Bancroft has long been condemned as a traitor to his country—“perfidy” was the word the great US diplomatic historian, Samuel Flagg Bemis, used to describe Bancroft’s work—but Schaeper points out that, before making this accusation, one must first ask, “what was his country?
” (61) When the Revolution began, Schaeper notes, most colonists still thought of themselves as Englishmen rather than citizens of a separate entity.
Not every colonist favored independence or saw the British as tyrants.
Indeed, some maintained their loyalty to the crown and believed that it would be best for everyone if the colonies remained under British rule.
Unfortunately, however, during his brief trip to England in August 1776, the British had recruited Bancroft as a spy.
One of the strongest parts of the book is Schaeper’s exploration of Bancroft’s motives for spying.
He copied documents or wrote his own summaries of papers and meetings, and kept the British fully informed of all aspects of Franco-American diplomacy, French commercial and financial assistance to the Americans, and French military planning.
Bancroft’s communications methods were no different than those that already had been in use for centuries and, except writing everything by hand, still are used today.
Along the way, the leaders of the rebellion proclaimed the new country’s independence in a document that still inspires, and the fledgling government carried off several diplomatic coups that did much to help seal the victory.
But there was a more ambiguous side to the story as well.