As the young American Republic emerged from one crisis only to lurch into another, the Federalist stalwart Fisher Ames drily summed up the political landscape: “God looks out for drunks and the United States of America.” At no time in our history was that truer—or divine providence more necessary—than at the country’s inception. During the Revolutionary War, the nation was blessed with a commanding general whose previous signal military achievement was, as a young man, to fire the shots that inadvertently touched off the Seven Years’ War. As the commander of the Continental Army, he won, by some counts, a total of three battles against the King’s forces. He lost many more, along with the lives and treasure that entails. As a result, he was compelled to become a master of the strategic retreat. Routed in New York City, he withdrew through New Jersey and eventually lost Philadelphia, then the nation’s capital, as...


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