04 July 2014

Happy Independence Day!

Today is celebrated as our nation's birthday, when the Second Continental Congress publicly distributed the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. As the Revolutionary War is the period of my current WIP, let me dispel a few myths we Americans are spoon-fed from our first days of school, like this Schoolhouse Rock video demonstrates:

[ But I still love Schoolhouse Rock.]

1. All Americans wanted Independence from England.
   NOPE. This was not a unanimous, nor even widespread agreement to split from Britain. Not even one third of the colonial population wanted a complete break. Most people only wanted to go back to the "hands off" policies Parliament had given the colonies from their earliest days. It was only after the French and Indian War --Seven Year's War in the UK-- that Parliament decided the colonists needed to repay the Crown for the expenses of their defense. Considering that most of the blood shed and lives lost had been colonists, they felt that had already paid enough.

2. Samuel Adams was a defender of Liberty and greatly admired.
   NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH. Samuel Adams was a terrorist of the first rank who hated George III and Parliament with every fiber of his being for the ruin and disgrace they had inflicted upon his father and his family. Samuel had watched his status tumble from the highest ranking at Harvard to the absolute bottom. Everything he had crumbled to dust when the Crown made it illegal for colonists to mint their own money for commerce and trade amongst themselves. He ran his father's brewery into the ground. But he was a master manipulator of the highest order and could stir the emotions of hard-pressed men into a riotous mob in a matter of minutes. If you did not agree with him, if you held different beliefs (such as being a Catholic) and openly opposed him, Sam would send the mob on a "home invasion": they would storm into a house and destroy everything in their path. If they caught the person they were after, he would be tarred, feathered, paraded through the streets, and finally hung by a rope around his chest from the Liberty Tree. How anyone ever survived that ordeal is truly astonishing. Sam Adams was not admired--he inspired fear in loyalists and colonists alike.

3. The Boston Tea Party united the colonies against George III.
   Oh hell to the no. Most of the colonists outside of Boston were aghast when they heard about the wanton vandalism of the tea ships. Benjamin Franklin proposed the people of Massachusetts should reimburse the East India Company the price of the lost cargo--£9,659 or about $1 million today. But then Parliament blew an opportunity to avoid conflict big time and passed the retaliative Coercive Acts, which came to be known as The Intolerable Acts. Those did more to unite the Thirteen than anything Samuel Adams could invent.

4. The American Militia outwitted the British.
  Actually, the British kept shooting themselves in the feet. From the vindictiveness of Lord North and Parliament to the hesitation of General Gage and the overblown egos of many English generals--artistocrats all, they considered themselves far superior to any colonial rabble--those in charge continually played into Samuel Adams' hands and the nonconformist thinking of many American commanders who had learned how to fight when outnumbered from the French and Indian War. 

5. George Washington was a brilliant military strategist.
   He was intelligent, thoughtful, and quite willing to listen to his other commanders' opinions, but George Washington sometimes boxed himself into corners, getting outflanked and outmaneuvered because he wanted to fight in the European style. He had wanted a commission in the English Army after the French and Indian War but had been rejected, so he hoped to beat them at their own game. He would be defying the greatest superpower in the world at the time with very few cannons, little munitions, and an army that had no sense of chain of command or discipline. A man became an officer if he brought eight or more men in with him (usually all relatives). Everyone was used to adding their input to the decision-making process such as in their town hall meetings. And when a battle was over, they could go home. That was the state of the army Washington had to whip into shape in a matter of mere months. If it hadn't been for major blunders by British commanders and the timely arrival of Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de La Fayette with French forces, the war might very well have had a different outcome.
HOWEVER ~
American colonists had no true concept of rigid class division by the mid-eighteenth century. There was no aristocracy one had to be born into to acquire admiration or authority. All anyone had to do to achieve higher social status was to be ambitious and successful. Even should you fail, you could try again and again with determination, persistance, and luck. This was totally unheard of in Europe. And govern themselves without the divine right of a king? It was impertinent, obnoxious, and absurd. How dare these "Americans" think such a thing?

The American Revolution was an absolutely incredible feat. By all accounts, we never should have won. But for a few horrible decisions, it never would have come to a war and bloodshed. There was no central government. The Thirteen Colonies had no central income, no reserves, no money to pay their army. They had no navy at all when the Declaration was signed. To start a war over "Taxation without Represenation"? The taxes the new American government had to levy after the Revolution were far higher than the two pence per ton on tea that got Sam Adams' knickers in a knot. In fact, Washington had to put down Shay's Rebellion in 1786-87 over these taxes, resulting in the rejection of the Ariticles of Confederation and the drafting of the U.S. Constitution.

Yet, it seems Fate was determined this "experiment in democracy" would happen, and succeed, and flourish for these 238 years. Imperfect? You bet. We have much work yet to do. But there is much to admire in this country, much to emulate, and much to love. We were, and still are by and large, a determined and incredible people. (Outside of WalMart, of course.)

 
Happy Birthday, kids. Let Freedom Ring.

~Jude

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