30 Sep
Posted in: Book Reviews
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Book Review: “The Mind of an American Revolutionary” by Jon Foyt

The Mind of an American RevolutionaryReviewed by Bev Scott

Jon Foyt has written a well-researched and engaging book about the American revolutionary, Robert Morris.  We follow Robert’s life from his youth in Liverpool without a father or mother to his success in ocean commerce and trade connecting the New World to the rest of the world.  He became a trusted leader and influential citizen of Philadelphia during the American Revolution helping to finance the Revolution itself.

This is not an action-packed story of the intrigues and horrors of the Revolutionary War.   Foyt takes a different path than many authors in emphasizing the thoughts, opinions and feelings of the protagonist. Hence, the book is an exploration of the developing mind of Robert Morris as he achieves success, articulates the rationale for the Revolution and struggles with temptations which will increase his wealth or meet his sexual desires.

Early in the book, the author introduces a Major Lowenstein a Hessian Mercenary and doctor sent by his German Landgraf Prince to learn about what goes on in the mind of Revolutionaries.  Through conversations and interviews with Major Lowenstein, we learn about the dreams, beliefs and values of Robert Morris.  Morris articulates his dreams of freedom from the laws of the English Crown which he believes will bring expansive future economic opportunities.  Another character, a barmaid named Betsy, is also used in similar fashion to unearth the thoughts and opinions of Morris.  Although Morris was considered a member of the elite society, he remembered his own origins as an uneducated youth from Liverpool.  He knew that many of the subjects in the Colonies were intelligent and curious yet unable to read and write.  As he engages in conversation with Betsy, the barmaid, he treats her with respect and answers her questions and shares his views of the growing movement for freedom from the King.

Morris’s quick financial mind and his trustworthy reputation enable him to build a prosperous commercial ocean trading business and to marry into the upper class of Philadelphian society.  However, his expanding dreams for the new Republic and his belief in his own ability become contaminated with his own arrogance and greed, leading to his downfall.

Foyt opens the book by introducing us to an established and confident Robert Morris, and brings both Betsy and Major Lowenstein into the scene.  The author’s effort to provide the context for the relationship among these characters and to use them to explore the mind of Robert Morris results in a slower and less engaging start than the book deserves.  The pace picks up when we learn about Robert’s early life and the challenges he encounters when he arrives in the Colonies.  Because of the approach taken by the author to explore the mind of the American Revolutionary, the character of Robert Morris is well developed and engaging.  I was lost in the extensive description of the waterfront seen by the young Robert on his arrival to the New World, but Foyt brings in historical detail and “real” characters from our Revolutionary history which add depth and interest as the story unfolds.

I recommend this book if you love American history and you are intrigued by the development of the thinking, philosophy, and beliefs that led to the Revolution and to our Founding documents and the principles of democracy.

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So, what do you think?

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