Synopses & Reviews
The first modern biography of the greatest traitor—and one of the most colorful characters—in American history.
Patriot, traitor, general, spy: James Wilkinson was a consummate contradiction. Brilliant and precocious, at age twenty he was both the youngest general in the revolutionary Continental Army, and privy to the Conway cabal to oust Washington from command. He was Benedict Arnolds aide, but the first to reveal Arnolds infamous treachery. By thirty-eight, he was the senior general in the United States army—and had turned traitor himself.
Wilkinsons audacious career as Agent 13 in the Spanish secret service while in command of American forces is all the more remarkable because it was anything but hidden. Though he betrayed Americas strategic secrets, sought to keep the new country from expanding beyond the Mississippi, and almost delivered Lewis and Clarks expedition into Spanish hands, four presidents—Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison—turned a blind eye to his treachery. They gambled that Wilkinson—by turns charming and ruthless—would never betray the army itself and use it to overthrow our nascent democracy—a fate every other democracy in the Western hemisphere endured. The crucial test came in 1806, when at the last minute Wilkinson turned the army against Aaron Burr and foiled his conspiracy to break up the U nion.
A superb writer and superlative storyteller, Andro Linklater captures with brio Wilkinsons charismatic ability to live a double life in public view. His saga shows, more clearly than any other, how fragile the young republic was and how its strength grew from the risks its leaders faced and the challenges they had to overcome.
"Anyone with a taste for charming, talented, complex, troubled, duplicitous and needy historical figures will savor this book. A Revolutionary War general at age 20, James Wilkinson (1757 1825), whom few now have heard of, knew everyone of consequence in the early nation, from Washington on down. But he squandered his gifts in repeated and apparently uncontrollable double dealing, betrayals (he spied for Spain), conspiracies and dishonesty in the decades following the war. Wilkinson seemed to pop up everywhere, always trying to make a deal and feather his nest. To those ends, he would as soon turn on those whom he had pledged to help as be traitor to the army he served. The only man he remained true to was Jefferson, who in the end spurned him. No one trusted him, as no one should have. Linklater (Measuring America) skillfully captures this sociopathic rogue who, for all his defects, still commands attention from everyone trying to understand the 50 years after 1775. His charisma reaches across two centuries to perplex and fascinate any reader of this fast-paced and fully researched work. 16 pages of b&w illus., 2 maps." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
James Wilkinson was a consummate contradiction during the Revolutionary War era. In this modern biography of the greatest traitor--and one of the most colorful characters--in American history, Linklater examines the extraordinary double life of Wilkinson.
For almost two decades, through the War of 1812, James Wilkinson was the senior general in the United States Army. Amazingly, he was also Agent 13 in the Spanish secret service at a time when Spain's empire dominated North America. Wilkinson's audacious career as a double agent is all the more remarkable because it was an open secret, circulated regularly in newspapers and pamphlets. His saga illuminates just how fragile and vulnerable the young republic was: No fewer than our first four presidents turned a blind eye to his treachery and gambled that the mercurial general would never betray the army itself and use it too overthrow the nascent union—a faith that was ultimately rewarded.
About the Author
Andro Linklater is the author of the highly praised Measuring America and The Fabric of America. He lives in England.