Roughly halfway through Independence, the fictitious Henry Houghton returns to his farm in Still River, Delaware, to visit his family and warn his neighbors of the urgent need to create their own militia. It is December 1776, and George Washington’s army is in full retreat, pursued by a much larger and better-trained British force under General Lord Charles Cornwallis. During Henry’s meeting with his neighbors, the oldest man in the village speaks up, “Our sons are getting killed. We’re trying to do business with paper currency that’s almost worthless. Two big armies are beating down on us, and now we are worried about the ruination of our land. I’m trying to remember what was so bad about being an Englishman.”
Mackenzie’s novel puts a fresh perspective on the revolution, dramatizing the struggles of conscience that every American faced as they tried to justify their cause of independence. The novel is about much more than that, of course, and includes vivid descriptions of famous battles such as Lexington, Bunker Hill, Saratoga, Trenton, and Yorktown. It also includes portrayals of historical figures such as George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and others. Separate storylines take place in the American colonies, London, and Paris.
Mackenzie’s rich descriptions, multi-layered plot, and effective character development bring to mind some of the great historical novels of the past, especially Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. Mackenzie’s Independence is a superb work of literature and should be recommended outside reading for every high school and college student studying American history.