The birth of the United States was an early milestone in establishing
political power based on military victory and social revolution.
For its time, the American Revolution was radical in the extreme.
While the rhetoric outstripped the reality, the principles and
philosophies drawn on to justify and construct the American political
system and ideology were new and dangerous. The arguments against
independence were many and weighty, but Revolutionary sentiment
swept over an otherwise sedate group of gentlemen, merchants and
How did the British view this great revolution? From the vantage
point of the established political structure this colonial insurrection
was a minor rebellion that if not properly staunched could spread.
After all, the French, Haitians, Chinese, Indians, South Americans,
and Africans all feel themselves legitimate inheritors of sovereign
political power as the result of their various revolutions.
Unfortunately, Americans have been poorly educated about their
own history. Many have heard of Washington and Franklin but are
not sure which one was the president. The ramifications of this
are graver than is commonly acknowledged.
It is important to recount some of the history to give context.
By 1763 the English had just fought the Seven Years' War against
the French in North America, Europe and on the high seas, incurring
millions of pounds in debt and direct costs. They needed to find
someone to finance the apparatus of state and empire. Who better
than the direct beneficiaries of the policies and actions of the
English government, the colonists? The resistance to taxes levied
by the British grew until it became violent rebellion. At which
point the Colonial and Royal Governments attempted to use their
police, military and judicial powers to enforce the will of the
As early as 1770 the colonists had effectively sought the elimination
of the Townshend and Quartering Acts, as well as prosecuted eight
English solders implicated in the Boston Massacre, in which three
rioters were killed in a scuffle with British military police.
By this point, the Sons of Liberty
had become active. This secret terrorist organization was filled
with colonists who sought to obstruct and overthrow the legitimate
functioning of the English government's system of laws and taxation.
Led by "godless
blasphemers" like Samuel Adams, people were incited to resist
Royal authority. In a widely circulated pamphlet, Adams questioned
the basic legitimacy of English representative government and the
John Hancock, a prominent supporter of cession, was seen as nothing
more than a rebellious smuggler, covering his crimes with a veil
of traitorous empty political rhetoric. While the owner of the
ship Liberty, a customs official was confined on board while wine
was smuggled off to avoid taxes. Local officials who seized the
ship were attacked and needed the intervention of two British warships
to rescue them. The taxes were used for the maintenance, protection
and well-being of the colonies. The quartering of troops was necessary
to keep the peace and protect citizens, as well as insure the prosperity
of the Empire.
The Boston Tea Party, so called, was initiated in response to
the continuation of a longstanding import duty. Groups of masked
terrorists attacked British ships in Boston Harbor, dumping over
three hundred barrels of tea into the water.
The responses (the Coercive Acts)
to the actions of civil insurrection taken by "revolutionaries and traitors" were met with
further acts of violence. On April 19, 1775 the English Military
Governor of Massachusetts ordered troops to seize an illegal cache
of weapons in a town outside Boston. A tense stand-off turned into
a military incident when rebels fired on and were then shot by
British troops on Lexington Green. After collecting the weapons
in Concord, the English troops were forced to retreat back to Boston
while under fire. The English suffered over two hundred causalities
in this operation. Understandably the English now feared this act
of insurrection would turn into general rebellion so they applied
pressure though-out the colonies. Fighting broke out again in June
1775 at Bunker Hill in Boston. In August of that year King George
III declared the colonies officially in "Open Rebellion."
In January 1776 the pamphlet “Common Sense” was published by former
Englishman Tom Paine. His radical idea of American independence
was made even more outlandish by his political treason and religious
idolatry. In May, the Americans made an illegal treaty with our
enemies in furtherance of their crimes. As if to boast of their
treason to the "candid world" on July 4, 1776 the colonists
issued the Declaration of Independence. After their acts of insurrection
and disloyalty these traitors had the temerity to write to the
English government with a list of complaints and accusations of
Notwithstanding all of that, the British government made two offers
of peace that were dismissed by the rebels. The early stages of
the war went very badly for the rebel government and military.
The American loss at the Battle of Valcour Bay in October 1776
was a major set-back. Of a total of 87 American ships 83 were destroyed
or otherwise disabled. That same month General Washington was forced
to evacuate Long Island and New York barely one step ahead of the
November 1776 only brought more grief for the rebel army and its'
commanders. The Americans' lost major engagements at Fort Washington,
NY and Fort Lee, NJ. One hundred cannon and thousands of rifles
and cartridges were seized by General Howe's troops. Washington
lost over 3000 soldiers and limped toward the Delaware river valley
pursued by General Cornwallis in serious danger of immediate defeat.
In many ways it is difficult to understand why this rebellion
broke out. Its main players were generally wealthy land owners
or members of the rising merchant class. These men were proud of
the English Empire and its government. The laws and taxes they
reacted so violently against were far less demanding than in other
colonies and better than some in England.
A quick look at two other main characters in the colonies gives
a sense of these rebels:
To the English, Benjamin Franklin
was an uppity printer who confused knowledge with wisdom and
wealth for status. When unable to get his way politically he
rejected the authority of the Crown and ungratefully made war
on the British Empire which had served him so well. Thomas Jefferson,
was an apostate slave owner who wrote that, "All men are created equal." While in Paris this "democrat" was
wooed by the aristocratic allure of the haughty court of Louis
As relatively mild as the destructive
aspects of the American Revolution were, we are still a country
born and shaped by the experience of war. Our greatest export,
consumer capitalism, is driven by concepts of freedom, individuality,
and choice, as well as the expansionist impulse of a zealot. The
political and social goals of eighteenth century revolutionaries
have been reduced to a telephone company slogan. Every culture
has its founding myth, its Iliad. These stories tell us who we
are and what we should want to be, that is why it is important
to know your myths.
is the "past" as
much as it is also our construction and manipulation of it. The simple
unfolding of events and history in purely chronological terms holds
no drama. It is only interpretation and perceived interconnections
that create an aura of meaning. Things happen and we imbue them with
significance or not. It is this creation of significance and relevance
that is used to direct current and future policies and actions.