David McCullough

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Themes and Colors
Military Strategy Theme Icon
Leadership Theme Icon
Idealism vs. Practicality Theme Icon
Colonial Society Theme Icon
British Society Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in 1776, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Military Strategy

In 1776, David McCullough studies the early months of the Revolutionary War from the perspective of British and American military commanders. In this sense, his account of the war is strikingly different from that found in most history textbooks. Many American historians emphasize the idealistic, philosophical side of the conflict: the Founding Fathers’ belief in independence and democracy. While McCullough mentions this side of the war on many occasions (and has written about it…

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In addition to detailing the history of the Revolutionary War, 1776 studies the qualities of leadership on both sides of the war. By painting intimate, psychologically nuanced portraits of the British and American military leaders during the war, the book offers some important points about the nature of effective leadership. In part, 1776 suggests that the best leadership is a reflection of natural charisma and talent. First and foremost, McCullough advances this theory of leadership…

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Idealism vs. Practicality

Right away, 1776 draws an important contrast between the two sides of the American Revolution. On one hand, the revolution is the product of Enlightenment values. The Founding Fathers, one could argue, are motivated by their philosophical commitment to the principles of freedom, democracy, and self-determination, as epitomized in the Declaration of Independence. Classrooms and books about the revolution usually emphasize this side of the Revolutionary War. But, as 1776 immediately makes clear, the revolution…

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Colonial Society

In 1776, David McCullough provides a lot of detail about the structure of the American military during the Revolutionary War. But he also suggests that the military was itself a reflection of American society at the time. Based on his depiction of the American military, McCullough suggests that American society in the late 18th century was beginning to embrace principles of egalitarianism, meritocracy, and class mobility to an unprecedented degree. The American military offered…

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British Society

Just as 1776 paints a picture of colonial American society, it paints a picture of British society of the 18th century, as reflected in the structures of the British military. From the beginning, David McCullough emphasizes the rigid class structures and social hierarchies of the British military. On one end of the social hierarchy, British foot soldiers knew their place and obeyed their commanding officers. If lowly British soldiers were given opportunities for social advancement…

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