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

Liveright. Sept. 2021. 320p. ISBN 9781631498985. $30. HIST
Ellis examines the American Revolution (known by American insurgents as “the Cause”) through the events, motives, participants, and consequences that have often been mythologized, minimized, or forgotten. He relates the history from often conflicting viewpoints on both the British and American sides and warns readers to study the circumstances of the imperfect humans involved before judging them from a 21st-century perspective. Ellis argues that nationhood was not the generally accepted goal of the Cause, contrary to modern misconceptions. Instead, the Colonies’ mistrust of a strong, centralized imperial British government both fueled and jeopardized independence, resulting in a deliberately weak coalition of 13 independently managed states that couldn’t effectively fund and execute the war or plan a fiscally or politically viable future. Ironically, Ellis argues, leaders of the Cause tried to maintain precarious national unity and win independence for white people by delaying freedom and equity for Black people, Indigenous peoples, and women. He concludes that the legacy of these strategies was antithetical to the Cause, the goals of which have yet to be fully realized.
VERDICT Ellis’s witty style and astute analysis make this essential reading for historians and enthusiasts at all levels who want to disentangle the complex historiography of the American Revolution.
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