Although not an academic historian, Barbara Tuchman, by her own acknowledgment, derived her chief canon of historical writings from one of the founders of modern, academic historiography: Germany’s Leopold von Ranke. According to Ranke, having amassed their research historians were to eschew interpretations and allow the facts to speak for themselves. If such a goal was unattainable, and all sensible scholars recognized that it was, at least it set a course toward “objectivity.”
Tuchman does deal in facts concerning those aspects of the American Revolution that she has chosen to view. Most of her materials, indeed, had long been familiar to and confirmed by professional historians. Therefore, aside from the intrinsic joy of reading a well-written work, the real value of The First Salute, somewhat contrary to the author’s desire to let her facts explain what happened, is interpretive.
The attraction of Tuchman’s approach lies in her manifest belief that the personalities and actions of individuals, rather than ineluctable forces, are responsible for lending substance to grand strategies, inherited tactics, governmental pronouncements, and blanket policies. Individual wills and characters—often brave and competent, at times and in some circumstances brilliant, but just as often vain, weak, and vacillating—determined events.
Thus George Washington’s tenacity and almost spiritual strength miraculously kept an always tiny rebel...
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