Skip to comments.Was the Revolutionary War a reactionary war? 'Bunker Hill' reconsiders history.
Posted on 05/11/2013 8:47:49 AM PDT by Pharmboy
Nathaniel Philbrick's new book gets at the on-the-ground reality of the American Revolution, which the author writes began as 'a profoundly conservative movement.'
John Trumbull's "Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker's Hill." (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston / Viking / May 12, 2013)
It turns out the modern incarnation of the tea party may have more in common with the original Boston hell-raisers than people think.
Americans have long romanticized the events leading to the Battle of Bunker Hill and the start of the American Revolution, most without really understanding what happened or what was at stake. In his new book, "Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution," National Book Award-winning historian Nathaniel Philbrick dives deeply and graphically into those treacherous days. The result is a riveting, fast-paced account of the nation's difficult conception but also about how people maneuvered in their time and place and under significant stress.
New Englanders of the era tended to be irascible and belonged to congregations that looked warily at anyone who strayed from doctrine. Absolutist in outlook, they defined freedom as "a very relative term" that usually began and ended with people like themselves (and notably not blacks or natives).
"To say that a love of democratic ideals had inspired these country people to take up arms against the [British] regulars is to misrepresent the reality of the revolutionary movement," Philbrick writes. "The patriots had refused to respect the rights of those with whom they did not agree, and loyalists had been sometimes brutally suppressed throughout Massachusetts."
(Excerpt) Read more at latimes.com ...
Decades of abuses led to the revolution and our founders struggled to avoid a war that came to them anyway.
I’d hardly call that reactionary.
The RevWar/Colonial History/General Washington ping list...
The Boston Tea Party was a reaction, but I think Britain’s response to the Tea Party made people seriously consider whether they really wanted to be under King George III.
Couldn’t remember if it was Murdoch or the Koch brothers. *blush*
50/50 chance of getting it right ;-)
These days, all of Neo Europa, the North East, is loyalist. They have finally prevailed.
Now the Rats have multiplied and overrun the place.
How can you write this many words and not mention SAM ADAMS ?
Reactionarism might be defined as wanting to turn the clock back. At that time, the British Government was taking steps to reform the relationship between the colonies and the Crown, whereas the colonists where fighting to retain hard won liberties from the struggles between Crown and people during The English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution of 1688. In that sense, I suppose you could call it a reactionary government that was making innovations leading to tyranny.
Funny, but that was precisely one of my first thoughts...
I wish I remembered the author who proposed that idea.
All I got out of that was “Massholes have always been Massholes.”
Your meaning was loud and clear.
The Stamp Act Congress was held in NYC, as it was there from 1765-1770 that was the hotbed of revolutionary fervor; it then shifted to Boston.
The combination of increased taxes and economic hard times yielded a strong reaction to George III and the tinderbox was finally touched off by the Boston Massacre.
Those poor abused loyalists often earned the hatred of their neighbors long before the revolution. In my family genealogy research we’ve come across loyalists rewarded for turning in neighbors who were problematic for the crown. Things like being stripped of property or livestock which were awarded to loyalists. Sometimes my distant ancestors were loyalists who did it themselves.
Before you take exception, read Jefferson (with the assistance of Franklin & Adam's) actual words. He postulates the right of the action on the British Government's breach of the compact between the governed & the government. The settlers were resisting an aggression against their primal & previously enjoyed rights. (See Declaration Of Independence--With Study Guide.)
While the Left has always quoted passages of the Declaration out of context--the same technique they have used to distort the Constitution;--it cannot be understood except as a whole. It was carefully crafted to make a very different statement than that, which many of our contemporaries have been led to believe.
I think a definite account of the War of Regulation would make a great impact on the people today. Especially in the times we live in. People seldom mention it today.
Most of the American colonies were organized and administered as semi-private enterprises, not subject to the same onerous government as Britain, and were generally left to see to their own affairs. When the British government attempted to assert its authority through what were mild taxes and regulations by English standards, these actions struck colonists, who were used to being largely ignored by Whitehall in London, as tyrannical.
Not sure I follow...what revolution were we ‘countering?’
I would mention the love of "limited government" long before I would mention "democratic ideals". Ours was not a socialist revolution.
And there was nothing "reactionary" against disposing of a Monarch and government by an aristocratic class.
Especially in the south, as I'm sure you know the war was more akin to a civil war than a revolution. In such a situation, brutality is bound to ensue -- just the way it is.
In February 1761, James Otis, Jr., gave a long oration against writs of assistance (general search warrants used in enforcing the Navigation Acts). John Adams, who was present, later wrote that "the child independence was then and there born, for every man of an immense crowded audience appeared to me to go away as I did, ready to take arms against writs of assistance."
This guy needs to read the Declaration Of Independence.
You need go no further than the noob Burgess who lit the fuse of revolution, Patrick Henry.
The colonists had plenty to react to. In my own ancestry I found a lot of complaining about being hemmed in by the Proclamation of 1763. They had growing families that needed room to grow and being prohibited from moving west would eventually impoverish them. Things got worse from there.
The Royal Proclamation of 1763
The Currency Act, 1764
The Sugar Act, 1764
The Quartering Act, 1765
The Stamp Act, 1765
The Declaratory Act, 1766 The English Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, but couldn’t leave well enough alone, and adopted this statement of parliamentary supremacy over the British colonies.
The Townshend Act, 1767
The Tea Act, 1773
The Administration of Justice Act, 1774
The Boston Port Act, 1774
The Massachusetts Government Act, 1774
The Quebec Act, 1774
The Quartering Act, 1774
No. It was a pressure cooker like we have today and something finally set it off, but the anger and emotions that drove the war were decades in the making, just like today.
I see today as Yosemite Sam in the bowels of the ship full of barrels of gun powder and he’s got a lit match; no one knows which barrel is going off first but we know one will.
Thanks for posting the list. A good reminder.
This new ability to tax, control trade & interfere with the local institutions that the settlers had built up reflecting their various cultural inclinations, were unacceptable. So too such abuses of private property rights as quartering the no longer wanted British soldiers in private homes. (But again, read the Declaration, as an entity. Most of it is the long list of specific grievances, specific violations of the previous compact.)
Granted, the Socio/Political revolution in America since the New Deal is more extreme than what happened after 1763, but our generation has shown a much thicker, more enduring, "skin," than the settlers who had so recently built their own local institutions from the ground up.
As for the nomenclature "reactionary?" No Conservative should be afraid of the term. The Marxists have tried to make it sound bad, because that is how they have identified anti-Communists over the past century or more. (The term was adopted as a badge of honor by American Prisoners of War in Korea, who understood that honorable people always react (resist) against losing their property rights & liberty to collectivists.)
Yes—to everything you just wrote. I was questioning your use of the term “counter-revolutionary” in your previous post. There was no revolution that it was countering, just the Crown.
One of my distant ancestors was a cousin of Ethan Allen who was a British reservist. He wrote an angry letter to Ethan Allen complaining that he had been “Politely ordered” to take his Govt issued firearm to a newly built armory.
The British explained that indians were no longer a viable threat in his area so he didn’t need to keep the firearm in his home but they still expected him to show up if called to fight.
He did turn in the British issued weapon but said he would refuse to fight for people who felt that he had no need to protect his own and he also insinuated that he was still able to protect his farm if need be.
The Revolutionary War was profoundly conservative, but not reactionary.
I really despise the word “reactionary.”
Oh crap, I’m ranting again . . . /s
Prior to 1756, if a group of settlers found too much Government in their frontier town, they simply moved on. If they acquired either from farming or trapping or whatever, something to sell, they believed that it was theirs to sell to whomever they pleased, wherever they pleased, and keep what they received in return. They also believed that even a relatively poor man's home was his castle.
Those who signed on to the Declaration, would not have tolerated the usurpation that we daily endure in America today; nor the unconstitutional squandering of resources effectively embezzled from the public--embezzled, because even where legally obtained by the Government by Constitutional methods; they are being spent in ways never authorized, and therefore illegally.
Powell of UNC has written fairly extensively on the topic, an accomplished historian. He sometimes lacked the human element that makes for compelling storytelling, though. For instance, Ninian Hamilton, such a colorful figure, both literally and figuratively. Given short shrift despite being celebrated in song by Regulators. He was an ancestor of mine.
There's a group somehow affiliated with a Baptist church in Michigan of all places, that has attempted a screen adaptation of events leading to the NC Regulator War, might want to look to them. I'd heard it was fairly compelling and reasonably well done despite a largely amateur cast.
No where in his 'history' does he mention that at the crux of the revolutionaries complaint was that they were not treated by the crown as British subjects - at first that is what they demanded but once they had crossed the Rubicon militarily, so to speak, their motive evolved to total independence.
However, this is the sentence from your post 18 above that puzzled me:
The American Revolution was obviously a counter-revolution, as any serious reading of the Declaration of Independence, as well as a review of the recent preceding history will establish. Emphasis added.
A lot of killin’, burning, and scalping.
Britain's attitude towards the colonies had been characterized by Edmund Burke as "a wise and salutary neglect." Under George III, British governments tried to change that to get the colonies to pay Britain for their own defense and for the war that had just been fought with the French and the Indians. So you could view Britain as the party who wanted to change things.
I wouldn't get hung up on the idea of one side or the other being the modern-day progressives. Too much has changed since the 18th century for us to slap 21st century labels on the political positions of that era. But a phrase like "to the right of Louis XIV" doesn't make much sense. Absolute monarchy was a new idea. Absolute monarchs wanted to change things -- and did.
Thinking that, say, if the Stuart monarchs had won their battles with Parliament nothing would have changed since the 1700s doesn't really add up. More or less absolute monarchy did win in France and forces for change lined up behind it -- until they no longer did and backed revolution. Something similar might have happened in Britain, had James II or his son or grandson have been victorious. Of course there are counter-examples, times and places where change did slow down or stop, like Spain in the same period, but one shouldn't assume that if things in the past had happened differently conditions would have frozen history as they was then.
Hatred of the British is the reason.
No "reaction" at all, just pure Redcoat hate and love of country.
Ah, Philbrick again
There's a scene in the Last of the Mohicans (1992) where a scouting party hears cannon fire at Fort William Henry and cautiously approaches the scene. As they near it they peer through the trees in amazement at the spectacle of the bombardment. This scene struck me as a portent of the change that modernity was bound to bring to North America. In fact the whole movie gave a compelling impression of that era as a time of profound transformation.
|GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother & Ernest_at_the_Beach|
Ping me when the next Revolution starts.
I might be sleeping in.
New Englanders were not the only people fighting that war, not by a long shot.
John Adams clearly distinguished “the revolution” from “the revolutionary war”.
He said “the revolution” occurred in the people, long before “the revolutionary war” began.
The Revolution was effected long before the war commenced.
The Revolution occurred in the minds and hearts of the people...
This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments,
and affections of the people was the real American Revolution.
~John Adams in 1818
“I wouldn’t get hung up on the idea of one side or the other being the modern-day progressives. Too much has changed since the 18th century for us to slap 21st century labels on the political positions of that era.”
Excellent point. For starters, the government of George III was libertarian compared to the Big Government meddling promoted today, by both Democrats and Republicans. Yet we just continue to take it. Nor was George III trying to foist gay marriage on us, nor was George III importing millions of unassimilable immigrants. And tax rates were, by today’s standards, incredibly low.
Seems the author felt that failure to accommodate ones enemies is reactionary. When you've taken a side, your purpose is to vanquish the other side. I reckon it's no longer fashionable to teach that anymore.
Incidentally, they were outfitted as a cavalry unit, but were not provided with horses, and a number of the regiment froze to death since they didn't have winter uniforms either. One Captain Willoe also described their consternation at the number of rattlesnakes. They were also very short on rations -- I doubt they were a very friendly group by the time they were dispatched over the border into NY.
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