What two people from the Revolutionary period who never met (so far as we know) do you wish you could introduce? Why?
I would like to have seen Dr. Joseph Warren, who died tragically at Bunker Hill, meet Dr. Benjamin Rush. Warren would have soon concluded Rush was an airhead and not even a good doctor. It might have led to the demolition of Rush’s undeserved reputation.
As Joseph Plumb Martin fled pell-mell northward on Manhattan Island, and George Washington rode southward urging the routed greenhorns to stand and fight, I’d love to push history’s ever-elusive “pause” button. Then, with yet another wave of the magic wand, the general and the private trade places. What better way to demonstrate the importance of circumstance and perspective?
John Hancock and Frederick, Lord North. Hancock was president of the Continental Congress during the time that independence was debated and declared, and Lord North was Prime Minister of Great Britain when the most inflammatory acts of Parliament were debated and passed. One wonders how they would’ve discussed their different perspectives with each other. Note that the obvious answer to this question is George Washington and King George III, but neither of these men had the same authority that the leaders of their respective legislative bodies did.
Lately I’ve been wondering what George III would have had to say to George Washington after the war. By the end of the 1790s, according to portrait artist Benjamin West, the king had come to admire the President, most especially for stepping away from power. George III himself made important steps in establishing that the British monarchy deferred to Parliament. Ironically, by the 1790s the British king probably exercised less power than the American President, yet only one of those men was allowed to retire.
So far as I know, Benedict Arnold and John Burgoyne did not meet during the failed British Saratoga campaign during 1777. Had they done so, they could have discussed how Arnold’s battlefield aggressiveness, as compared to Horatio Gates’s defensive mindedness, carried the campaign for the Americans, even though Gates was later crowned with a Congressional medal and declared the hero of Saratoga.
I am going to fudge and mention two who knew one another, but never saw each other after 1776. Benjamin Franklin and Joseph Galloway were political partners who dominated Pennsylvania politics during much of the twenty years before the war. Once hostilities began, Galloway first chose neutrality, then Loyalism. In vain, Franklin begged him to support the Revolution. Galloway lost everything and spent the final quarter century of his life in exile in England. I think it would have been fascinating to hear them talk had they met again a few years after the war. Would Galloway have acknowledged that he erred? What would he have said of England?
George III and General George Washington. It would be interesting to hear what George III would have to say to the general who took his colonies in North America away. George Washington had some harsh comments about George III in his letters; would he repeat them directly to the king or be polite? Would they discuss the war’s campaigns? It would be an interesting meeting.
Thomas Jefferson and Boston King. We all know Jefferson; King was a slave who escaped to the British and assisted them. Given Jefferson’s statement that “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence, his own ambivalence about slavery, and his rational approach to issues and individuals, I think he would have found King’s account of the harshness of slavery and his view of the British as liberators thought-provoking and it may have possibly influenced Jefferson’s future actions in regard to slavery. Maybe King’s story would have been so compelling that Jefferson would have been encouraged to follow his instincts and take action against slavery during his presidency, sparing our country a civil war.
We know about the frank and emotional 1785 meeting between King George III and John Adams in which His Majesty explained, of sorts, that he had just been doing his duty to his people in prosecuting the war. But the King wisely added, “I would be the first to meet the friendship of the United States as an independent power.” Then what if we jumped ahead to 1797? George Washington had already resigned his military authority in 1783… but was now, after two terms as president, resigning his political authority and was walking away from power. No one in history had ever done that. Upon hearing that, the King said that Washington was “the greatest character of the age.” What if, then, after that… George Washington met George III? Can you imagine the momentous conversation that would have happened?
Think how fascinating it would be to invite to dinner Green Mountain Boy and Colonel Ethan Allen and British General John Burgoyne. With wine and punch flowing freely, both would be a “life of the party” recounting colorful, witty and maybe a few “off color” stories. I bet the revelry would last into the wee hours!
I think Joseph Handy, a farmer from Lee, Massachusetts whose Revolutionary land grant was in “the Bloody Patch” near Kettleville, New York would have appreciated Daniel Morgan. Family stories about Handy’s rough-hewn practicality and “take no crap” mentality echo those told about Daniel Morgan. Both appeal to my own Red Neck sense of humor and “get er done” mentality.
Daniel Morgan. Banastre Tarleton. Bare knuckles. Nuff said.
My personal choices would be Thomas Jefferson and William Livingston. I have worked on both at different points and see them as both very similar and very different at the same time. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to suggest that the two met during their stints at the Continental Congress before independence. They were both from socially prominent families, but one was a northern son of a Manor Lord and the other was a southern plantation owner. Two highly privileged but radically different backgrounds and circumstances. Professionally, both were lawyers engaged in political polemics, but, while Jefferson got others to do his polemics for the most part, Livingston wrote (and published) his own. Even while serving as governor of New Jersey, he continued writing pseudonymous pieces for the state’s newspaper. Both men were highly engaged intellectuals, though Livingston took more interest in belles lettres and less in science, as Jefferson did. Both served as wartime governors with wildly different results, as Livingston held the office for ten years while also successfully managing the state’s militia efforts; meanwhile, Jefferson’s governorship ended in disgrace as he failed to defend the state from British invasion, before escaping to avoid capture. Most glaringly, in terms of politics, though he died before the party system developed, Livingston was a proto-federalist during the 1780s, while Jefferson was, of course, a proto-Jeffersonian. They would have sufficient similarities to provide the basis for conversation, while also enough differences to ensure that the conversation was lively.