Our First Civil War is a fresh and dramatic recasting of the American Revolution, not just as a war between the American colonists and the British redcoats, but also as a violent battle between neighbors, friends, and family members—forced to make the terrifying choice between staying loyal to the Crown or joining the rebellion—where those committing sedition were ultimately remembered as heroes and Founding Fathers. George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were the unlikeliest of rebels. Washington in the 1770s stood at the apex of Virginia society. Franklin was more successful still, having risen from humble origins to world fame. John Adams might have seemed a more obvious candidate for rebellion, being of cantankerous temperament. Even so, he revered the law. Yet all three men became rebels against the British Empire that fostered their success. William Franklin might have been expected to join his father, Benjamin, in rebellion, but he remained loyal to the British. So did Thomas Hutchinson, a royal governor and friend of the Franklins, and Joseph Galloway, an early challenger to the Crown. They soon heard themselves denounced as traitors—for not having betrayed the country where they grew up. Native Americans and the enslaved had daunting choices to make, too, as civil war broke out around them. Ringing with contemporary resonance to today’s polarized nation—particularly in light of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol—master of character-driven narrative H. W. Brands tells the story of the Founding Fathers as it has never been told before: a drama that explores who will rebel and who will stay loyal as every colonist is forced to calculate the risks and consequences of their choices. He takes the Spirit of 1776 and strips away the inevitability, giving it new tension and excitement, from Washington’s days as a scout in the French and Indian Wars through the nail-biting battles of the Revolution. And he reminds us that before America could win its revolution against Britain, the Patriots had to win a bitter civil war against their sons and neighbors.
Brands’ visit is made possible through support from the University of Kentucky Department of History.