American Sanctuary Mutiny, Martyrdom, And National Identity In The Age of Revolution

A. Roger Ekirch, 1950-

Book - 2017

"The book is a triptych, beginning with the mutiny on the Hermione and the ensuing manhunt for members of her crew. The second section recounts the arrival of a handful of mutineers in the United States, including Jonathan Robbins, before examining in depth the political crisis that engulfed John Adams and the Federalist Party. The final three chapters focus on the election of 1800 and the protracted consequences of Robbins's martyrdom during the years of Republican ascendancy. As late... as 1812, Adams bitterly complained that 'Robbins' was a scandal that ought to have been killed before it died of old age,' 'a more infernal, wicked, malicious, unprincipled, deliberate, and cruel scandal never stalked this earth.' 'Indeed,' he rued, 'I know not whether it be dead yet"--Preface.

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New York : Pantheon Books [2017]
First Edition
Physical Description
xix, 293 pages : illustrations, maps (some color) ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 241-280) and index.
Main Author
A. Roger Ekirch, 1950- (author)
Review by Choice Review

Ekirch (history, VA Tech) analyzes American identity in the Federalist Era through a relatively obscure event: the 1797 mutiny on the HMS Hermione. The extradition of Jonathan Robbins, one of the mutineers, by the US government to the British Royal Navy seemed straightforward enough in terms of international law, but the tense politics of the 1790s made the Robbins case an incendiary political issue between the Federalist Adams administration and the Republican opposition, which recast Robbins as a Connecticut native impressed into service by the British. The Federalists, fresh off the defense of the controversial Jay's Treaty of 1795, which accomplished little toward asserting American sovereignty over British maritime supremacy, claimed Robbins was an Irishman who had committed horrific crimes that demanded justice. In the politically charged atmosphere of the late 1790s, the Robbins case further divided partisans on both sides. Written in sparkling style with an eye to modern-day political connections and replete with impressive research on both the mutiny and the fractured politics of the US in the 1790s, American Sanctuary tells several stories well. Summing Up: Recommended. All public and academic libraries. --Christopher Childers, Pittsburg State University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission. Review by New York Times Review

TWO VERY GOOD and very different new books reflect the extraordinary range of military history being written these days. In the unusual THE ALLURE OF BATTLE: A History of How Wars Have Been Won and Lost (Oxford University, $34.95), Cathal J. Nolan seeks to demolish how historians view war - and succeeds surprisingly well. The traditional Western view of conflict is that the way to win a war is to seek battle and prevail. This is the approach embodied by Napoleon, made doctrine by Clausewitz and captured on film in "Patton." And it is entirely wrong, Nolan, a history professor at Boston University, says, as he conducts the literary equivalent of scorched earth warfare. Nolan's primary argument is that focusing military history on battles is the wrong way to understand wars because what wins conflicts is almost always attrition, not battle. Generally, one side, usually the one with a smaller economy and population, becomes exhausted, and gives up. Talk about élan and audacity all you like, he counsels, but what wins wars is demography and economic strength. In fact, he says, the ideal of a "decisive battle" waged by great leaders should be seen as a pernicious myth that takes weaker, fascistic powers into wars against nations they know they cannot defeat in the long run. Two leading examples of this "short war" delusion are, of course, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Hence Germany's blitzkrieg campaigns early in World War II and Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Inside this very good fat book is an excellent thin book trying to get out. That's more a criticism of the Oxford University Press than of the author, because what this book needed was an editor with a strong hand. At 670 pages, it is just too damn long. It contains sections that wax encyclopedic without any evident connection to the book's core themes. For example, we are subjected to seemingly everything Nolan knows about the Crimean War, like the fact that the efforts of Florence Nightingale, the pioneer of modern nursing, were at first rebuffed by some British officers. We get a deep dive into the Franco-Prussian War, but oddly almost nothing on the American Civil War that preceded it. Asia goes unmentioned before the 20th century. The chapter titles are opaque, more like symbolic poetry than guideposts for the book. On the other hand, a book has to be really thoughtprovoking to have so many problems and still be so fascinating. I cannot remember reading anything in the last few years that has made me reconsider so many basic questions - What wins wars? What is the most illuminating way to relate military history? Most important, is our own military too focused on battles and insufficiently attentive to what is required to win wars? In other words, are our generals flailing because they try to substitute battlefield skill for strategic understanding? (I think they are.) Ultimately, Nolan is persuasive that too much attention has been paid to battles. Even for that great genius of warfare, Napoleon, he argues - credibly - that the slow bleed of guerrilla war in Spain did much more than any battle to bring about his defeat. By the time of Waterloo, he insists, France was a spent force. And if Napoleon hadn't been finished off there, he would have been at his next battle, or the one after that. So much for perhaps the most famously decisive battle in history. THUNDER IN THE MOUNTAINS: Chief Joseph, Oliver Otis Howard, and the Nez Perce War (Norton, $29.95) is almost the opposite kind of history book. In this far more traditional work, Daniel J. Sharfstein, a Vanderbilt University law and history professor, offers a brisk narrative of one of the last major collisions between Native Americans and white America. His two main characters are complex and compelling - Chief Joseph, a thoughtful, powerful speaker who spent years trying to find a way for his people to live alongside American settlers, and General O. O. Howard, a moralistic liberal Army general whose fate it was to crush Joseph's small Nez Percé tribe. In the summer of 1877 it became clear that Joseph's peaceable dream of coexistence was not possible. Deciding they would have no more to do with the whites, the Nez Percé set off on a trek from their homeland, which lay in the area where Oregon, Idaho and Washington meet. They eventually turned north, crossing at one point through the Yellowstone National Park, which had been established five years earlier. Howard's soldiers, pursuing the tribe, enjoyed that park, Sharfstein notes, catching trout in the mountain rivers and poaching them in its geysers. The tribe's thousand-mile retreat ended not far from the Canadian border, where it was finally surrounded by Army forces. Joseph famously stated there, "From where the sun now stands I will fight no more." Less well known is the speech he gave in Washington, D.C., a few years later: "If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian, he can live in peace. There need be no trouble. Treat all men alike. Give them all the same law. Give them all an even chance to live and grow.... Let me be a free man... and I will obey every law, or submit to the penalty." Despite its stuffy academic title, AMERICAN SANCTUARY: Mutiny, Martyrdom, and National Identity in the Age of Revolution (Pantheon, $30) tells a similarly dramatic tale - in this case, a good, readable story in the mode of Nathaniel Philbrick's nautical histories. It has to do with a 1797 mutiny aboard the British warship Hermione that was far more violent than the better known one that occurred on the Bounty eight years earlier. And because some of the mutineers were Americans who had been impressed into British service, and some were turned over to the British Navy by American authorities, it became the Benghazi incident of its time. Federalists tended to see the mutineers as bloodstained murderers, while Jeffersonian Republicans viewed them as men held involuntarily who had a right to seek their liberty. The debate had a significant effect on the election of 1800, turning the vote away from John Adams and toward Thomas Jefferson, the ultimate victor. The book occasionally falters. The author, A. Roger Ekirch, a historian at Virginia Tech, seems to have a better feel for American political history than for command at sea. For example, a deep sea generally is an advantage for a ship, not a hazard. Similarly, marine officers were more likely to be resented aboard a ship than others, because the marines were effectively naval police, enforcing shipboard discipline. And the second half of the book occasionally bogs down in multiple quotations from newspapers of the time. Still, the level of detail, including verbatim testimony from subsequent courts-martial, is impressive. Amore puzzling work is LINCOLN'S LIEUTENANTS: The High Command of the Army of the Potomac (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $38), by the Civil War stalwart Stephen Sears. It is a fine book, enjoyable to read. All the greatest hits are here - the spectacular feuds between Union generals, the preening of Gen. George McClellan, the pervasive tendency to underestimate President Lincoln's strategic insight and the tragedy of the battle in the Petersburg Crater. Yet all this has been well told before. The mystery is why it has to be told once more, especially in a volume of almost 900 pages. This is not an argument that historians should stop writing about the Civil War. But when they do, they should offer new information or a fresh perspective. I found neither here. it is disquieting to turn from these books about the early United States to one about our own century's war in Afghanistan only to find some of the same flaws from the past, like the attempt to impose capitalist liberal democracy on people long accustomed to very different ways. Aaron B. O'Connell, the editor of our latest longest war: Losing Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan (University of Chicago, $30), calls that country "the worst possible testing ground for a Western democratic experiment conducted at the point of a gun." The other contributors to the volume - almost all military veterans of the Afghan war - generally agree that the American people are culturally unable to win wars like this one. "Prudence was blinded by unexamined political and cultural assumptions, and the result was a massive and avoidable waste of time, lives and resources," Aaron MacLean concludes; he led a Marine infantry platoon there and also holds a master's degree from Oxford in medieval Arabic studies. MacLean tellingly observes that the Americans were not trying to bring governance to a place that had none, but rather were trying to replace an existing unwritten constitution they didn't understand and indeed barely perceived. "It consisted of traditional ethnic, tribal, state and religious patterns, all of which had been partially transformed by modernization and traumatically stressed by decades of war and the rise of Islamic radicalism," he writes. Surprisingly, no good overview of our Afghan war has been published yet. Until that happens, this enlightening volume is probably the best introduction to what went wrong there, and why. THERE IS A common thread to almost all wars: They begin with hubris, stumble on miscalculation and end in sorrow. So it was, emphatically, with the Athenian empire's invasion of distant Sicily in 415 B.C., during the Peloponnesian War. As a result of that poorly considered action, Athens eventually suffered political upheaval. "War abroad had given rise to civil discord at home," Jennifer T. Roberts writes in THE PLAGUE OF WAR: Athens, Sparta, and the Struggle for Ancient Greece (Oxford University, $34.95). Reading that, I began to wonder if there was a parallel to the unnecessary American invasion of distant Iraq in 2003, and the election of Donald Trump to the presidency some 13 years later. Roberts, a classicist at the City University of New York, notes that as a result of its political turmoil, Athens found its democracy temporarily overthrown by an oligarchical "motley crew with differing goals." Do we really need another history of the Peloponnesian War? That was the question in my mind when I opened this book. When I finished it, I thought, yes, we seem to. Military historians often neglect developments in the arts, for instance, but Roberts weaves in Greek culture, showing how works by dramatists and philosophers reflected events in the war. Aristophanes' "Lysistrata," about women going on a sex strike to bring peace, was produced in 411 B.C., in the wake of the Athenian disaster in Sicily. She portrays the death of Socrates 12 years later as one more evil consequence of the war, with the great philosopher scapegoated "for the ills of a city that had suffered war, economic collapse, demographic devastation and civil strife." A less examined aspect of ancient history is the Praetorian Guard of the Roman emperors. Guy de la Bédoyère, a prolific British historian, tackles the subject in praetorian: The Rise and Fall of Rome's Imperial Bodyguard (Yale University, $35). This is not an enjoyable book to read, but it is an interesting one, as the author pulls together the scraps and threads of information about the Guard. The problem is that so little is known about it that the story never really comes alive. The Harvard historian David Armitage offers another unsettling echo from ancient history when he notes that the Latin phrase variously translated as "public enemy" or "enemy of the people" - the second used by President Trump to describe the American news media - was first devised by Romans in the context of their civil wars, as a way to justify violence against fellow citizens. But overall, his short CIVIL WARS: A History in Ideas (Knopf, $27.95) offers more dry analysis than juicy insights or rich narrative. Storytelling and details are not lacking in at the edge of THE WORLD: The Heroic Century of the French Foreign Legion (Bloomsbury, $30). One of its themes is how routine suicide was in the Legion. Out of 845 Legionnaires sent on an expedition to Madagascar, 11 were officially declared to have taken their own lives. The author, Jean-Vincent Blanchard of Swarthmore College, says that number is almost certainly an undercount, with other self-killings recorded as deaths by disease. Among its interesting details: Near a major Legionnaire base in Morocco, there was a huge government-run prostitution complex, protected by a police checkpoint and populated by 600 to 900 women. Members of the Legion were not allowed to venture more than seven kilometers from their headquarters in Algeria, or to buy drink stronger than wine. The rightist, monarchist, religiously conservative strain in French thought represented by the Legion continues today, of course. Marine Le Pen, the far-right French politician who was recently defeated for the presidency, is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who served in the Legion in Vietnam and Algeria in the 1950s. AMERICANS ALSO TEND to forget what we as a people once knew. One of the oddities of World War I was that for most of its duration, from August 1914 until April 1917, American reporters were from a neutral country, and so able to cover the fighting from both sides. At the outset, Chris Dubbs reports in American journalists in the great war: Rewriting the Rules of Reporting (University of Nebraska, $34.95), the most welcoming country, surprisingly, was Germany, which wanted to present its side of the story to the American public. Britain was less open to having its operations covered, and the French were the strictest censors of all. The Allies arrested reporters while the Germans offered them tours of the front. Among the consequences, Dubbs, himself a journalist turned military historian, notes, was that when the British public finally learned about the horrible nature of trench warfare, it was all the more shocked. If Dubbs's book is about how journalists covered World War I, Ray Moseley's reporting war: how Foreign Correspondents Risked Capture, Torture and Death to Cover World War II (Yale University, $32.50) is about how the second global war affected the reporters who covered it. Today, too many people have come to think of World War II as the "good war." One of Moseley's themes is that there is no such thing. A veteran foreign correspondent, he quotes a British journalist after a German victory in the Sahara: "I found myself hating the desert with a neurotic, tormenting hatred. I was obsessed with the waste of tears and blood and sweat that... I found I could no longer even write about it." "Reporting War" makes for melancholy reading. Among the most famous of American war correspondents was Ernie Pyle. Another journalist covering the fighting, The New Yorker's A. J. Liebling, astutely observed that part of Pyle's success came from his treating the war not as an adventure or crusade but rather as "an unalleviated misfortune." After the liberation of Paris, Pyle himself wrote, "For me war has become a flat, black depression without highlights, a revulsion of the mind and an exhaustion of the spirit." Pyle died during the landings on Okinawa in April 1945. Such ends were not unusual; Moseley cites one estimate that correspondents suffered a higher casualty rate during the war than combat troops did. After the war, some of those who survived went on to fame, like Walter Cronkite and Eric Sevareid. But many others expired prematurely of alcoholism, depression, midlife heart attacks and car accidents. One of the lessons of all these books is that wars always look worse closer up. Indeed, one of the tests of the veracity of a history of a conflict is whether it is depressing. If it is not, something may be wrong. The ideal of a decisive battle waged by great leaders may in fact be nothing more them a pernicious myth. THOMAS E. RICKS is the author, most recently, of "Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom." His column appears twice a year.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [December 10, 2017] Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Ekirch (Birthright), professor of history at Virginia Tech, delves into the far-reaching ramifications of a violent 18th-century mutiny on the HMS Hermione, a British frigate. He persuasively argues that the fallout of the mutiny-specifically the extradition of Jonathan Robbins (aka Thomas Nash), a key mutineer, from the fledgling U.S. to Great Britain and his subsequent hanging-was pivotal in the bitterly fought battle for the American presidency between incumbent John Adams and challenger Thomas Jefferson. Ekirch also builds a strong case that the politics informing the controversy were instrumental in the historical refusal of the U.S. to extradite aliens charged solely with political crimes. Ekirch, a meticulous historian who writes with flair, brings the political theatre of the 1800 election into full view. He explains in detail how Jefferson's Republican Party turned Robbins into a martyr and cause célèbre, which helped bring an end to the Adams administration. Modern readers will recognize several elements of the campaign to discredit Adams: a vitriolic press, high-profile Congressional hearings, and threats of censure. The story of how a mutiny on a British frigate became a major influence in U.S. politics and spawned bedrock U.S. policy is a complex and instructive tale. (Mar.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

In 1797, the British navy suffered the bloodiest mutiny in its history aboard the HMS Hermione. The ringleader, impressed seaman Jonathan Robbins, was relentlessly pursued and soon apprehended in Charleston, SC. Robbins's subsequent extradition and brutal execution sparked a fierce controversy in the young American republic over the rights of accused citizens and the limits of executive power over the judiciary, ultimately affecting the outcome of the election of 1800 and becoming a rallying cry for backers of the War of 1812. Historian Ekirch (At Day's Close) does an extraordinary job relating how, in an age of revolutionary foment, America became an asylum for political dissidents and the ways in which the concept of being an American came to be based as much on personal conviction as nativity. Narrator Tom Zingarelli's skillful use of geographic and class accents enlivens the many characters in this riveting story. Ekirch's extensive use of primary sources, particularly contemporary newspapers, brings immediacy to a little-known chapter of our history. -VERDICT Highly recommended for students of the history and political foundations of early America. ["Intended for both history enthusiasts as well as casual readers, this book will especially appeal to fans of post-Colonial U.S. history": LJ 11/15/16 review of the Pantheon hc.]-Forrest Link, Coll. of New Jersey Lib., Ewing © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.