I wrote a book report a few years ago on a book entitled “American Crisis”. I figured I’d share it here for giggles.
From the early days of elementary school, kids are often taught of the infallible George Washington. George Washington, the father of our country and the hero of the United States. Children are taught that he was a man who bravely fought to bring about justice and liberty for all future generations. There is even a story involving a cherry tree and never lying, too.
The mythos of Washington never seems to be able to find in it a failure or an inkling of doubt. This was a man born of great destiny, who rode forth with the power of God behind him. That is, until the end of the Revolutionary War in 1776. The stories of General Washington after the Revolutionary War are not necessarily well known; yet there is a startling wealth of knowledge to be found during the time period initially after the war for independence.
William M. Fowler Jr., author of American Crisis and several historical books, takes the reader into the year 1881. Lord Cornwallis surrendered to the Continental Congress, and the war should have been over. Yet there were soldiers who were unpaid, and New York and the oceans still belonged to the British. The war was far from over, and that is the main focus behind “American Crisis” – it details the very final aspects of the war, and how close the United States came to never being.
October 17, 1781 is a day that, like many others, will oft be misremembered in the halls of History. Most of history will remember this as the day that the United States won the Revolutionary War. That is not the case, however. The date has its own special sentiment for the United States of America. It is the day that Lord Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington.
“To His Excellency General Washington. Sir, I propose a cessation of hostilities for twenty-four hours, and that two officers may be appointed by each side, to meet at Mr. Moore’s house, to settle terms for the surrender of the posts at York and Gloucester.” (Riley, St. George Tucker’s Journal of the Siege of Yorktown, 1781, 1948)
This was a turning point in the war, but Washington knew that it was not the end. In the days of the Revolution, communication was slow, and time was ever of the essence. A glimpse into Washington’s own personality can be reviewed in his brusque reply to Cornwallis’ plea. “Sir, I have received your Favor of this Morning. Regard to humanity induces me to agree to a suspension of hostilities for two hours that your Lordship may propose the Terms on which you choose to surrender.” (Riley, St. George Tucker’s Journal of the Siege of Yorktown, 1781, 1948) Reducing the cease-fire from twenty four hours down to two did a number of things for Washington. First and foremost, it showed that he understood that he had superiority in negotiations. Secondly, with only two hours, there would be little time to try and negotiate for more than a full and complete surrender.
“The meeting lasted more than eight long and unpleasant hours.” (Riley, Yorktown During the Revolution, 19419) Though Washington had set his goal on two hours, the entire process, (including denying the enemy any honors of war) (Fowler, 2011)took less than a third of the amount of time Cornwallis wanted it to take.
The real turning point here in the story, however, is that immediately after dispatching an aide to inform the Continental Congress that Lord Cornwallis had surrendered, Washington sent his troops back to the Hudson. “By November 3 most of the American army, aside from two brigades sent south to join General Nathanael Greene, had been ordered north to resume their encampment along the Hudson. Cornwallis left on November 4 for New York City, and thence home to England.” (Washington) Tail between his legs, Lord Cornwallis returned to English territory, and then set his sights on home.
The War Effort prior to this point was not going as well as many would have preferred it to. In 1777, just a year into the war, the Continental Congress was faced with a huge problem. “They could not dodge the very real problem of stopping the hemorrhaging of officers (Fowler, 2011) There was a committee that met with Washington in late November and Early December. While he publicly supported most of their recommendations, he didn’t support all of them. “Washington came around and gave the measure his public support with the exception of selling commissions – on that point he was silent.” (Observation on the Present State of Affairs, 1783)
Several of the committee’s measures were dropped down to lesser options with weaker enticements. Once again, Washington’s character and his very different attitude in comparison to that of his political counterparts showed through. “While the members of Congress thought that their actions were necessary and generous, the commander in chief suggested otherwise.” (Fowler, 2011) Washington had a meeting with the then-President of the Congress, Samuel Huntington, and flatly informed him that, “at a moment when officers were held by the feeblest ties and were mouldering away by dayly resignations, Congress was doing too little.” (Madison, 1783)
A merchant from Philadelphia named Pelatiah Webster was a proponent of taxing the public in order to further aid Washington in retaining officers and in general paying for the war. Webster “abhorred borrowing from abroad.” (Webster, A Fourth Essay on Free Trade and Finance, 1780) His answer was simple, “what we can raise among ourselves is all that we can pay, and we cannot attempt expenditures beyond this without bankruptcy”. (Webster, A Fourth Essay on Free Trade and Finance, 1780) – or better put, the country would have to live within its means or certainly fail.
In order to do this, Webster suggested a series of taxes on a number of things, such as: “Domestic spirits, whiskey and rum, and imported luxury goods including wine, sugar, tea, and coffee.” (Webster, Sixth Essay on Free Trade and Finance, 1783) The American Tea Party (a subset of the Republican Party) espouses many of the beliefs proposed by Webster, insofar as living within the country’s means. However, at the same time, the person who pushed for that to happen within the US is also the person who was in favor of raising taxes.
The real crux of that came a few days later. The Congress had agreed to half pay for soldiers even after they’d left the army. (Moriss) All of this leads, in many parts, to the final culmination of the war for the soul of our country. Now that our men were being paid and given reason to stay in the fight, it was only a short while later that George Washington was able to quell his troops and bring the United States into order.
The author, William Fowler, delved into a myriad of first and second hand sources, (and more than a few third hand sources) to back up some of his claims. The areas where first-hand accounts of situations are used are phenomenal; the detail and breadth of the document is steeped rich in history. His reliance on other authors to prove certain points, (such as the conspiracy of Newburgh, for example) left something to be desired. However, the document trail was exhaustively noted and peppered throughout the entire book, giving a thorough feeling of authenticity from beginning to end.
In regards to the America that almost wasn’t, it is easy to see through the author’s careful documentation of the struggle that Washington faced that his diplomacy and strength of character were significantly important in defining the country that is known as “The United States of America”. The title, “Father of Our Country” is firmly and squarely rested on Washington for all time.
Observation on the Present State of Affairs. (1783, January). PRM, p. 306.
Fowler, W. M. ( 2011). American Crisis. New York: Walker Publishing Company.
Madison, J. (1783, January 24). Madison’s Notes.
Moriss. (n.d.). Moriss Diary.
Puls, M. (2008). Henry Knox: Visionary General fo the American Revolution. New York: Palgrave.
Riley, E. M. (19419, July). Yorktown During the Revolution. Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, p. 283.
Riley, E. M. (1948). St. George Tucker’s Journal of the Siege of Yorktown, 1781. William and Mary Quarterly, 390-391.
Washington, G. (n.d.). George Washington’s Diary.
Webster. (1780). A Fourth Essay on Free Trade and Finance. Philadelphia: Hall and Sellers.
Webster. (1783). Sixth Essay on Free Trade and Finance. Philadelphia: T Bradford.