Book Review: The War Of Independence
As a Revolutionary War fanatic, I decided to do my book review over John Fiske’s The War of Independence (1889). The book did not disappoint as Fiske takes the reader through a roller coaster of events that was the Revolutionary War. Before we dig into the book, I believe it is relevant to appreciate the author and historian who wrote it. Born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1842, Edmund Fiske Green was born into a family of political journalist according to a biography by anb.org. After graduating from Harvard in 1863, Fiske began to author books about historical events that took place within just a century of the young authors life. He offers a primary perspective unmatched by todays historical authors. In The War of Independence Fiske takes a dive into areas of the war that are frequently looked over.
Fiske spends the majority of the first part of the book with what lead up to the Revolution, as we discussed in class the British enacted and enforced multiple unfair taxes and rules. It was surprising to learn about the British politicians who were often responsible for implementing these unfair taxes and rules for personal benefit. The book describes how each colony reacted to the unfair taxes and rules differently, with some colonies wanting to remain in the good grace of the crown while other colonies started to become a lot more revolutionary than the other colonies. “Between the people of the two colonies there was not much real sympathy, because their ways of life and their opinions about things; and people, unless they are unusual wise and generous of nature, are apt to dislike and despise those who differ from them in opinions and habits.” (Page 24) The colonist were divided in some areas but a revolution was inevitable. The book reinforced what we had discussed in class about the unrest of some colonist to the point where they formed secret groups such as the Sons of Liberty and Colonial Mobs to fight the unfair British taxation. If not all the colonies, some of them would have eventually revolted but not near as successfully as if the colonies were united. Fiske writes about the feeling and emotions of colonist during this time period and ultimately why they felt a rebellion was the solution.
The book only briefly discusses the militaristic battles that took place because the author is focusing his attention on the pre-cursors and source of the war. After all I believe there are already millions of books about the battles, so it personally didn’t affect me. One thing Fiske does mention about the military throughout the book is his appreciation for George Washington, he even goes on to say the Revolution would have failed without him. But Fiske successfully keeps the reader entertained by refusing to go through each battle but instead focuses on the reason behind those battles. As the taxation became unbearable some colonist took matters into their own hands in what Fiske calls a “reply to the king’s insulting trick.” (Page 82) The insulting trick was put into action by disguising their taxes in the form of tea. Instead of making them pay taxes they would just tax the things they love the most Fiske argues. This political trick resulted in one of the most famous sabotage operations in world history The Boston Tea Party. After the tea was dumped into the harbor and the king realized his plan had backfired, he passed more oppressive legislation. One being the Port Bill which immediately shut down the port of Boston. Fiske believes the king was attempting to cut off trade and force the colonist to purchase the taxed British goods. This only fueled the revolutionary fire among colonist. Fiske writes “The king’s authority was everywhere quietly but doggedly defied.” (Page 84) Soon colonist would realize this is not how they want their country to be governed and that something had to be done.
After the formation of the continental congress and several skirmishes it was apparent this country needed to be unified and independent. On June 7, 1776 a plan was proposed to the continental congress calling for independence. On July 2 it was approved and two days later the final draft was complete. The Declaration of Independence was signed and as Fiske says “The Rubicon was crossed, and the thirteen English colonies had become the United States of America” (Page 103) One thing that was interesting to learn from the reading was that while the Declaration was being drafted in Philadelphia the British Fleet was on the front door step of Charleston, South Carolina. Fiske then writes about the several major battles that took place that we also discussed in class such as the Battle of Saratoga and Valley Forge. Soon it was apparent that America would need some aid and France took interest and sent over money and arms. The French still were not ready to make a permanent alliance due to the fear of offending the British. Fiske believes the French had to keep up their appearance to please the crown “The king did not wish to offend Great Britain prematurely.” (Page 123) Once fighting concluded American representatives would return to France to sign the Treaty of Paris in 1783. This would ultimately end the fighting and give this new born country some time to grow.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone that is interested as I am about the Revolutionary War. Fiske really plays out the events in an easy to follow, entertaining way. Particularly with this book being over 100 years old it still offers the essential introductory information that allows one to see the Revolution from a whole new perspective. By effectively describing the causes of the events rather than just the events themselves, Fiske allows the reader to look into a colonial’s mind and way of thinking during this era. I have already recommended this book to a few co-workers and friends in the hope that they can see the revolution was about a lot more than just escaping our big brothers shadow and unfair treatment. It was about the inevitable dream to have a land governed by the people, for the people and made to protect the people.