Freedom Cover


The Enduring Importance of the American Revolution

Jack D. Warren Jr.

Lyons Press, Essex, Connecticut, 2023, 488 pages

Book Review published on: December 29, 2023

In his book Civilization: The West and the Rest, Niall Ferguson warned about the decline of the West, stating, “Maybe the real threat is posed not by the rise of China, Islam or CO2 emissions, but by our own loss of faith in the civilization we inherited from our ancestors … and the historical ignorance that feeds it.” I kept thinking of this warning as I read Freedom: The Enduring Importance of the American Revolution by Jack D. Warren. Historical ignorance is rife in American society, yet one of the requisites of a healthy republic is an informed citizenry. It is also important for us as American citizens to understand our past and the contributions of those before us in establishing a free society. Warren’s book helps in both respects.

Warren is doing his part to correct a general ignorance in our society of the importance of the American Revolution and the unique Nation that it birthed. Literacy and understanding of America’s founding and the ideas expressed in the Constitution has been in decline for decades. In May 2023, the National Center for Educational Statistics reported that 31 percent of eighth graders performed below the National Assessment and Education Program basic level for civics. A 2023 Annenberg Public Policy Center study found that 17 percent of American adults could not name even one branch of the government.

Warren is the founding director of the American Revolution Institute and served as executive director of the Society of the Cincinnati. As a member of the Society of the Cincinnati, he reminds the reader of one of the goals of the members of the society is to remember and honor the achievements of the American Revolution (269). This work is a part of that commitment.

In his prologue, Warren writes, “This book tells the story of how Americans came to fight for their freedom, and how they won their independence in the Revolutionary War, established a republican system of government, and became a united people, with a shared history and national identity.” He argues that the American Revolution had four outcomes: independence, establishment of a republic, creation of an American identity, and commitment to the ideals of the society—liberty, equality, natural and civil rights, and responsible citizenry. These four outcomes laid the foundation for a free society. He emphasizes that understanding the origins of these ideas and our shared history helps face the challenges of our contemporary society and supports prosperity in the future.

His central question of the book is “Why is America free?” He answers the question in the first sentence of his prologue where he asserts that America is free because “brave individuals fought a war to establish the independence of the United States and create a system of government to protect the freedom of its citizens.” He weaves individual stories of widely known individuals like Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and lesser known, but just as important people, throughout the book to support his assertion. For example, twelve-year-old John Becker and his father were two teamsters who helped Henry Knox move the artillery from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston. And there was Margaret Corbin, who was wounded at the battle for New York while serving as an artillery crew member after her husband fell, and who was recognized by congress with a soldier’s pension (131). She was the first female combat veteran (164). Warren asserts they were all important and contributed to shaping the American identity. One of the interesting methods he uses to connect each story is he ends them with the phrase “that America is free because ...” Each of these people is important to the story, and this simple phrase emphasizes that idea.

Warren tells this story in five chronological sections of twenty-one chapters framed by a prologue and epilogue. The book is a large 8.5-by-11-inch format, richly illustrated with maps, reproductions of famous prints of the era, and numerous portraits of widely known patriots and lesser-known individuals. Warren begins examining British America chronologically before the revolution and concludes with a description of the Federalist and Anti-Federalists’ views ending with the state constitutional conventions. Within each section he integrates thematic chapters in the chronology. The strength of the work is in the thematic chapters where Warren provides his analysis and interpretation of the philosophical underpinnings of the America Revolution and the events of the era. Examples include a chapter on the importance of ideas where he examines freedom, the enlightenment, and the influence of these ideas in the revolution, as well as his examination of ideas behind a republic.

The enduring theme of freedom and how the events of the American Revolution shaped America are still relevant today. Warren provides numerous insights into the ideals that shaped America. For example, on page 294 he comments on the importance of economic freedom: “Economic opportunity is fundamental to freedom. Tyranny feeds on poverty and distress by tempting victims with promises of at least a marginally better life in return for their submission. … [T]yranny relies on desperation and take should where people are convinced that wealth is limited and one person’s gain is another person’s loss.” “Freedom by contrast, flourishes where opportunity and economic success are widely enjoyed.” This is just an example of some of the ideological reflections Warren offers that make this work more than just a general history, supplying thoughts that are applicable today for military professionals as they reflect on why the American Revolution is still relevant.

Freedom: The Enduring Importance of the American Revolution at first glance is a general, popular history, somewhat of a “coffee table” book suitable as an introduction to the American Revolutionary period. Yet on closer examination, Freedom is more than a general history as Warren successfully explains and reflects upon the ideological underpinnings of our relatively young Nation (242 years) and is successful in illustrating the importance of the Revolutionary generation’s contribution to freedom in America. This book is a good introductory history and useful for those individuals who want a refresher on the importance of the American Revolution in our contemporary society.

Book Review written by: Col. Ken Turner, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth Kansas