One of Western history’s most perplexing enigmas is this: how did a loose collection of largely rural colonies, spread out along the margins of a vast unknown continent and with a combined population of not more than three million, manage to produce at the critical moment of national birth an array of extraordinary political and intellectual leaders unequalled before or since? It’s hard to think of parallels. Perhaps the effulgence of artistic brilliance in tiny Florence at the end of the fifteenth century and beginning of the sixteenth is an artistic equivalent. But then the mind draws a blank.
There isn’t an answer to this American puzzle. Maybe there was something in the colonial water. Or maybe sunspots were responsible. But the fact remains that in the period between the end of the French and Indian War (the Seven Years War) in 1763 and the final year