Unlikely Allies by Joel Richard Paul '77

Unlikely Allies: How a Merchant, a Playwright, and a Spy Saved the American Revolution

by Joel Richard Paul '77

When I started writing UNLIKELY ALLIES I was self-conscious about the fact that I have no graduate training in history. My graduate work in law and economics did not really prepare me to write a book on American diplomatic history, and my undergraduate work at Amherst gave me just enough knowledge to feel intimidated by the judgment of other historians.

I went out on a limb in several respects writing UNLIKELY ALLIES. First, I challenged the conventional story of how we won the American Revolution. The conventional story says that Benjamin Franklin single-handedly convinced France to arm the Americans and forge an alliance against Britain. But I argued that Franklin had very little to do with arming the Americans, and he was more of a celebrity figure than a hands-on diplomat.

And while I sought to rehabilitate the reputation of Silas Deane, who has been variously denounced as a traitor, thief, spy, or fool, I questioned the contribution of the famous Lee family of Virginia. In my view, Richard Henry Lee and his neurotic brother Arthur were motivated by personal greed and vindictiveness as much as they were motivated by genuine patriotism.

I also asserted that the Revolution might have been lost had it not been for the complex relationship between the French comic playwright Beaumarchais and the cross-dressing diplomat d’Eon. Few historians have previously acknowledged the bisexuality of Beaumarchais or the trans-sexuality of d’Eon. In my view, d’Eon’s decision to admit that he was a she provided the catalyst that persuaded Louis XVI to arm the Americans.

Finally, I alleged that Deane was murdered by a fellow patriot who was a celebrated hero of the American Revolution.

Perhaps I went too far out on a limb. Did you find my book convincing? Or should I have kept writing law review articles and left the diplomatic history to the professionals?

I welcome your comments, criticisms, and questions!


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