The depth and breadth of ignorance in the U.S. about our own history takes my breath away. Apparently the majority of our citizens haven’t learned anything about the country in which they live since third grade and I’m not sure they fully absorbed those lessons, either.
So let’s discuss a few things about the Revolutionary War. Let’s talk about how come we rebelled against England rather than peaceably settling our differences.
The revolution was fought after we exhausted every other peaceable option. Petitions and negotiations failed, but we kept trying anyway until it became obvious that it was hopeless.
We didn’t seek war with England for many excellent reasons. We were dependent economically on trade with England. It was through English merchants that we could trade with the rest of the world. From an arms point of view, we were ill-equipped. We had no navy, no naval ships, no naval commanders. We barely had guns. We didn’t have a big enough population to support an army for any length of time. We had no factories, no mills, no shipyards.
We relied on England for most finished goods — furniture, guns, fashions, cutlery, dishes, porcelain — as well as many things such as tea that we can’t grow here. In fact, everything we couldn’t make ourselves, which included all luxury goods and many necessities — came from or through England. We had some budding young industries, but they were far from ready for prime times. For example, it wasn’t until 1789 that we were able to build our first functional cotton-spinning mill and that was only because an Englishman named Slater decided to come from England and show us how to do it.
What our American colonies wanted was not to be Americans. We wanted to be English citizens.
We wanted the right to vote in parliament as equals with other Englishmen. The cry of “no taxation without representation” (remember that?) didn’t mean that we were unwilling to pay taxes. It mean that we wanted the right to vote on taxes. We wanted our votes and voices heard. Whether or not we would or would not pay a particular tax was not the issue. Everyone paid taxes then and now. We wanted seats in Parliament and British citizenship so that we had something to say about what taxes were levied on us, among other things. We wanted to participate in ruling our own lands.
King George was a classic historical asshole. His counselors strongly recommended he make an accommodation with the colonies. Everyone except King George thought war was a bad idea.
Most Americans considered themselves Englishmen. Had the British a more flexible, savvy, intelligent monarch on the throne, war could have been averted. We would be, as the Canadians are, part of the British Commonwealth. There would have been no war. One bone-headed monarch thought fighting a war was better than compromise. He was a fool and quite possibly addled.
Having bravely declared war, something that many people though a really bad idea, both here and abroad, we almost lost it. We would have lost were it not for two critical factors:
(1) British unwillingness to pursue the war aggressively.
(2) French ships and European mercenaries.
Without French assistance and mercenaries from central Europe, we would have been squashed by the British. They were better armed, better trained, and had ships with guns plus well-trained sailors to man them.
Just as we considered ourselves English, albeit living abroad in a colony rather than on English soil, English soldiers and commanders were not overly eager to slaughter people they considered fellow Englishmen. They didn’t pursue the war with the kind of deadly enthusiasm that winning requires.
Was it merely that they were such poor battle commanders that they didn’t know how to beat an untrained rabble trying to be an army? That’s our myth, but it’s not the truth. There is considerable dispute on how deeply this affected the course of the war. I side with those who think that the British found it distasteful to shoot people with whom a short time before they had been friends and with whom the hoped to be friends again.
Many British citizens sympathised with the colonists, and that included a goodly number of the troops. This sympathy ran very high up in the British government. Many important people in England were none too happy with King George’s policies and while they did as they were told, they didn’t do it with the energy and enthusiasm they had displayed in other conflicts. They didn’t pursue this war with ferocity or passion, in part because they couldn’t believe we had any chance of winning and because they were convinced we’d work it out through negotiations and felt that the fewer people who got slaughtered in the interim, the less hard feeling there would be afterwards.
And they didn’t expect the French to show up. As soon as the French fleet arrived, a few more battles were fought … and British went home. Had they pursued the war from the start with vigor, we wouldn’t have lasted long enough for the French to get here, much less save our asses.
No one preferred war to a negotiated settlement. Rebellion was never our the first or best choice. If a different King had sat on England’s throne at that critical moment in history, the world would be a different place.
There’s a lot of mythology about the American Revolution. That it is only partly true and contains much that is fabricated should surprise no one. Every nation needs heroes and myths. But grown ups usually read a couple of books and learn that there’s more to the story than the stuff they learned when they were 8. There are thousands of books about the Revolution, the period preceding and following it … and the less popular second part of the war, called “The War of 1812” but which was part two of the Revolution. We lost part two when the British burned Washington D.C. to the ground.
We did not win the Revolution. We survived it. Barely.
Andrew Jackson’s big win at New Orléans in 1814 kept the British from coming back and finishing the job they had so well begun, but that battle took place a full 10 days after the war ended. Losing it would no doubt have encouraged the British to possibly return and flatten us even more thoroughly than they already had, but the Battle of New Orléans was not decisive. The war was over when it took place. No one had a cell phone, so they didn’t know, which is why I contend that the course of history would be greatly altered if everyone had owned a cell phone.
To everyone who has not done so, I urge you to upgrade your understanding of history and how it has shaped our nation, its policies, and our world. Ignorance may be blissful for the ignorant, but when such people gain power, the rest of us pay in blood. We eked out a victory in that first war and then, less than a hundred years later managed to hold the nation together as it tried to self-destruct during the Civil War. Those who seem dedicated to tossing away these victories are fools … ignorant dangerous fools. They already have the blessing of living in a strong nation of laws, where elections are held and the transfer of power from one administration to the next is not accompanied by death in battle. There is no better form of government. There are some that are perhaps as good, but none better, none more fair, none that offers more protection to its citizens. You don’t throw that away because your guys didn’t win this election. Talk about throwing out the baby with the bath water, or perhaps cutting off your nose to spite your face … this is stupidity on a massive level.
Fools are rushing in where angels would never dare tread. We need to recognize these so-called citizens for what they are: losers with bad attitudes.