An Alternate History

Charles Thomson was uniquely qualified to write a history of his times. As secretary of the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1789, he had functioned as what one historian has described as the “prime minister” of the Congress….

Soon after his retirement in July 1789, Thomson set to work on a memoir of his tenure as secretary to the Congress, eventually completing a manuscript of more than a thousand pages. But as time went on and the story of the Revolution became enshrined in myth, Thomson realized that his account, titled “Notes of the Intrigues and Severe Altercations or Quarrels in the Congress,” would “contradict all the histories of the great events of the Revolution.” Around 1816 he finally decided that it was not for him “to tear away the veil that hides our weaknesses,” and he destroyed the manuscript. “Let the world admire the supposed wisdom and valor of our great men,” he wrote. “Perhaps they may adopt the qualities that have been ascribed to them, and thus good may be done. I shall not undeceive future generations.”

Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution, Nathaniel Philbrick