In 1776, what are the author's topic, main points, and arguments?
McCullough's book is about how difficult the first year of the American Revolution was and how luck, ingenuity, and resilience played a role in the Americans' ability to continue fighting. For example, in the summer of 1775, after the rousing skirmishes at Lexington and Concord, the Continental troops that were camped near Boston waiting to lay siege to the city were afflicted with typhoid, lice, and sheer filth. British observers characterized Washington's army as "rabble in arms" who looked far more like farmers than soldiers.
However, what this army had in its favor, as McCullough writes, is that they were accustomed to hard work. They lived in a harsh climate, and they were seasoned by enduring hardships in life. Existing as they did in a world without many comforts, they had to use ingenuity. They and their leaders—people like Nathanael Greene, a self-educated Quaker with a limp who was nonetheless a great general though he had never had any previous experience in battle—were able to survive against what seemed like an unbeatable opponent. After defeating the British in Boston, the Continental Army tenaciously hung on, even after having to leave New York City, benefiting from pluck, ingenuity, and, at times, sheer luck.
1776 focuses on the military events of the American revolution in that year, a year that did not go well from the American point of view. McCullough's main point is that the Americans could have lost the war, and that they won it largely because the British did not pursue victory wholeheartedly and thus threw away opportunities for a decisive win. For example, British General Howe inexplicably did not take Philadelphia, the capitol of the republic, when he could have, denying the British an important symbolic conquest that might have demoralized the Americans. He also did not pursue George Washington relentlessly enough in New York. In other words, McCullough contends that the American did not win the war so much as the British lost it.
The book relies heavily on first person accounts that show the revolution brought together an unlikely cast of characters from the aristocratic Washington to the Quaker Green. It argues as well, using the words of a Boston bookseller named Henry Knox, that whether or not the Americans won the war, they were, in all actuality, already independent and would have gained formal independence sooner or later.
1776 by David McCullough is a book about a pivotal year in the American Revolution in which the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and made the momentous decision that the Colonies should fight for independence from Britain.
The book is divided into three parts, organized in roughly chronological order. Although it does include some discussion of the ideology behind the desire of the Colonies for independence, it is more closely focused on the military aspects of the conflict between the Colonies and Britain and the personalities involved. McCullough attempts to give a balanced account of the major players in the conflicts, both British and Colonial.
The main argument of the book is that the success of the fight for independence was not a foregone conclusion, but that chance affected the military outcomes. Rather than giving a triumphalist account of the success of the colonists, instead 1776 attempts to portray both sides fairly.