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Willard Sterne Randall

Forfatter af Thomas Jefferson: A Life

27+ Værker 1,949 Medlemmer 14 Anmeldelser

Om forfatteren

Willard Sterne Randall is an American historian and author who specializes in biographies related to the American colonial period and the American Revolution. He was born on March 13, 1942 in Philadelphia, PA. His books include: A Little Revenge: Benjamin Franklin & His Son, Benedict Arnold: vis mere Patriot and Traitor, Thomas Jefferson: A Life and Ethan Allen: His Life and Times. Randall also teaches American history at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. (Bowker Author Biography) vis mindre
Image credit: via author's website

Værker af Willard Sterne Randall

Thomas Jefferson: A Life (1993) 643 eksemplarer, 4 anmeldelser
Alexander Hamilton, a life (2003) 289 eksemplarer, 1 anmeldelse
George Washington: A Life (1997) 281 eksemplarer
Benedict Arnold: Patriot and Traitor (1990) 254 eksemplarer, 4 anmeldelser
Ethan Allen: His Life and Times (2011) 170 eksemplarer, 2 anmeldelser
A Little Revenge: Benjamin Franklin at War With His Son (1984) 98 eksemplarer, 1 anmeldelse
American Lives, Volume II (1997) 5 eksemplarer
Banished from Boston (2011) 5 eksemplarer

Associated Works

MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History — Summer 1992 (1992) — Author "Tom Quick's Revenge" — 19 eksemplarer
MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History — Winter 1992 (1991) — Author "Mrs. Benedict Arnold" — 18 eksemplarer
MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History — Summer 1993 (1993) — Author "Pacifist at War" — 16 eksemplarer
MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History — Spring 1994 (1994) — Author "The Other D-Day" — 16 eksemplarer
MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History — Summer 1990 (1990) — Author "Benedict Arnold at Quebec" — 15 eksemplarer
MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History — Summer 1999 (1999) — Author "Washington's Struggle for Survival" — 11 eksemplarer
MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History — Winter 2001 (2000) — Author "Colonel Benjamin Franklin" — 11 eksemplarer
MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History — Winter 2008 (2007) — Author "The First American Victory" — 9 eksemplarer
MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History — Autumn 2002 (2002) — Author "The Fighting Federalist" — 8 eksemplarer

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First my quibble. A bit too much detail in the military history, since the subject of the book is Benedict Arnold. Now the praise.

Benedict Arnold is best known for his vicious turn against the American Revolution. His name is a synonym for betrayal, for total faithlessness. This book puts his turn from glorious heroism into the context of its time. The American revolutionaries were a ragtag group of rebels. The one thing that what became the United States was not was a country. What Benedict Arnold betrayed was a rebel movement. History being written by the victors, the U.S. is treated by many as a country as of July 4, 1776, not 1787 when the Constitution was written, or when George Washington took the oath of office in New York City on April 30, 1789.

Benedict Arnold was an undoubted hero from 1774 when he took up arms for the Revolution for a bit more than four years, when the betrayal started. The betrayal came to a head in September or October 1780 when he attempted to turn over West Point to John Andre, a British officer. During the "heroic" period he was grievously wounded not once but twice. He spearheaded an invasion of Quebec City from Maine that nearly took what is now Canada for the revolutionaries.

He and Ethan Allen are rivals for credit for seizing Fort Ticonderoga in 1775 and then helping win the crucial Battle of Saratoga in 1777. That battle, in turn, led directly to French and Dutch recognition and military and financial support for the Revolution. In short it is possible that "no Benedict Arnold, no United States." This is rarely remembered. In no way is Benedict Arnold another Vidkund Quisling, Pierre Laval or Julius or Ethel Rosenberg.

The "thanks" he got from the Continental Congress and corrupt military leaders was to go unpaid, unthanked and passed over for credit and promotion. He advanced considerable resources to pay soldiers and for military supplies. In his mind, at some point, "enough is enough." Part of the factor seems also have been a steamy affair leading to his second marriage, to Peggy Shippen. Peggy was part of a well-known and wealthy Loyalist Family.

None of this, in my mind, excuses treason. But some leaders should know that when "no good deed goes unpunished" the results are often not good.

Not surprisingly, the British gratitude for Benedict Arnold's turn against the Revolution was fleeting. They did not honor their promises to Benedict. The main moral of the story, I suppose, is that loyalty is a fundamental value, abandoned at peril.
… (mere)
JBGUSA | 3 andre anmeldelser | Jan 2, 2023 |
It's become a cliché that the Founders of the USA were rich white slaveowners, but how rich were they and where did their wealth come from? These are the unusual questions Willard Sterne Randall answers smartly and directly in The Founders' Fortunes. The short answer is land speculation, smuggling and slaves, but the ups and downs are fascinating. As are the implications for the nation.

Randall follows a largely chronological path of the birth of the nation, bringing in characters as they came to the fore. At that point he delves into their pasts and especially their presents as they increased their wealth, often dramatically, while the USA struggled to be born and then survive. They were nothing if not opportunistic.

George Washington was obsessed with land. By the time of his death, he had amassed 51,000 acres of it. He even bought eight lots in what was becoming Washington, DC. He was involved in numerous conflicts of interest, as he took part in, founded or ran several huge development companies, all focused on scooping up gigantic tracts of land in the midwest frontier territories before they became part of some new state. This, while he was a British soldier fighting off the French from occupying those same lands he coveted for his companies. His decisions in the field were, shall we say, colored by ulterior (okay - selfish) motives. They cost plenty of lives.

Everything he did was with a view towards gathering more land. He courted and married Martha, who had inherited a goodly chunk of it when her first husband died. He spent lavishly to obtain more, and often had no money to support it, or the farms he built out, or the 308 slaves he had working it, or even for himself. For years, he was so preoccupied with building his land holdings, he didn't notice that his lawyer/agent in London was not seeking the best deals for his purchases to be shipped to Virginia. The agent, who took a commission on every sale, not only benefited when he paid a higher price, but also bought him shoddy goods. The accounts piled up, and like so many other of the Founders, Washington found himself having to pay in gold or sterling as the colonies' currency was becoming worthless. There were no banks allowed in the colonies, and gold was scarce, setting them up for a massive depression when England was no longer a backstop or even on the same side.

During the depression after independence, his tenants' lack of money cut right to the bone for Washington. He received little or no rent for a number of years. Despite his massive holdings, he actually needed the salary of the presidency for eight years of financial stability and solvency in his precarious and exorbitant lifestyle. In his last years, he traveled around buying up land certificates awarded to his revolutionary war soldiers, using terribly depreciated continental dollars. But people were desperate, and how could they refuse The George Washington? After all, he always had their best interests at heart, and was the one who pushed for those free land certificates in the first place, right?

Then, after this lifelong quest to assemble it, in his will he broke it all up again.

Washington was an interesting character with great luck. Despite massively screwing up as a soldier, he found himself hailed as hero by thousands who didn't get the full story. He parlayed his reputation to the next failure, where he was again hailed as a hero. He was terrible at strategy and execution, but in surviving the messes he created, he won adoration as a genuine American hero.

Seeing his finances threatened by new English laws against the colonies, he abandoned his lifelong pursuit of being a British soldier and joined the movement to (at first) get better terms from the British, and then, when that failed, to seek independence. Yet when "preparing to return to Philadelphia for the Second Continental Congress, (he) packed his red-and-blue brigadier's uniform," Randall says. He was Mr. Tone Deaf. And despite his sitting there in the uniform of the enemy, they made him their leader, once again. He could only fail upward.

Thomas Jefferson inherited a fortune at the age of 31 and retired. He gave up his (still struggling) law practice to focus on legal history and philosophies that he could pontificate over. His 204 slaves kept the income coming in. And still he spent lavishly, constantly running out of money, and piling up truly massive debts. He could not cut back on his lavish and extravagant lifestyle, getting him into endless trouble on two continents.

John Hancock was the richest merchant in New England, with stores everywhere. He made an easy fortune by smuggling his goods around behind British customs. He would have his ships arrive at odd places along the coast, offload them and bring the goods to Boston by road, where British customs officers had no presence. He fed stores all over New England with cheaper goods this way, and became massively rich. He lived lavishly too, but with a difference. He liked to splash for free grog and food, treating the public - his customers - to unanticipated festivities. They returned the favors by electing him to any post he desired, including governor. And no one would testify against him in court. He was hugely popular - the biggest personality in New England, as evidenced by his large, clear and flowing signature front and center on the Declaration of Independence.

Benjamin Franklin was the Elon Musk of his day. Everything he attempted produced another fortune for him. From Poor Richard's Almanack to evangelical speech transcripts and tracts, to printing and publishing, to Franklin stoves, Ben Franklin raked it in big time. He became so big he spun off companies to family members, taking an income or profit share from them. He held slave auctions in his store, and had two slaves of his own. He seems to have founded newspapers everywhere he went, right up to Montreal. He reorganized the post office as assistant postmaster general, which gave him another (gigantic) salary, the highest in the colonies for an American.

He set himself up in London, fighting the good fight for the colonies for 20 years, unofficial and unpaid. And he had major successes at it, until he got involved in the theft of documents to make one case. He escaped just in time (by giving a false date for his return to America, then leaving right away), and would return in an official (diplomatic) capacity when things calmed down.

It was on this second stint that Franklin got into the privateering game. He would send ships to capture British ships, divert them into port, offload all their cargo and sell it. There would be splits with his ship's captain and crew, so everyone was happy. Franklin boasted he made as much as 8000% financing these sorties.

This was perfectly legal for an American. There were several thousand ships doing the same thing. It was retaliation for England's absurd and punitive laws. Only English ships were allowed to carry goods to or from the colonies. Any ship carrying goods for the colonies was required to put into an English port for customs inspection. The colonies were required to purchase all their manufactured goods from England alone. No factories were allowed in the colonies. Tariffs and legal stamps were punitively and even laughably high, putting almost all goods and services out of reach. The colonists claimed to be English citizens, so why the punitive laws? But England had massive war debts to pay, and the colonists looked like fat targets from grimy, grinding England.

Franklin also owned 3000 acres of land back in Pennsylvania, and was heavily involved in development companies to obtain more, using his money and connections to jump the queue. He even had overlapping claims with George Washington's companies. His brand of lavish living was being a member of 80 gentlemen's clubs in Britain and France, eating himself to a state of crippling gout and kidney stones in his later years.

Samuel Adams was a most vocal instigator of independence. He was also a creative lawyer. John Hancock picked him to handle his smuggling trial, and Adams got him off, using conflicts within English law. Adams became an independence hero and permanent fixture in Hancock's circle.

Declaration signers Silas Deane and Robert Morris did not end well. As representatives of the new US government in Europe, they skimmed 5% commissions on all the arms and munitions shipments they arranged with France. Morris was the country's first superintendent of finance during the revolutionary war. He was also the country's richest man - a billionaire in today's dollars and the USA's first. Like most of the other Founders, he overstretched, took on unrepayable debt, and when the value of continental dollars shrank, got caught owing unaffordable gold and sterling. He knowingly refinanced using for collateral debts that had already settled and companies that he had already sold. He ended up in prison, penniless when he was released.

Ironically, financial whiz Alexander Hamilton never got rich. He had no slaves. George Washington didn't even know Hamilton was brilliant in finance until Morris declined the offer of Secretary of the Treasury - in favor of Hamilton. That Washington had no clue is really damning, as Hamilton worked the hall to save the new country from bankruptcy with totally innovative solutions the continental congress gladly took up. Not to mention how closely they worked all through the war.

As a group, these mainly wealthy white men believed only they could save the country. They engineered it to suit their pretty obvious needs. Randall says that in the first presidential election, only 4% of the population was eligible to vote, just as the Founders designed it. In Massachusetts, property ownership requirements were so stringent there were whole towns where no one could run for office. Inequality was the truth behind the bleatings of all men created equal.

Randall comes to this investigation with ease, as a shelf of books he has authored focuses on the biographies of the Founders. For obsessive compulsive record keepers like Thomas Jefferson, he was able to pore over microfilm of endless expenses he recorded, usually for later attempts at reimbursement somehow. Robert Morris left a fairly transparent trail of fraudulent conveyances, and George Washington was nothing if not paperwork. They were all hurt by English laws, because they dealt internationally. They all wanted the freedom to get richer. They were afraid of real democracy, and kept their own company. It was the old boys' network in the womb.

The result is a book most entertaining and a pleasure to read, as the country unfolds because or in spite of the personal needs and desires of the key players. The stories are juicy and wonderfully scandalous. This is an alternative history very much worth knowing. It puts everything in a different light and a clearer perspective.

David Wineberg
… (mere)
DavidWineberg | Feb 6, 2022 |
Benedict Arnold is not all we were taught he was; he was a patriot. Traitor? Not so sure. He certainly was denied by the newly formed United States and spurned by England. BTW - he didn't "give" West Point up to the British. He did get screwed over by history.
HMGThomas | 3 andre anmeldelser | Feb 24, 2016 |
After learning that Alexander Hamilton was going to be replaced by a woman on the $10 bill, I picked this book up to learn more about just who were were replacing. Coming from almost complete ignorance, I found this book to be surprisingly fascinating and engaging as the author dug in deep to who exactly Hamilton was. We discover the foundations of likely thought process and yet aren't shielded from his weaknesses, mainly concerning women and his multiple affairs.

Born as a bastard on a Caribbean island, through hard work and excelling in what he did, he slowly found himself moving to America to study with the help of his sponsors where he became caught up with the founding of this country.

Though I don't want to go into too many details, Hamilton was certainly an extraordinary person who helped shape this country and save it from falling apart at its founding.

Whoever is chosen to replace him on the $10 certainly have enormous shoes to fill.
… (mere)
kikowatzy | Aug 26, 2015 |



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