|Historically inaccurate. It's still|
an awesome movie.
The American Revolution takes on a mythical sheen in our, and perhaps the worlds, eyes. It's easy to see why. A ragtag bunch of farmers standing up to, arguably, the greatest imperial power of the day in defiance of the old order of the aristocracy in order to build a republic. It's a bit idealized, and a little short of the real complications and ambivalent feelings held by colonists many during these years. But the American Revolution deserves notice because of how different it was, and continues to be, from many revolutions past and present.
The American Revolution was more like a rebellion than a revolution, though the two terms overlap so heavily that it can be difficult to differentiate between the two. Unlike its sister revolution of the age, the French Revolution, the American Revolution didn't seek a complete overhaul or change of the political system. Yes, it would eventually culminate in the creation of the Constitution of the United States, after the failure of the first governing article of the nation the Articles of Confederation, but that would be thirteen years from the signing of the declaration of independence. It was originally a rebellion of British subjects, who thought themselves loyal British subjects, that felt that their traditional rights, as British subjects, were being trampled by a parliament and king indifferent to their complaints and contemptuous of their freedoms.
The American Revolution grew gradually. The first seeds were probably sown as soon as the colonies were formally created. The economic policy of Great Britain, mercantilism, was a constant source of tension between the Thirteen Colonies, as the only nation the colonials could trade with was Great Britain. This meant that if a colonist wanted items from France or the German states that they would pay a hefty premium due to the inability of trading with those nations directly. The French and Indian War was another major cause. There is a lot that can be written on how this war created the situation for the revolution, but I will summarize two points. One was the financial burdens created by Great Britain on the colonies via taxation to pay for the war. And because of the colonial sentiment that they had been largely left to their own devices to defend themselves from Indian raids; which made making paying Great Britain for the war an added insult.
The tension grew over the next decade. The first coal in the fire was the Stamp Act in 1765, a truly outrageous bill that required many printed articles in the colonies, such as papers, magazines, and legal documents to have a stamp signifying payment of the a tax to the king, it was not only opposed by the colonists, but by many British subjects in England as well. Then the Tea Act, like the stamp act, a tax levied to pay for the war, lead to the Boston Tea Party were British tea was dumped in Bostons harbor in protests to the tea act. Despite the calls of some members of parliament to use restraint, and perhaps consider the justified complaints of the colonists, the Intolerable Acts were passed to punish the colony of Massachusetts for its transgressions. This brought the colonies to a near boiling point until the Battle of Lexington finally caused it to boil over.
The colonies, since their founding, had always maintained their own militias to defend their territories from Indian raids. Throughout the bloody days of the French and Indian War, even though British regulars were stationed in the colonies, much of the defense from Indian incursions was done by the colonial militia. The continent of America was simply too large for the number of garrisoned British troops, and they were busy taking the fight to French territories. This resulted in a fair amount of animosity when parliament passed various taxation acts in order for the colonials to pay their share of the war; but many colonials felt that they had been left to their own devices and owed the crown nothing. Moreover, the colonies, long very independent and self governing, had gotten use to maintaining a military infrastructure of sorts independent of the crown.
The increasing fervor of anti-crown, or rather anti-parliament, sentiment made parliament members nervous. Parliament, despite the protests over some of their own members, seemed to take every action to antagonize the colonials and drive them away from the mother country. Protests, and occasional riots and acts of violence to British officials, over the unpopular tax acts led parliament to station active duty soldiers in the colonies. Even worse, many colonials were forced to house the occupying regulars in their own home, which became the impetus for the passage of the third amendment after the revolution. This also lead to the infamous Boston Massacre. And from there tensions grew.
The colonies resented being treated like an occupied nation, despite the letters and visits to parliament by their most notable members of society requesting prudence and temperance when dealing with their brothers over seas. The final head came too when the British military, in what could be considered a colonial era form of gun control, attempted to seize colonial military supplies in Concord, causing the first shots of the revolution, or rather the rebellion. Because the colonial militia at Lexington, and many colonial rebel leaders at the time, didn't seek to divest themselves of the British crown, or establish a new society. Rather, they saw themselves defending their native rights as fellow Englishmen.
People must take care to remember that many leaders of the revolution were members of the various colonial governments at the time. Unlike with the French revolution, which was caused by massive famine and mismanagement by the aristocratic class which lead to the peasants rising up to bring down the second estate, the American revolutionaries were not trying to overthrow the colonial governments. They were trying to reestablish the longstanding traditional of largely self rule by the colonists themselves. It was only when many colonials and members of the continental congress realized that there could be no reconciliation that independence became the goal. I think this scene from the series John Adams captures the feeling that must have pervaded throughout colonies.
Rather than the joyous occasion that we celebrate today; it was a solemn and grim affair. American colonials didn't so much strive for independence so much as we were driven to it. Americans today should count themselves very lucky because of it. Most revolutions do not end well, just think of the French Revolution, Cuba, Russia, or China. Often the aftermath is just as bloody as the fighting itself, and far too often the leaders of the revolution usurp power for themselves and purge their political opponents. This did not happen in America. Instead of a popular leader seizing power for themselves, we ended with an American Cincinnatus, and a collection of men that actively sought to create a government that was not only ruled by law, but that the laws themselves were just and respected the inherit rights of man.
And for that I am very thankful. The US, even with its faults, its still a great nation whose citizens enjoy freedoms only dreamed of by others around the world. Those of us unhappy with the direction that our nation is going in can protest and pontificate without fear of any punitive intolerable acts, or secret police whisking us away in the dark. So raise a glass to our colonial fathers and make a small vow to yourself to help ensure that their sacrifice was not for naught. Happy 4th of July everyone and may God bless this republic.