Robert Middlekauff’s tome, The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution 1763 – 1789, is a worthy overview of the Revolutionary-War era. It picks up in the heady days immediately after the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years War), when a cash-strapped Britain decided it needed some additional revenue to pay off debt accumulated during the late war. It ends with the Constitutional Convention, in 1787, and the ratification of the new Constitution shortly afterwards.
This book is part of the esteemed Oxford History of the United States series, and it lives up to its billing. Each volume is written by a distinguished, responsible historian at the height of his powers. Middlekauff takes the reader into the halls of Parliament and into the homes of colonists in New England, the middle colonies, and the South.
- The political context is very well framed, and any American who still thinks of the Revolutionary War in cartoonish shades of black and white will be set right, if he reads this book. I appreciate the pains Middlekauff took to frame the political and cultural context on both sides of the Atlantic. This is the best part of the book.
- The military aspect is rushed, but adequate. The reader won’t get any meaningful, comprehensive sense of how the war went. Middlekauff discussed Lexington and Concord, vaulted to Boston, skimmed the disastrous retreat from Long Island, across to New Jersey and thence to the fateful night in Trenton in perhaps 15 pages. From there, we get a smattering of discussion about the war in the South, and a lively (but brief) discussion of the siege at Yorktown. Anybody looking for a comprehensive overview of the military aspect of the Revolution will be disappointed. But, remember, this is a survey work. However, Middlekauff does offer some insightful analysis of the logistical problems (on both sides), and a lengthy discussion on “why they fought.”
- The time-period leading up to the Constitutional Convention is merely sketched, and the reader finds himself in Philadelphia without quite realizing how he got there! Middlekauff’s discussion about how the Constitution was drafted, and the accompanying arguments and controversies, is very well done, and I appreciated it.
Overall, in about 690 pages of text, Middlekauff managed to take us from the French and Indian War to the Constitutional Convention – and he managed to be substantive, deep, insightful and engaging. That’s not an easy thing to do! I appreciated the book, and liked it a lot. This is the best one-volume survey of the era I’ve read. I doubt I’ll find anything to top it.
I’ve done a fair amount of reading on the Revolutionary War-era. I’m not a professional historian, but I believe I’m more well-read than most on this topic. Here are few good books on various aspects of the Revolutionary War-era to supplement Middlekauff’s work:
- Washington’s Crossing by David H. Fischer. A masterful work on the military angle, from New York to Trenton. It contains some excellent discussions about the British and Continental Armies.
- The Stamp Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution by Edmund S. Morgan. A classic work by a world-class historian. This book’s topic, the Stamp Act Crisis, serves as a foil to introduce the entire deteriorating relationship between the colonies and Britain in the era leading up to the war.
- Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence by John Ferling. A one-volume survey (693 pages) on the military aspect of the war. Masterful, engaging, exciting.
- The Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas by John Buchanan. Nobody talks about the Southern theater of operations. This book will set you straight.
- Independence: The Struggle to Set America Free by John Ferling. A purely political history of the Revolution. Very good. Eye-opening.