviewers.

As an amateur photographer, one of the most challenging things to do is take an interesting photograph of a famous place. When something has been photographed thousands of times over, it becomes incredibly difficult to produce something novel.

Ferling's book faced the same challenge. A market of revolutionary-era history and biography from Isaacson, McCullough, Ellis, and so many dozens of others has flooded the market in the last ten years.

In a genre swamped with narrative histories and biographies, Ferling's route to originality was to turn an idea into a character.

Through a progressive series of short biographical discussions of the main players in the process of independence from its first whisperings to its final passage by the Continental Congress, Ferling does not attempt complete biographies or to provide the exhaustive story of the revolution.

Keeping the subject narrow and focused produced a work that was truly a joy to read. It provided specific insights into many major and ancillary players from the revolutionary period, as well as into the military and political history of the period, but only and always in a fascinating and engaging exploration of the way an idea grows and develops.

This reminded me of McCullough's "1776" not in its style or content, but in its specific and direct scope.

Very nicely rendered. ( )
  linedog1848 | Feb 9, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Going into this book, I figured it was yet another one retelling the story of the American Revolution - something much like John Ferling's other excellent books. But as befitting someone of Ferling's reputation, this one takes an entirely new look at how we got into the war. This is a story of the reluctance of the initial patriots to divorce themselves from their mother country. And how a few key revolutionaries changed the way people thought about what would become the United States. A very refreshing new perspective on an oft-told story.
  McHenryLibrary | Jan 8, 2012 |
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A brilliantly rendered narrative of the epochal struggle in Congress that culminated in American independence. John Ferling takes listeners from the cobblestones of Philadelphia into the halls of Parliament, where many sympathized with the Americans and furious debate erupted over how to deal with the rebellion.… (more)

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