The Men Who Lost America by Andrew Jackson O'Shaughnessy delves into the British side in the American Revolution. O'Shaughnessy is a historian and a member of the Royal Historical Society. The book examines ten men who were instrumentally important to the British war and political effort. The work is broken into parts, and each part examines a different man.
The most notable person covered is King George III, whose short biography highlighting the American Revolutionary War years is outstanding. Other subjects include Lord North, George Germain and William Howe, to name just a few.
I believe that this is an important book for anyone, but particularly for Americans who are interested in the American Revolutionary Period. I note its importance to readers on my side of the Atlantic because, after a lifetime of reading about this subject, I can attest to the fact that finding works from the British point of view is difficult.
The books by American historians that mainly focus upon the American perspective have not demonized the British or their leaders. However, these works are often critical of British leadership in ways that seem to exhibit a bias. English military and political leadership is sometimes portrayed as semi-competent and as mediocre leaders. Their errors and foibles are emphasized while their strengths and virtues are downplayed. Reading this book has helped to highlight this bias for me.
O'Shaughnessy makes another interesting contention. That is, even British historians, at least until recently, have also exhibited an unfair bias against British leadership. The author writes,
"The British commanders and politicians were discredited not least because their enemies triumphed and their opponents wrote the histories. This was equally true in Britain, where the view that America was lost by incompetent leadership began during the war and became the popular orthodoxy in the immediate aftermath. When in 1792 one of the earliest British consuls to the United States met President George Washington, he reported home that Washington was “a great man . . . but I cannot help thinking, that the misconduct of our commanders has given him the principle part of that greatness.” Until well into the twentieth century, British historians portrayed George III and Lord North as enemies of progress who secretly conspired to introduce an unconstitutional despotic form of government in both Britain and America."
In contrast to many other accounts that I have read, this book portrays many of these men as being both competent and honorable. They are also to a great extent, portrayed as intelligent people who understood both balanced government and liberty. Several of them believed that defending the British system of balanced government, which was a system that did protect many individual freedoms, was the best way to promote liberty.
"The men who lost America were not opponents of liberty and representative government. Far from conspiring to establish tyranny in America, they regarded themselves as defending liberty and the rule of law that they believed could be safeguarded only by upholding the supreme authority of Parliament"
He goes on to say,
"The British politicians and commanders were not ignorant bigots. They were conversant with the Enlightenment emphasis on rational thought in an era that prided itself on being an “Age of Enlightenment.” "
I must add, however, that the men described in this book were all complex and had different beliefs, philosophies and experiences. Thus, it is difficult to generalize too much about them.
This work also provides valuable insights into the inner workings of the British government of the time. It delves into both the intricacies of the British Cabinet as well as Parliament. Furthermore, as the American Revolution turned into a global conflict with the entrance of France, Spain and the Netherlands into the war, the author highlights political, military and social activity that occurred in such diverse locations as the Caribbean, Central America, The Mediterranean, India and more. This is also a subject where information is scarce on this side of the Atlantic.
This is an extremely enlightening and enjoyable history. For many people who have read mostly American accounts of the conflict, it will be especially insightful. It has whetted my appetite to read more about this side of the Revolution from non-American perspectives. This book is highly recommended for anyone interested in the American Revolution or in this period of history.