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Home DUCTS.ORG Issue 12 | Winter 2003 the webzine of personal stories
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The American Revolution

J. Ward Regan

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 artisans.

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 British parliament.

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 constitution.

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 mistreatment.

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 British army.

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 XVI.

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.

History 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.

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