Born in Washington, D.C., in 1943, H. Graham Lowry graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1965, majoring in American history. Awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, he enrolled for graduate study at the University of Wisconsin (M.A., 1968). He taught undergraduate history at Wisconsin, and subsequently at Rutgers (Newark) and Boston University. In 1979-80, he directed Lyndon LaRouche’s Presidential primary campaign in New Hampshire, and he served for many years as a member of the National Committee of the National Caucus of Labor Committees, a philosophical association founded by Lyndon LaRouche in the late 1960s. In later years, nothing was more enjoyable to him than teaching members of the LaRouche Youth Movement, and taking them to see the historic sites where America’s patriots had advanced the cause of the Republic.
A number of Graham’s forebears, as ordinary citizens, took part in some of the episodes of this book; but none of his academic colleagues ever suggested that America had such an inspiring past. With his wife, Pamela, and twin sons, Colin and Malcolm, he visited and photographed most of the locations mentioned in this book. Graham died on July 28, 2003 from the effects of hemochromatosis, a genetic disease that was diagnosed too late to save his life.
Here is the impetuous young officer whose miraculous survival in combat half-convinced him that he could not be killed. Here is the free-spending landowner whose debts to English merchants instilled him with a prickly resentment of imperial power. We see the general who lost more battles than he won and the reluctant president who tried to float above the partisan feuding of his cabinet. His Excellency is a magnificent work, indispensable to an understanding not only of its subject but also of the nation he brought into being.
Chronicling General Lafayette’s years in Washington’s army, Vowell reflects on the ideals of the American Revolution versus the reality of the Revolutionary War. Riding shotgun with Lafayette, Vowell swerves from the high-minded debates of Independence Hall to the frozen wasteland of Valley Forge, from bloody battlefields to the Palace of Versailles, bumping into John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Lord Cornwallis, Benjamin Franklin, Marie Antoinette and various kings, Quakers and redcoats along the way.
Drawn to the patriots’ war out of a lust for glory, Enlightenment ideas and the traditional French hatred for the British, young Lafayette crossed the Atlantic expecting to join forces with an undivided people, encountering instead fault lines between the Continental Congress and the Continental Army, rebel and loyalist inhabitants, and a conspiracy to fire George Washington, the one man holding together the rickety, seemingly doomed patriot cause.
While Vowell’s yarn is full of the bickering and infighting that marks the American past—and present—her telling of the Revolution is just as much a story of friendship: between Washington and Lafayette, between the Americans and their French allies and, most of all between Lafayette and the American people. Coinciding with one of the most contentious presidential elections in American history, Vowell lingers over the elderly Lafayette’s sentimental return tour of America in 1824, when three fourths of the population of New York City turned out to welcome him ashore. As a Frenchman and the last surviving general of the Continental Army, Lafayette belonged to neither North nor South, to no political party or faction. He was a walking, talking reminder of the sacrifices and bravery of the revolutionary generation and what the founders hoped this country could be. His return was not just a reunion with his beloved Americans it was a reunion for Americans with their own astonishing, singular past.
Vowell’s narrative look at our somewhat united states is humorous, irreverent and wholly original.