American Spring by Walter R. Borneman, review by Carl Caton
Last year, in Joseph Ellis’ Revolutionary Summer, we were given the story, briefly, of the difficult and potentially disastrous early months of the American revolutionary war following the Declaration of Independence. Now, Walter R. Borneman has told us the story of what led to those tenuous months. In American Spring, a title aptly tying in to today's ’vents in the Middle East, Borneman lays out first the basic outlines of the American colonies’ growing disaffection for the mother country.
As we learned (but promptly forgot) from junior high history, England’s eventual victory in the Seven Years’ War with France (what is called on this side of the Atlantic the French and Indian War) was geographically rewarding but financially ruinous. Saddled with new territories (including Quebec and much of what is now the American Great Lakes region) and drowning in debt from the war, England gradually looked to its American colonies to help pay for the war. With a series of laws which came to be known in the Colonies as the Intolerable Acts, Parliament and King George III, refusing to allow the colonies representation in Parliament and a say in their own taxation, drove the colonies to rebellion. That, anyway, is the American version. The Brits tend to look upon the revolution as sour grapes by the American subjects who didn’t want to pony up their fair share of the national debt.
After summarizing this prelude, Borneman gets into the meat of his story with the events of the famous battle of Lexington and Concord in April 1775. Contrary to the standard American version of British aggression and arrogance in attempting to secure the King’s arms stockpiled in rural Massachusetts outside Boston, Borneman presents a well-researched and supported version that it may well have been the colonials who fired the first shot (the shot heard `round the world), not the Redcoats. Tracing the events of the battle, Borneman shows us that the course of the battle was marked by confusion, error, fatigue, and fear on both sides. However the battle was joined, Lexington and Concord marked a point of no return for the colonies, a year before the Second Continental Congress declared independence for the colonies. Borneman then follows up with a clear and engaging account of the subsequent Battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775.
While Borneman provides almost minute by minute accounts of these battles, he also gives us the subtext of what was going on at the same time in the colonial assemblies and Second Continental Congress, as well as in the minds of King George and his military commanders in America, most of whom were hoping for, and conducting themselves in ways to promote, reconciliation between the rebels and the King’s government.
Borneman’s account gives us a wealth of insights into American figures such as Ethan Allen, Benedict Arnold, Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and others. It turns out that what we learned in junior high was, as they say, based on a true story. It was hardly the whole story, tough, and Borneman helps fill in what we were not told.
American Spring will be enjoyed by readers with an interest not only in how, but why, the American Revolution came about.