cover image The Cause: The American Revolution and Its Discontents, 1773–1783

The Cause: The American Revolution and Its Discontents, 1773–1783

Joseph J. Ellis. Liveright, $30 (320p) ISBN 978-1-63149-898-5

The colonists didn’t describe their war for independence as the American Revolution, Pulitzer winner Ellis (American Dialogue) points out in the preface to this richly detailed, multivoiced history. The term they used was “The Cause”—“a conveniently ambiguous label that provided a verbal canopy under which a diverse variety of political and regional persuasions could coexist.” Ellis skillfully charts those divergent interests as they coalesced in the 1770s to oppose the British parliament’s “new imperial policy” toward the colonies and details early military clashes in the North, struggles to secure funding for the Continental Army, and the decisive victory at Yorktown in October 1781. Peace negotiations in Paris “expanded to include the addition of a western domain with all the ingredients of a looming American empire” while the former colonists’ resistance to “any form of consolidated power” became an enduring point of political tension. Ellis credits the deferral of democratic reforms by “prudent revolutionaries” such as John Adams and George Washington with helping the American Revolution to succeed where the French Revolution failed, but forcefully argues that ending slavery should have been the exception to the rule. Profiles of lesser-known figures including Continental Army soldier Joseph Plumb Martin and Mohawk chief Joseph Brant add depth and nuance to a familiar story. This expert account highlights the “improvisational” nature of America’s founding. (Sept.)