In his historical fiction, Jeff Shaara enlivens figures and events from the past. Certainly, his chronicle of the events leading to the American Revolution comes to life with the drama of the fateful order of "Fire" that ignites the Boston Massacre narrated by a British sentry. This tragic occurrence places the reluctant John Adams as the defense council for the enemy who has broken laws he holds sacred. But, because he is a staunch believer in justice, Adams acts honorably and wins the case for the British soldiers. Despite the unfavorable politics of this decision, Adams gains respect for his championing of the rule of law.This ruling, however, fosters the abuse of the British, who impose more restrictions upon the colonists. Shaara focuses on more pivotal events.
One of these is the burning of the British gunship Gaspee in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. Disgruntled citizens destroy the vessel because the captain has ordered raids upon local merchants. This retaliation leads to a brutal response by King George, who rescinds the right of the colonies to exercise courts independent of England. This act incenses John Adams, causing him to join with cousin Samuel Adams in the growing protest movement. Adams talks with his wife about the inevitability of the revolution:
"Unless there is some radical change, unless some miracle brings these politicians to their senses, there will be revolution. Same has been talking about that for years....But he was only premature. And he was right. ...There no negotiation, no compromise, no reasoning. There are no rules."
Another pivotal event is the discovery by Benjamin Franklin while in England of a packet of letters from the governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson in which he expresses his support for the heavy-handed policies of King George. With this revelation, Hutchinson becomes symbolic to the colonists of the King's oppression.
Of course, a major event in precipitating the Revolution is "The Boston Tea" Party which occurred as colonists weakly disguised as Mohawk Indians hurled 342 chests of tea into the harbor in protest against oppressive taxes. The British respond to this destruction by humiliating Franklin in England, leading the statesman to conclude that a conflict is dangerously near.
A further event is the replacement of the ineffectual Hutchinson with British General Thomas Gage as governor of Massachusetts. After this, the First Continental Congress convenes to draw up a petition to the king with a list of grievances; however, after it reaches London, it is completely ignored.
Then, an incendiary event occurs a year later in 1733 as Gage orders British troops to go into the countryside west of Boston in order to uncover and retrieve a cache of colonial weapons. But, Paul Revere has already warned the colonials who confront the British soldiers. Unfortunately, they are outnumbered and eight die. The British move to Concord where they encounter more colonial militia; this time, many British are slaughtered by the colonials who hide behind trees and lie before cover. The war that Gage was instructed to avoid has begun.
With the beginning of conflict, the Virginian George Washington is appointed commander of the new army. In the meantime, the Olive Branch Petition is written at the Second Continental Congress in 1775 in an effort to avert the break with England, but King George proclaims the colonies as in a state of rebellion.
In January of 1776, Thomas Paine writes his Common Sense and people begin to identify themselves as Americans. Later, in April Washington creates a plan to drive the British out of Boston; British General Howe decides to evacuate the city and removes the ships from the harbor.
The novel ends with the composition of the Declaration of Independence approved by the Continental Congress.
The author himself writes of his novel:
The story of colonial America's fight for independence from Great Britain is much more than a dry study of politics, of the heavy handed policies of King George III toward a people emerging into their own identity. It is the story of courage, of selflessness, of men and women who dared to speak out, to protest unwise and oppressive acts by their mother country.