A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic
It was an age of fascinating leaders and difficult choices, of grand ideas eloquently expressed and of epic conflicts bitterly fought. Now comes a brilliant portrait of the American Revolution, one that is compelling in its prose, fascinating in its details, and provocative in its fresh interpretations.
In A Leap in the Dark, John Ferling offers a magisterial new history that surges from the first rumblings of colonial protest to the volcanic election of 1800. Ferling's swift-moving narrative teems with fascinating details. We see Benjamin Franklin trying to decide if his loyalty was to Great Britain or to America, and we meet George Washington when he was a shrewd planter-businessman who discovered personal economic advantages to American independence. We encounter those who supported the war against Great Britain in 1776, but opposed independence because it was a "leap in the dark." Following the war, we hear talk in the North of secession from the United States. The author offers a gripping account of the most dramatic events of our history, showing just how closely fought were the struggle for independence, the adoption of the Constitution, and the later battle between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans. Yet, without slowing the flow of events, he has also produced a landmark study of leadership and ideas. Here is all the erratic brilliance of Hamilton and Jefferson battling to shape the new nation, and here too is the passion and political shrewdness of revolutionaries, such as Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry, and their Loyalist counterparts, Joseph Galloway and Thomas Hutchinson. Here as well are activists who are not so well known today, men like Abraham Yates, who battled for democratic change, and Theodore Sedgwick, who fought to preserve the political and social system of the colonial past. Ferling shows that throughout this period the epic political battles often resembled today's politics and the politicians--the founders--played a political hardball attendant with enmities, selfish motivations, and bitterness. The political stakes, this book demonstrates, were extraordinary: first to secure independence, then to determine the meaning of the American Revolution.
John Ferling has shown himself to be an insightful historian of our Revolution, and an unusually skillful writer. A Leap in the Dark is his masterpiece, work that provokes, enlightens, and entertains in full measure.
that the greater “public good and private rights” would be secured, while “at the same time … the spirit and the form of popular government” could be preserved. In the unlikely event that one narrow faction gained control of the House of Representatives, the only national branch whose members were directly elected, it was improbable that the same interest could also predominate both in the Senate, which represented states, and the executive branch, which was a national office filled by a vote of
Madison’s instincts. His friend not only had been the ally of the Northern nationalists and appeared to understand their thinking, but Madison was confident that securing a Potomac site for the permanent capital would be a windfall for Virginia. However, Jefferson was not led blindly by his friend. He worried that if assumption was rejected, “our credit … on the exchange at Amsterdam … will burst and vanish,” a disaster that would usher in “the greatest of all calamities, the total extinction of
but shortly thereafter the new year—1800, the presidential election year—dawned. Adams had returned from Quincy to the capital that fall harboring oppressive doubts about his chances of winning reelection. Not only had the war hysteria abated, but signs were abundant that the Federalists’ electoral magic was waning. In a recent election the party, for the first time, had lost control of the New Jersey legislature. In the North, once an unassailable bastion of Federalist strength, the Republicans
Jefferson. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1950–. SA Samuel Adams TJ Thomas Jefferson WJA Charles Francis Adams, ed. The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: With a Life of the Author. 10 vols. Boston: Little, Brown, 1850–56. WMQ William and Mary Quarterly WSA Harry Alonzo Cushing, ed. The Writings of Samuel Adams. 4 vols. New York, 1904–8. WTJ Paul Leicester Ford, ed. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. 10 vols. New York: Putnam, 1892–99. WW John
enforce its commercial policies. Numerous companies shut their doors. Some insolvent merchants were flung into debtors’ prisons. Cycles of boom and bust were hardly unknown to merchants, but what was so troubling in this instance was that many of the recent woes had resulted from decisions made by faceless officials in faraway England, ministers to whom the interests of the colonies appeared to be of secondary importance. Nor were merchants alone in facing desolation. Sailors, laborers, and many