Study Questions

Joseph J. Ellis, Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence

Preface: Many books have been written about the American Revolution. According to the author, how does this book approach the subject differently than previous works? What two things does the author want readers to keep in mind?

1. In 1775 and early 1776, why were the military and political sides of the Revolution not aligned on independence? Who were the moderates on each side, and how did they propose to solve the conflict? How did George III and Thomas Paine convince Americans of the need for independence? What made John Adams a "conservative revolutionary," or "responsible revolutionary"? How did he plot the course for declaring independence? The argument that governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed illuminated the lack of rights of which groups?

2. What advantages and disadvantages did George Washington enjoy as general of the American forces? What sort of army was under his command? What were the assets and liabilities of the Continental Army? Identify Lord George Germain and explain his plan for putting down the rebellion. Whom did he pick to lead British forces? Why and how did Washington decide to defend New York, and what challenges did he face?

3. What were the results of Congress's call for a referendum on independence? How did Thomas Jefferson end up with the job of writing the Declaration of Independence? How could he write it so quickly? What changes did the committee and Congress make? What was truly revolutionary in its text? What occurred in New York on the very day that the drafting committee presented Congress with the Declaration?

4. Where did British soldier disembark? How did Washington's army hear about the Declaration? What did Washington know of British plans and how did he react to them? Why did the Howe brothers send letters to Washington and Franklin and what was the response to the letters? What was the state of Washington's troops?

5. What explains Congress's optimism, despite Washington's dire situation? What three divisive issues faced Congress in proposing a national government, and how were they resolved? What enduring diplomatic principles did the Plan of Treaties describe? What were Jefferson's concerns at this time? What were Adams's duties and concerns? What were Franklin's contributions?

6. How did the delay in the British attack help Washington's situation? What was William Howe's strategy? How did the British find and exploit a weakness in Washington's defense? How did the British attack on Long Island affect the American position and morale? Washington wanted to fight, so why did he agree to evacuate? Describe why the American withdrawal to Manhattan was so successful, and why the British were astonished. How did Congress react to the defeat? What did Howe propose to the three delegates from Congress, and how did they respond?

7. What was morale like in American and British ranks after the battle? What were Washington's options regarding Manhattan and what strategy did he finally settle on? How did Congress react to problems in the army, and why did the states prove an obstacle to a stronger army? What did most Americans know about the battle? Describe the Battle of Kip's Bay and Washington's reaction. Describe the Battle of Harlem Heights and its effect on American morale.

8. Why did Americans regard the burning of New York as a good thing? Describe Congress's intentions to build an effective army and the barriers to success. How did Americans reassure themselves that their setbacks had actually been a good thing? Where did Howe decide to attack? How was Howe thwarted at Throg's Neck and surprised by the Battle of Pell's Point? Explain how the revolutionary summer had shown that the British could not win for political reasons and the Americans could not win for military reasons?

9. Why did Washington look back on the events of the summer of 1776 as something of a miracle? Why did Americans long prefer to forget the role of the Continental Army in the Revolution? What did the British decide had gone wrong in New York? How did William Howe defend his conduct? Why did some of his officers still blame him for the British failure? Does the author think that annihilation of the Continental Army would have ended American independence? Why, or why not?