Would I have supported the American Revolution?

by on July 4, 2006 at 7:13 am in History | Permalink

These modal questions are tricky.  Which "Tyler" is doing the choosing?  (If I were an elephant, would pink be my favorite color?  Living in 1773, have I at least still read Jonathan Swift?  Would a modern teenage Thomas Jefferson have a crush on Veronica Mars?)

But think about it, wasn’t it more than a wee bit whacky?  "Let’s cut free of the British Empire, the most successful society the world had seen to date, and go it alone against the French, the Spanish, and the Indians." [TC: they all seemed more formidable at the time than subsequently]

Taxes weren’t that high, especially by modern standards.  The British got rid of slavery before we did.  Might I have concluded the revolution was a bunch of rent-seekers trying to capture the governmental surplus for themselves?

Or would I have been swept up by love of liberty and love of ideas and the desire for adventure…?

Or would I have estimated the long-run political equilibrium and tried to calculate when would be the optimal time for a break, in which case 1776 seemed just about right, so as to capture the intellectual Enlightenment at its peak…

Those guys expected a re-flowering of Periclean Athens; few of them were or would have been ready for the subsequent levels of 19th century alcoholism, partisan political bickering, or the later cult of Princess Diana.  What would I have expected?

What would James Madison expect today?  And would he find a TV show worth watching?

1 dearieme July 4, 2006 at 9:42 am

Those of us not indoctrinated about The Founders from childhood might be inclined to think that Geo. Washington was indeed a great man but that the rest were a bunch of scoundrels.

2 michael vassar July 4, 2006 at 11:46 am

It has always seemed to me that the it was fantastically unlikely that things would go as well as they did. As such, I tend to condemn their decision to rebel but to be astonished and awed by their ability to pull it off and not screw up afterwords like so many revolutionaries.

3 dearieme July 4, 2006 at 12:48 pm

A quick google finds ” In 1766, the British parliament repealed the Stamp Tax”.

4 Dean July 4, 2006 at 1:31 pm

Rather wacky, and a poetic beginning for a nation whose temperament is characterized as
much by cussedness as anything else.

Dearie: Tell me great things about Washington. My impression is that he was a great leader;
the great ideas seem to have come from Jefferson and Madison, though, don’t they? (Except,
of course, to the extent that they came from Locke, etc.)

5 DSC July 4, 2006 at 2:24 pm

Dearieme,

I would definitely have to disagree with you. I find Jefferson and Madison to be the best of the group.

6 Wild Pegasus July 4, 2006 at 2:57 pm

I would hope I would have been like Patrick Henry: fiercely support 1776, fiercely oppose 1789.

– Josh

7 Steven Jens July 4, 2006 at 3:44 pm

I suspect I would be, with Michael Vassar, astonished at its success, probably expecting something more like what the French came up with 13 years later. I think I either would have opposed it or just tried to keep my head down. It is, as Tyler acknowledges, hard to know.

I’m absolutely certain, though, that a modern young Jefferson would have a crush on Veronica Mars.

8 Bill July 4, 2006 at 4:06 pm

The advantages of the British Empire weren’t that obvious. After all, just 25 years earlier the empire basically consisted of the thirteen colonies,plus Gibraltar and a few islands in the Caribbean.

9 Dave July 4, 2006 at 4:26 pm

The question I repeatedly find myself asking about the revolution isn’t “Would I have supported it?” but “Was it worth it?”. The answer I usually come up with is “It wasn’t worth it for us, but it was worth it as an example for the rest of the world”.

As for whether I would support it, I mostly choose my positions based on finding the worst local scoundrels, and opposing them. Not much gets taught in grade schools about the quality of the Tories in the colonies, and all that gets told about the British boils down to “George the Third was going mad, taxes were kind of high, and they were attempting to keep us mostly agrarian”. The last of those is the worst, but I don’t know if it would be enough to convince me to rebel.

10 Zathras July 4, 2006 at 4:45 pm

I think that, rather than wonder about what we would have thought of Washington and Adams 230 years ago, it might be more useful to consider what they would think of us now.

11 asg July 4, 2006 at 6:18 pm

Harry Turtledove did an alt-hist novel called “The Two Georges” in which Washington cuts a deal with the British and secures greater, but not total, independence for the American colonies in exchange for remaining part of the empire. The novel is set in the mid 1990s of that alternate world. Interesting stuff.

12 Chris July 4, 2006 at 11:51 pm

I think the answer is probably dependent on whether or not you (or I) were victim of the many British mistreatments. The grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence are not theoretical wrongs.

13 Anderson July 5, 2006 at 11:05 am

“I find Jefferson and Madison to be the best of the group.”

Little bitches though they were ….

14 ed July 6, 2006 at 4:35 am

why, oh why, does washington get such short shrift nowdays? the founding fathers were all indispensible in their own ways, but remove any one of them, and he could have been more or less replaced. no jefferson, we’d probably still have had a ‘declaration’, just not as well written.

but remove washington….and there is no USA. the fathers were all agreed on this. additionally, it seems that they were all deeply impressed with him, beyond his military wonderfulness. they all seemed to think he wasn’t just the “greatest man of his age”…they thought he may have been the greatest man EVER.

today, of course, blessed as we are with postmodern sophistication and irony, we talk of jefferson & hamilton. just like the profs taught us to.

ever wonder why?

15 S July 6, 2006 at 11:15 am

British Empire:
A war for opium.Mass starvation in Ireland and India.Eugenesics and prenazi ideology( Carlyle s Heroes was published before Nietzche s works).
And the jewel of the crown: the arab israeli conflic.what a sure bet

16 apikoros July 10, 2006 at 9:16 am

You may want to read
“Slave Nation: How Slavery United the Colonies and Sparked the American Revolution” by Alfred W Blumrosen before you get too far into the positive good of abolition as a cause for the American revolution. Mr. Blumrosen makes a cogent arguement that British abolition and specificly the Somerset case were high on the list of colonial grievances, even though that is not stated in our founding documents. The dangers in attempting to see the world as it was 200 years ago through modern eyes are manifold.

17 Brian Tubbs July 25, 2006 at 9:26 pm

Given most of the comments, I’m convinced now more than ever that our schools do a POOR job of teaching the truth about the American Revolution. The amount of the taxes had very little to do with the rebellion. Moreover, it wasn’t even the TAXES so much as the issue of WHO had the right to levy those taxes.

Of course, I recommend you all read the actual Declaration of Independence. You’ll find that the whole “no taxation without representation” issue isn’t even mentioned until well into the document. There were many other grievances that the Founders had – grievances that had little if anything to do w/ taxation.

-Brian Tubbs
http://briantubbs.blogspot.com/
and…
http://americanfounding.blogspot.com/

18 Anonymous October 14, 2008 at 1:50 am

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