Literature Study Guides1776Key Figure Analysis

1776 | Study Guide

David McCullough

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1776 | Key Figure Analysis


General George Washington

Washington, a well-bred Virginian with refined tastes, at first shows contempt for his Yankee troops, whom he labels dirty, nasty, and stupid. Yet he is a courageous, natural leader who is able to learn from his own mistakes and who believes deeply in the cause of liberty. In a letter quoted in the text, Washington attributes his ability to persevere to "the finger of Providence." A tall, robust figure, hale and hearty, Washington exudes self-control and dignity. To look on him is to induce a feeling of respect and reverence. He is a man to whom "appearances [are] of great importance: a leader must look and act the part." That a man of such stature and wealth should be willing to hazard it all for the "Glorious Cause" of America is a powerful motivator for his troops.

Joseph Reed

Joseph Reed is one of few people in the book depicted as having an intimate view of his commander's internal thoughts and emotions. Washington trusts Reed's advice immensely, and though the two are often in agreement, Reed privately admits his doubts about Washington's leadership. However, they are eventually able to rebuild their trust and sense of loyalty, and Reed plays a key role in many of Washington's military strategies and moves.

General Nathanael Greene

General Nathanael Greene, from Rhode Island, is made a general at the tender age of 33. He has asthma, a crippled leg, and a clouded eye. However, his loyalty, along with that of his friend Colonel Henry Knox, helped change General George Washington's mind about the competence of New Englanders.

Colonel Henry Knox

Colonel Henry Knox is self-made and self-educated. Like Nathanael Greene, he has taught himself the art of war. It is Knox who proposes the raid on Ticonderoga that ultimately supplies the army with guns, and he brilliantly carries out the mission under extreme circumstances. General George Washington recommends Knox be promoted to a general after the Battle of Trenton.

General William Howe

While General Howe is respected by his men, he makes a number of puzzling wartime decisions that cause the war to drag on. Like his brother, Admiral Richard Howe, he is a career military man who rose to his position through his family ties. Howe's leadership style is at odds with Washington's: he makes decisions easily, but without the input of any of his men. He also tends to bide his time, which causes frustration and friction amongst his commanders on occasion.

Admiral Richard Howe

Admiral Richard Howe, also referred to as Admiral Lord Howe, like is brother, is a career military man born into his position through aristocratic ties. He often plays the role of peacemaker, offering the Americans conciliations on two occasions in the hopes of ending the war.

General Henry Clinton

General Henry Clinton is a trusted man in General William Howe's army and has a great deal of experience in wartime battle. However, tensions with his commander run high as they disagree about military tactics and strategies. Howe eventually replaces him with General Charles Cornwallis.

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