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tv   John Ferling Winning Independence  CSPAN  July 2, 2021 9:02pm-10:04pm EDT

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>> good evening everyone welcome to our book talk this evening. i am joined here from the historical society joining the program tonight so if you have questions at any point throughout the discussion
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popped into the q&a box and we will have them at the end level turning over to my colleague to introduce john. >> thank you the historical society is pleased to add to the conversation with a dedicated historian that dives deep to my in this especially that of the southern strategy. we love that because as local historians here in connecticut where members of the revolution came from and with that content army we always want to learn more. john stirling from university of west georgia he has a long career teaching courses of revolution, america's founders and us military history. he has written 13 books and many journal articles on the tactics of the american revolution. a biographer of george washington and adams. i prefer to tell you more about the man.
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although his past is in west virginia he grew up in galveston. his mother was college-educated in 1920, taught school for 11 years until she waslv being and by west virginia law for marrying. his father attended college on a baseball scholarship but the depression ended the academics he took a job in texas and had one son john in 1840 a bachelors in history and a masters in history from baylor although he is retired has not stopped him from attending and speaking at seminars with i of events and lecturingor on podcast which is his biggest passion. but there is one more thing
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john likes to share, his love of baseball the first major league game he saw 1947 between the brooklyn dodgers when jackie robinson scored the winning run. he was hooked for life. like an good historian he timed the research up around the games he wanted to see especially to see the red sox. to those of us in new england, we like to hear that. let's begin to hear about your new book. with the american revolution what you love most about this chapter in our history? >> first, let me thank you for having me and the library and the historical society for inviting me. i wasas drawn to the american revolution because that is everything starts for the united states and the political system and social ideals were formed during the course of the revolution.
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if you think of it fourscore and seven years ago was referring 1776 and the ideals of the god-given rights of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all people. and when martin luther king talked about having a dream, his dream was that african-americans would be cut in on the ideas that began with theat american revolution. and thatt revolution consist of two things because on the one hand the revolution itself which i think came as a surprise to most participants.
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and those before 1776 nobody saw the revolution coming that there it was. so the question comes up, why did it occur and what was that revolution? was that a case to gain independence or as thomas paine said is that the struggle to bring about a new world? there is plenty with regard to the american revolution. but in addition because you god of war most of the congressman knew when they declared independence july 1776 that they had to win the independence. and that led to a long war of
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dark and uncertain times in 1776 then like a roller coaster and then to be allied with the united states 1778 and many people felt this virtually including george washington that ed assured american independence and then things went south after that. and then the war becomes a stalemate and that iss a subject of my book. that period from 1778 through 1781 when the outcome of the war was tell the very last moment, unknown. it could've gone in different directions.
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and then for america to gain independence or if unitedns states would include all 13 states. so it was a long dramatic struggle and i never get tired of looking at those the revolution and the war itself and the fascinating cast of characters that were part of a political revolution. that's why i went into it and stayed with the revolution throughout my career. >> your book the whiny feature tonight, this is what hooked me it challenges the assumption that america won the war instead great britain lost a war it could have one. so that is on the new wants
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it's a very different way to look at that independent. >> sure. the british had several opportunities at the outset of the war in 1776 or 1775 through 1777. general gate to tell london that winning the first engagement of the war is crucial. if we have enough troops over here with a dramatic score or victory over the colonists probably their fervor foror oil wages period. instead of that happening they conquered the disaster when
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they march back concord to boston. then i had a chance to score a dramatic victory two months later in bunker hill at boston. so the thirdic in command at the time advised general gage to send forces to the backside and then the american rebels up on top of the hill. but they did not do that. and they marched up the hill and into a disaster. and there are two instances in the campaign 40 oregon 1776 if the british acted resolutely first when theyo had half of washington's army trapped but again, september in 76
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washington foolishly kept his army on manhattan that the british could have annihilated the entire continental army at that point. and any of those victories would have won the war and the plan that london devised was for an army to come down from canada whileha general howell moved north to rendezvous and instead of doing that and then going to his own devices and went off after philadelphia. then missed what i think is the last major chance the
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british had to win the war. that's not to say britain's defeat after that h was guaranteed. because as i said earlier, it is a long desperate war for the americans after 1778 as the war stalemated the american economy and collapseds american morale was sagging. and george washington in august of 1780 wrote a letter to the chief executive of pennsylvania that he said i have almost ceased hope and at the same time arthur lee who was an american diplomat since the beginning of the war overseas in europe return to
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america for the first time since before the war began and he landed in boston of all places. and he is there for a few days and talks with a number of boston officials and massachusetts officials and wrote that most of those by august 1780 concluded the war word and in a negotiated settlement short of independence. so things are really up in the air. of course if america does win and gain independence it does come out of the war victorious they would celebrate five more years on the 250th anniversary of 1776. but i also argued that america could not have won the war
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without the french assistance. they were providing clandestine assistance in 1775 to provide munitions and weaponry and clothing and blankets and whatever for the americans. then it was open for the americans and they could send more help and they loaned a great deal of money to the americans which wound up costing the french king his head in the 17 nineties because the economic lose on - - the woes from the fallout contributed to the france
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problems whichtr led to the french revolution so the americans do when the war with the french help which i think is extremely important to remember. >> let's step back to someone you mentioned earlier wet probably don't know too much about general sir henry clinton. this is part of your thesis what aspects of his career have historians misunderstood and why doesn't he receive credit for the moves that would have changed the outcome and put on the map of america? >> washington and as everybody knows and here is another one out of washington but here is sir henry and became the commander of the british army
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and learned of his appointment may 1778 he was the third british commander during the war. gage had been there many years before the revolution or before the war and was recalled after the disasters along concorde road and bunker hill. and generalals william howell succeeded he was commander in 76 and 77 and resigned after the senators so clinton was then named the commander and would be the commander of the british army may through 78 beyond yorktown. i find clinton an interesting figure his father was a career
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naval officer who became the governor of new york and considered young henry when he wass growing up, set some of his formative years in new york city. he joined the british army as a teenager in fought two wars before the revolutionary war and earned a reputation as a brave and courageous risk-taking b soldier who was seriously wounded and in fact in the engagement in january and the seven years war in 1760 he was intellectually curious. he read widely and deeply on military history and strategy. and in the year before the revolutionary war broke out
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1774 out of his own pocket he paid to make a trip into eastern europe to observeve the war between the russians and theoc turks hoping to learn more about military strategy and tactics. then he came over as the third in command of the british army landing critical weeks after just in time to see some action in bunker hill. he served with some distinction in a couple of years before he was named commander with a reputation in someis circles as the best strategist of britain's high-ranking officers in america during that time. at the time of his
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appointment, 48 years old, two years older than washington but more experience. i think he did a good job as a commander. he had the misfortune a think of becoming commander at the same moment that france entered the war and now that britain had to fight the french and the americans, they had to withdraw some of the troops from america sending them to the caribbean. so withof these orders he discovered he had to immediately relinquish 8000 of these troops and he already lost one had surrendered at
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saratoga the one - - saratoga. he did have an army that was considerably smaller than the army the british had had in america one year before. despite that, his orders were to bring washington to battle, hold on to new york. hold on to rhode island to implement a new southern strategy we will implement later on. so he has an enormous task and from the very beginning, he knew he was up against it. my faith is hard as he put it. and then a letter he wrote almost immediately after being named commander, he said he thought it was inevitable to britain to win the war and he feared he would be scapegoated
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for the war and it turns out he was prescient because after yorktown many people in england did scapegoat clinton and they blamed him arguing he was too passive and not a risk taker. he was not dynamic enough. he on - - they had not just enough they argue to win the war that britain could have one. i think most of those arguments were picked up by historians down the road so that clinton's reputation in the literature has suffered as well. and i tried to argue in the book that many of those allegations are not true. others are far more active
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then suggested he did take risks. he was far more active than washington was during the four years between saratoga and yorktown thomas paine after the war of the 17 nineties wrote a blistering pamphlet attacking washington it's hard to agree with pain that he argued that washington slept in the field as he put it and are real runners of the war was generals horatio gage and nathanael greene. but washington generally was an active during much of that time and clinton was far more active. the most devastating attack
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came about almost 75 years ago but still bed by scholars today and they accepted as a study made by clinton's biographer in conjunction with a clinical psychologist. they argued clinton sought power but had deep subliminal psychological problems that prevented him from acting on the power that he had. i think frankly i think the argument is malarkey. not that i am a photo of psycho history but in this case, obviously they could not put clinton on the couch and talk with him but in addition, clinton was behind virtually no behind any private correspondence that would have opened a window to
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himself. so i think clinton's reputation suffered from that. there is your kitty. [laughter] >> joining us now. [laughter] still that's okay i close the door so mind can i get in the room. [laughter] but i think that study on clinton should be filed away in the circular file. he certainly made mistakes and i recognize that in the book but i think he was a good general and a good strategist who often didn't have much to work with and faced enormous challenges. so i hope that my appraisal
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will convince people to take another look at sir henry clinton. >> i did leave enlightened of his abilities. we will stay with him for a little that but i just realized with the b chronology the next questions are out of order. after britain's catastrophe a in saratoga to adopt a new strategy called the southern strategy what word britain gain in this war 1778 onward? >> after saratoga many people wanted to drop out of the war it had gone on for three years they had achieved virtually nothingg and now had lost an entire army at saratoga. so when the news came in to
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trigger a lengthy debate into the winter of 1778 and the debate on one saying whether to remain in the war and if the decision was made to remain in the war and what kind of strategy did they pursue? down to i this point to destroy washington continental army and win control of several northern provinces. they really had not succeeded on either score. so at the end of the debate, the notion of remaining in the war largely because the king insisted the war continue.
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and the person who really led the fight to remain in the war was lord george jermaine was the secretary of state for the american colonies. and in that position jermaine was in essence the minister of four and he also had responsibilities for britain's army in america. and jermaine understood a new strategy had to be developed and came up with what became known as a southern strategy. and word to write off the northern colonies an attempt to regain control of two or
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possibly three colonies down south, georgia, south carolina and possibly, north carolina asn well. jermaine thought that was a plausible strategy. and generally was correct in this that a greater percentage of communist - - communist in the southern colonies remained loyal to england than was the case in the northern colonies. they were typing economically and through the anglican church. and other factors. so jermaine felt that by going into the south, many of these loyalist would willingly bear arms for their tank and 8000
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troops had to be relinquished by clinton and could be replaced hopefully by loyalists. some of whom would come into the regular british army and others would go into newly structured loyalist militia with the idea the british army were to drive the rebels out of the area than the militia would come in behind the british army and take possession of that area and pacify the area. this is what the united states assuming i got its independence, might have looked like following the war. the area in red is the area that would be the united states and everything else in there in white would be
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possessed by the british. so if that southern strategy planned out and then the british already had east and west florida they gained that in a war from 1763 and were in control of the trends appellation west end still in control of canada. the united states would be small, weak, surrounded by a great european power and would face a very uncertain future. many in england thought if this played out in this fashion and then not very long many of the united states would seek to return to their british empire because they
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would have very little capability of expanding. that was the southern strategy and then to cobble together in the winter of 1778 then when clinton receives his orders, and includes the southern strategy when she gets around to pretty fast and sent a 3000 man expedition to georgia december of 1778 and in a one day battle the british we took savanna. and then in 1780 clinton comes south to lead a huge expedition that we take
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charleston in a siege operation in april and may of 1780. so then clinton appoints, one more slide quickly. after charleston, clinton appoints general cornwallis to be in charge of the pacification of south carolina and georgia. from day number one, cornwallis orders were to focus on south carolina and georgia. he could go into north carolina if he thought it would help him to subdue a rebel from south carolina and
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georgia. so cornwallis will be the major player in the war in the south from the time he takes command in june of 1780 into the late spring of 1781 until hereby was in yorktown of 1781. clinton comes back to new york and he never saw cornwallis again and tell after yorktown. so that was the southern strategy and what the british were trying to accomplish. and i tried to argue in the book they came reasonably close. things went wrong we could talk about later, but at the
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beginning of 1781, clinton was far more confident dan washington was of what would happen that year. clinton later said he began 1781 more confident of british success than in any four years he was commander. and ultimately clinton thought if the allies could be prevented for precise victory in 1781 and that the war word and in a negotiated settlement washington felt that. lafayette, john adams is writing to congress from
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europe telling them the same thing. adams was telling congress the french have been in this war three years and having gained anything. so you have to gain something as a face saving measure they will accept an invitation from neutral nations to come to the peace conference and what would have happened is anybody's guest on - - guess maybe recognized and independent united states that was smaller or maybe it would not agree to the independents. this other than a conference of european monarchs who were not friendly to republican governments and that is what the united states had at that
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point. >> you just answered the next three questions. [laughter] >> sorry about that. >> . >> when comparing and contrasting clinton on - - clinton in washington with that parallel leadership what is it that the guiles the americans? which man would you prefer to serve under and why? >> first on the comparison of clinton in washington let me say a couple of things. there is a section that runs a dozen pages i tried to look at the two and see what i could find about both of them. there were some similarities between the two. neither was gregarious or an
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outgoing individual. but in washington's case it may have been washington had insecurities and didn't want people to get too close to him to discover what he feared were his weaknesses. or washington as a leader felt he could not let anybody get very close to him. he had to make difficult personnel decisions. he didn't say this but jfk said at one point great leaders have to be both loved and feared and washington may have felt that way and in the case of clinton, clinton acknowledged he was very shy. he made one of the strangest comments ever made f by any historical figure.
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he said i am a shy bitch. [laughter] neither outgoing that i think clinton made friends more easily than washington. neither really had a close friend throughout his life. that those clinton and washington were brave, courageous men under fire. i'm always amazed at the battle washington was riding on horseback to the soldiers that were firing at him and no further away from him then a picture from a batter on a baseball diamond and that is pretty close and clinton had earned the reputation from the
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wars before and again during the revolution as somebody who was courageous under fire but both of them faced similar problems and with supplies lack of money and lack of truth both clinton and washington s as considerable criticism and a great deal after he made several mistakes and then after the campaign of 77 77, even more and more open criticism and at one
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point the president of congress ran in 1778 said when washington communicated with congress it was met with laughter. that congress could have ditched washington, but congress fortunately did not take that step knowing it would bring on political chaos. and after that congress cuts off theld open criticism of washington then launches the campaign to make washington and iconic figure from valley forge to the end of the word to elevate him to be above the criticisms to celebrate washington's birthday annually.o that's where clinton ran into criticism also.
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so in the case of both of these when i was a student with those professors and the administrators on that same sort of thing went on in the british army and among the americans there were issues over promotion of people left out were unhappy about that and they ran into a great deal of criticism but there were plenty of differences between them. and my washington was a leader in washington was in this that
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the average male was only 5-foot 8 inches and didn't change much but washington was almost 6-foot 4 inches tall so he literally towered over other people and 1780 weighing 210 pounds he is about the same size as quarterback today. and he did have a reputation of athleticism and he just
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seemed to be majestic on a horse and to be graceful and clinton on the other hand is 5-foot 7 inches. he was pretty average in many ways. there were differences in that respect. think clinton i was from the aristocratic family and one other difference was that people today in washington and in that politics he was a very good politician and almost surpassed for his skills and clinton acknowledged openly even though he held the seat in the house of commons at one
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point. he acknowledged he wasas not a very good politician like a fish out of water. so there were some similarities h. >> there who weighed you serve under? >> but who word you serve under? >> that's a tough question that depends on your rank but i think either man. i think clinton was a good general and neither of them send their man into battle in hopeless situations or squandered troops.
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both of them were trying to preserve life because both had humanitarian qualities about them. that both had so many shortages they could not afford to lose troops. so they were both good commanders and when have been willing to serve either one although i have to say that i don't know if i would have wanted to be a soldier in the revolutionary war on either side. that was terrible. theseon guys, the higher ranking officers and they were on the move a lot. the higher ranking officers
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could travel on horseback. but everybody else marched. many of these guys marched thousands of miles. even in the british army we know all about the suffering of valley forge in the american army but even in the british army in many cases the men were ill provisioned and ill equipped. it was really a tough go for these guys. we are coming through a pandemic now and they faced disease and at least in the american army most soldiers who died, died of disease, not from combat so it was a risky
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and difficult and harsh environment that they faced. been willing to serve under both generals i'm glad i t didn't have to on either side. >> the next question. benedict arnold is he a trader or just a guy who wanted a steady paycheck? [laughter] >> that is the million-dollar question and a lot of biographers have looked at that. you cannot get totally in arnold's mind of what was going on but let me try to answer it this way.
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he had some legitimate grievances and was passed over for the promotion unfairly and unjustly, i think and then when he became a military commander in philadelphia the british evacuated, many people turned against him because he was consorting with families that were regarded as tories and the daughter of a family that was suspected of being a floyd and he has some legitimate grievances although other generals did also and the one that commits treason that thomas paine wrote a pamphlet that in the wake of
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this i don't know if he believed this sort tried to smooth over the fallout. he pointed that out. and there is a second thing. many people argued that he was just after the money. he did get a great deal of money from the british. but there is another side to that equation he owned a considerable amount of property and if a man can wind up winning the war he will lose all of that property. so it would be a trade-off. he would lose valuable property but team the money the british would pay him and probably have done justld as well financially had he
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remained on the american side. but what has intrigued me about arnold is he negotiates through intermediaries that report to sir henry clinton and for a long time he didn't know with those intermediaries were talking to.t he thought it was an important american who might be willing to commit treason. not intel august 1780 that arnold makes the decision to turn coat. and then what happens august 1780. cornwallis scored a huge victory over an american army at camden and south carolina
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commanded by horatio gates. the fourth american army in 20 months that had been destroyed in the southern theater. more than 8000 american troops were captured in those four engagements. that's the same month washington writes the letter to say i always cease to hope and it is the same month that are thoroughly in boston says that many of the leaders in massachusetts now believe the war will end in a negotiated settlement short of independence. so he can argue when arnold finally makes his final decision to turn coat august 1780, he very well could have believed the
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americans goose was cooked in the british would win the war and he wasas trying to get on the winning side. but that is all speculative nobody really knows what was going on in his mind. >> i like you put them in the context of all the time in english and decision-making so it is a not the impetuous moved to suddenly switch sides it really could've been anyone in the on - - in the same situation and i appreciate that put him in a new context. >> this is been a terrific overview of the book and it's wonderful how it flows.
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>> the audiences typing questions i will get to the last one that brings it to the modern era. all who are required to sacrifice and the members of the american revolution, it is staggering. what do you want moderators to understand about the impact and consequences of war? and your experience of it? >> when i wrote the book but one of the things is that i already mentioned that i wanted people to understand just how long this struggle to win independence was.
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think because saratoga occurs in september and a huge british army surrenders and textbooks always depict saratoga as the turning point of the revolutionary war. there has been a tendency in the part of many people to think that everything that followed saratoga was anticlimactic in the american victory was guaranteed. so i wanted readers to come away from my book understanding that along ground war had to be fired after saratoga. the victory was not guaranteed. clinton thought he could still win the war in 1781. and i also wanted people to be aware of just how grim this
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war was. about 15 percent of thoseeo who fought on the british side died in this war. pretty heavy attrition. and as best as i can determine, roughly the same percentage of people who fought on the american side died. so to put that into meaningful terms, the united states lost about 350,000 men in world war ii but if united states had lost 15 percent of its soldiersn in world war ii more than 2 million americans would have died in that war. it is a war that war is a much
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bloodier war than people are aware. and i wanted people to understand that the outcome of the war during the four year struggle. and during those four years after saratoga and then roughlyye 65 percent that fought on the american side died after saratoga there is another 4000 americans that died fighting for great britain then in 1780 more americans are fighting for great britain and that is what
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i wanted the readers to come away with. what i wanted to do is look at a crisis and during that crisis what they know what they did not know with those decisions. often times i think they read history backwards and how it came out that the actors didn't know that and whether it would be a good decision or a bad decision and we had to make a decision on what they knew at that time. so i tried throughout the book when i look at the decisions that clinton and washington and nathaniel greene and others made, why they
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made the decisions what they did and what they knew when they made those decisions. >> might have been a reason for the british to allow for a negotiated peace? what is in it for them? >> many people in england just wanted to get out of the war. it had gone on for a long time. winning the war, there was a fear they were going to lose. all the trade with america and france would goblet postwar commerce with america and the british economy might be ruined the longer the war continued. so there were son and england who were pushing for the negotiations. but immediately after saratoga, the head of the war
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ministry learns of saratoga, he proposes a negotiated settlement it is referred to have the north peace plan of 1778 and he actually sends a commission of diplomats known as the carlisle nation that came over to america in 1770 in they were authorized to negotiate a settlement. and what the lord was willing to accept was essentially everythingng the first continental congress asked for on the eve of war with one exception. endependence. . . . .
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absolutely enlightening. i do encourage our audience to get home and read it because it has a different perspective the refreshing look at the american revolution so thank you for spending your evening with us. hopefully we'll see you in person after the pandemic. >> i look forward to that as well. thank you once again for having me. >> book tv on c-span2 as top nonfiction books and authors every weekend. saturday 10:00 p.m. eastern on "afterwards". former xerox ceo laverne, the
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>> charter communications supports c-span as a public service along with these other television providers giving a row seat to democracy. >> good evening. i'm the executive director of the washington library cap map burning man coming to you from the library for an exciting evening book talk with patrick. i want to thank the company for sponsor not just this talk but many talks over the years, a great series where we have authors talking about the newest work and it doesn't get any newer than this because this the book release for this exciting book. i want to mention one program, june 9 our third lecture, richard bernstein's new book,
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