Thomas J. Schaeper


On his book Edward Bancroft: Scientist, Author, Spy

Cover Interview of June 07, 2011


I think my book makes some significant contributions in several areas.

In my discussion of patriotism and treason, I add to what others have said about the necessity of viewing the American Revolution as a civil war. There are countless examples of families being torn apart, as one person sided with America and another with the mother country. These include Benjamin Franklin and his Loyalist son William and John Jay and his Loyalist brother James.  Like perhaps a half million Americans, Edward Bancroft was a Loyalist, not a traitor.

Another area of larger significance involves the reasons for Britain’s loss in the war.  Britain was the wealthiest country in Europe and had the largest navy in the world.  Thanks to Bancroft, it was better informed about Franco-American war plans than was the Continental Congress.  So why did Bancroft’s secret intelligence not help to guarantee a British victory?

In the book I explain the reasons why the Crown often could not or would not make better use of his information.

Partly this has to do with built-in weaknesses in Prime Minister Lord North’s cabinet. Lord North was an indecisive war-time leader and unable to control the conflicting desires of the ministers who worked under him.

Also, from the start Britain had little chance to win the war.  The Loyalists were never as strong a force as Britain had hoped.  Moreover, large as it was, the British navy was stretched thin. It was charged with patrolling the American and French coasts, protecting possessions in the Caribbean, and guarding Britain itself from possible invasions by France and Spain.

In many ways, for Britain, the American Revolution was similar to Vietnam for the United States.  In both cases a superpower could win major battles and control the big cities, but it could not control the countryside.

© 2011 Thomas Schaeper