How did the American revolutionaries throw off the colonial power?

 

          As we are talking about the unquenchable thirst for self government amongst the English speaking peoples, it is timely to remind ourselves of the way the USA seized her independence.

          If you visit Boston, the cradle of the revolution, you will find there the techniques of propaganda and memorials to unflinching bravery in the cause of independence. It is an uncomfortable visit for a British lover of liberty. The British government managed to combine being on the wrong side of several of the important issues about taxation, representation and self government, with monumental incompetence in handling its formidable firepower against a small and lightly armed opposition.

          There were always some who favoured a full break from the mother country. Others became radicals as the British blundered. Britain provoked more fury by the colonists through her deeds whilst  showing more vulerability in  battle than her well armed forces should have demonstrated. The British government managed to make superior arms a disadvantage, offering too few concessions too late on each occasion of challenge. They turned many thousands of loyal and bemused Englishmen turned  colonists into independence seeking Americans by their words and deeds.

            Understandably the American historical accounts at the main sites celebrate each victory, and condemn each British use of force when temporarily successful. The story of the thousands of American colonists who enlisted with the British is left largely untold. No true lover of liberty, even a British one, can fail to be moved by the drama, the impudence, the scintillating success of the challenge mounted to remote rule by a small band of dedicated politicians who wanted the right to set their own taxes.

              The revolutionaries used the arrival of tea ships in Boston to stage the very memorable picture of the trade  issues. They  threw the imported British tea into the harbour in a PR stunt worthy of the best. Americans wanted the right to handle their own trade.

              They used the sorry shooting of a few of an unruly crowd in Boston by a handful of  British troops caught in a difficult situation as an example of an unfeeling massacre by a superior army. They turned the costly defeat and overthrow of the colonists lines at Bunker Hill into proof that a colonial militia could take on the British forces. Paul Revere’s famous ride to warn of the approaching Red coats was made the more famous by his unfailing ability to turn out printed versions of very emotional and successful American propaganda.

              Most lovers of liberty agree that people should have a say in how they are taxed and how they trade. The American Republic was founded on those very principles. The strong prosecution of the one sided war by the side weaker on paper showed just what home advantage, and  a just cause can achieve. Many once loyal colonists converted to the cause of independence as they saw how the war was going. The British recruited many more revolutionaries to the cause, both by their inept political response and their hopeless use of force.

 

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39 Comments

  1. Posted June 7, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Mustn’t forget the Americans’ desire to get their hands on British-protected Indian lands.

  2. Mike Fowle
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    The superb HBO series “John Adams” gives a very vivid and even handed account.

  3. lifelogic
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Indeed inept and hopeless as usual.

    I see in the Telegraph “George Osborne hints at British referendum on Europe
    George Osborne has hinted at a British referendum on Europe, saying any “reshaped” UK relationship with EU would have to be put to British voters for approval.”

    Can we a assume this is a “cast iron” hint with Cameron left to define “reshaped”. It is clearly being reshaped every day.

    • alan jutson
      Posted June 7, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

      Lifelogic

      To have any weight of truth for a referendum promise, it would need to be promised shortly, and held BEFORE the next election.

      Anything else will simply not be believed, given past promises by all Party’s.

      Indeed any Promise by Cameron for anything after the next election is likely to be overtaken by a Labour victory in 3 years time, or heaven forbid a new Lib Dem/Labour Coalition.

      • lifelogic
        Posted June 7, 2012 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

        Indeed how will anyone believe any promises made by cast rubber Cameron or Osborne they now have zero credibility.

        No one who appoints Lord Patten, Vince Cable or Ken Clark to anything can be trusted. They will not win many votes with this new stance as they clearly cannot be trusted – you can cheat people once but twice is harder.

  4. Posted June 7, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    As Norbert Wiley wrote in The Semiotic Self, the American nationalists wrote the Declaration of Independence to foment revolution, then the Constitution to prevent it. That’s a powerful lesson to David Cameron – the bills of rights etc that work are those written by angry people if not revolutionaries. Should anger at Europe reach tipping point, he might want to reflect what he wants his role in history to be – a George Washington or a George III.

  5. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    I would like to think that we can have our independence back without having to go to war to achieve it!

  6. Posted June 7, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    When it comes to decolonisation we British never learned that a show of force, no matter how big or small, will be categorised as a massacre and entered into the folklore of the dissenters. Add to the Boston Massacre refered to in your post, the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 the Indian Sepoy Massacre of 1887, the Amritsar Massacre of 1919 through to the Croke Park Massacre of 1920 and many more, all had a galvanising effect and thus speeded up the wind of change blew like a gale through the Empire.

  7. David Tomlinson
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    JR; even you can make the odd slip, but first let me recommend to you HBO’s DVD ‘John Adams’ (but English Director – same as made The King’s Speech) – widely regarded as one of the best historical accounts ever of the Revolutionary War, and extremely good on (for instance) the Boston Tea Party.
    Remember, it was the Revolutionary lawyer and second US President Adams who successfully defended the British troops in a Boston Court when they were accused of opening fire on unarmed revolutionaries.
    And the point about the Tea Party was that the British, in a major concession, reduced the tax on tea and allowed it be shipped direct from India rather than via England. The result was a great reduction in the cost of tea, which put the Boston smugglers out of business. So they ditched the first cargo.
    To talk of ‘Americans handling their own trade’ is a complete anachronism. They called themselves English and as Englishmen they had exactly the same legal rights as (say) somebody in Liverpool. The problem was that the East India Company had the monopoly of the tea trade which applied equally to shipments to England.
    They only started referring to themselves as American Englishmen and then as Americans after the Declaration of Independence.
    And it was the French wot won the war for them…..

    • davidb
      Posted June 7, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

      Its a long while since I did the Boston Revolutionary tour, but I recall remarking to my American host that John Hancock had a commercial interest in tipping that tea overboard. That had not occurred to my guide before.

      A lot of agitation seems to be about money and personal gain. Its easy to wrap oneself in the flag when the fortunes of the cause align with your own.

      Or maybe I grow ever more cynical as I grow old…

      • lifelogic
        Posted June 7, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

        It is very hard to be too cynical in politics:-

        I remember the labour special advisor who said “today is a good day to bury bad news on 9/11″ – and all the broken promises on EU referenda and millions of other things.

        I do not think I have ever been proved to be too cynical on anything much.

  8. Posted June 7, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Mrs Ironies Too is curious as to what exactly has brought today’s conversion about?

  9. Martin
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    I hate to spoil your story but the only way the Americans succeeded was because the French fleet interfered with British reinforcements and troop movements.

    Indeed France was a close friend of the fledgling USA for many years. See who burnt the White House! http://history1800s.about.com/od/americanwars/tp/1814washingtonburns.htm

    The other point you ignore was the Americans didn’t want to pay their taxes pretending that defence was “free” (aka only paid for by King George III ‘s British taxpayer in the UK)!

    reply: I understand the British argument at the time, that they needed to pay for their own defence. The US proved they could do that, by creating their own army and navy.

  10. forthurst
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    A quotation from “Web of Debt” by Ellen Hodgson Brown in respect of the visit by Benjamin Franklin to London in 1764:

    “When he arrived, he was surprised to find rampant unemployment and poverty among the British working classes… Franklin was then asked how the American colonies managed to collect enough money to support their poor houses. He reportedly replied:

    “We have no poor houses in the Colonies; and if we had some, there would be nobody to put in them, since there is, in the Colonies, not a single unemployed person, neither beggars nor tramps.”

    In 1764, the Bank of England used its influence on Parliament to get a Currency Act passed that made it illegal for any of the colonies to print their own money. The colonists were forced to pay all future taxes to Britain in silver or gold. Anyone lacking in those precious metals had to borrow them at interest from the banks.

    Only a year later, Franklin said, the streets of the colonies were filled with unemployed beggars, just as they were in England. The money supply had suddenly been reduced by half, leaving insufficient funds to pay for the goods and services these workers could have provided. He maintained that it was “the poverty caused by the bad influence of the English bankers on the Parliament which has caused in the colonies hatred of the English and . . . the Revolutionary War.” This, he said, was the real reason for the Revolution: “the colonies would gladly have borne the little tax on tea and other matters had it not been that England took away from the colonies their money, which created unemployment and dissatisfaction.””

    JR also fails to give due credit to the decisive role, in particular, of the French, our existential enemy, in frustrating the Royal Navy’s ability to provide logistical support to our forces, in particular by the former’s victory at Chesapeake.

    Banksters are psychopaths that cause wars and tyranny which they never cease to plot as they do now. The French have never as now been our friends although any contributions in blood and treasure to protecting their country’s border with Germany or bankrolling their farmers will be ungratefully received.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted June 8, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      Interesting, thanks.

  11. Atlas
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    John,

    I do hope we can get our freedom back without having a EU civil war over it. I think that the experience in Eire shows that sometimes a lot of blood is shed to gain ‘Independence’ only for a future generation to give it up without hardly a wimper – out of the British frying pan into the EU’s Euro fire.

    The problem I have it that my MP (a Conservative) supports being in the EU and short of voting for UKIP I can do little to alter this state of affairs. As an exerienced politician do you have any suggestions? I’ve E-mailed my polite thoughts to him over the years, but the phrase ‘water off a duck’s back’ comes to mind.

    Reply: As I explained in my earlier posting, I think we can change our EU arrangements by a peaceful act of political will and legislation.
    All you can do with your MP is to keep writing to him to remind him how strongly you and others feel about this issue.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted June 8, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      The EU has not yet got to the point where there could be a “civil” war, other than within one of its sovereign member states.

  12. Robert K
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    Carping on historical details shouldn’t obscure the vital point that JR is making here: Britain needs its own revolution – to overthrow the euro-imperialists.

  13. uanime5
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    I noticed you ignored all the aid and thousands of soldiers the American revolutionaries received from France, along with France’s war with the British Empire and the Armada they tried to launched. Without their help the American revolutionaries would have been defeated.

    Paul Revere’s famous ride didn’t happen because his horse had been confiscated by the British. Also shouting “The British are coming” wouldn’t have made any sense because at this time the Massachusetts colonists would have considered themselves British and he was on a secret mission.

  14. Pete the Bike
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    What you rarely hear is that the American colonies were the just about the lowest taxed and regulated of any country that had any recognizable form of government. After the revolution taxes and regulations increased steadily whilst slavery continued for far longer than it would have had they remained a colony. Personally I’d settle for very low taxation and political masters an ocean away that could be effectively ignored at will. Sadly these days ignoring them just encourages them to squeeze harder.

  15. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    We suffered the fate of many an occupying army. I could give examples closer to the present day. As a reminder of the American War of Independence, I remember Lonnie Donegan’s version of The Battle of New Orleans. We lost the Raj also. Many nations would have lost confidence at that moment. However, that didn’t happen until Suez, when Nasser stole an Anglo-French asset and Eisenhower and Dulles backed Nasser, not us.

  16. Posted June 7, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    Most lovers of liberty agree that people should have a say in how they are taxed and how they trade

    So why don’t you guys extend the vote to 16 year olds? No taxation without representation and all that. You never know, more young people might start voting your way.

    • lifelogic
      Posted June 8, 2012 at 6:18 am | Permalink

      Were we to limit voting just to those who pay at least £10,000 PA of any age (in income tax and NI) we would get far more sensible government and less vote buying by labour and more working and jobs for all.

      • wab
        Posted June 8, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

        So most people, including pensioners, mothers who stay at home, even people who earn “only” the median income, etc., will be disenfranchised then. Fortunately, most people do not want to go back to the 18th century, and your idea is even too crackpot for the Tories.

        • lifelogic
          Posted June 8, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

          I did not advocate it I merely said it would give better government.

      • Bazman
        Posted June 8, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

        Check if lottery winners claim benefits, and if they do the prize goes to the government. Lower rate taxpayers get a smaller prize as they do not know how the manage wealth and will just squander it. How do you stand on that one?

        • lifelogic
          Posted June 8, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

          Surely no one very sensible or numerate buys a lottery ticket. So it merely transfers a little from the many to a few lucky winners. With good causes and government taking a cut on the way. Not from me I would just give money direct to the good causes (that I consider good not the government quango).

          With regard to state benefits perhaps they should all be repayable, should the claimant win the lottery or comes into big money somehow why not?

          • lifelogic
            Posted June 8, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

            Mind you they will pay 40% IHT and plenty of other taxes unless they get it out of the country quickly.

          • Bazman
            Posted June 9, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

            Could apply to anyone inheriting money. Long lost relative shuffling off their mortal coil would be like winning the lottery would it not?

  17. oldtimer
    Posted June 8, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    As others have pointed out, by the time of the war for independence, the British Empire was at its peak, having beaten the French and acquired several of their former possessions around the world. The success of the colonialists was, in part, the consequence of Britain`s global overstretch, financial, logistical and military, resulting in an inability to fight and defend many fronts at the same time. The French saw an opportunity for payback by backing the colonists.

    It seems to me that, right now, the empire that is the EZ is facing financial and political overstretch. The likely outcome is a reduction in its size but not necessarily its disappearance. When the present convulsions have run their painful course, normal service will be resumed.

  18. John B
    Posted June 8, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    “How did the American revolutionaries throw off the colonial power?”

    Because the French gave them large amounts of cash, weapons and troops and opened a second “front” in the Caribbean against British territories and naval bases imperitive for Britain’s maritime trade.

    They did this because they hoped they could make the Colonies a vassal of France giving it a strategic geographic presence in the on-going war/fragile peace of the empires.

    The good news is not only did France not gain the strategic hold it imagined, but it bankrupted itself of men and money allowing the British to be the overall winners.

    Losing direct rule over a bunch of religious nuts 3 000 miles away was, who cost a small fortune to defend, was a small price to pay.

    The notion that the War of Independence was all about liberty is risible. It was about land. The land-hungry Pilgrims wanted to expand West where there was good farming land, and the business folk – like George Ohio Land Company Washington – saw opportunities in the gold and iron ore baring mountains over yonder.

    Inconveniently, the Pilgrims’ progress was hindered by Treaty and Royal Proclamation with the Indians, and of course a line of forts and Redcoats ostensibly to keep the pesky Redskin and French agitators out, but served in fact to keep the ambitious Colonists in.

    Get rid of British rule… no Treaties; no Royal Proclamations; no Redcoats – and off to
    the hills. Also of course massive default on debt held by British banks and financiers.

    What was not to like?

    More pertinent to present times is the US Civil War, about sovereignty of poorer, Southern agrarian Sates against richer, aggressive, industrial Northern federalists – EU/Eurozone North v South anyone?

    Those who say the EU is the guarantor of peace should take note.

    • AJAX
      Posted June 8, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

      ‘A bunch of religious nuts 3000 miles away’ – lol

  19. Mike Stallard
    Posted June 8, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    The true parallel isn’t with the American Revolution.
    It is with the American Civil War when the South with its private arrangements on slavery seceded from the sacred Union and Abraham Lincoln brought it back and stripped it of its power.
    And that is how the Eurocrats see us in UK.

  20. stred
    Posted June 8, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Reporting from Boston. The Revolution is looking a bit stale here, with beer at $8 a pint and hotel internet 14$ a day. The city centre is very pleasant to wander around but the atmosphere changes a few streets outside, with the usual suspects hanging around in groups. Outside the hotel, an old lady in a wheelchair asked me for the fare to get home to Cape Cod, as her purse had been stolen and the ticket with it. I said I was staying in the hotel and would take her in and arrange for someone at the security conference from that area to give her a lift. I ain’t goin in no f****** hotel was the reply, then she whizzed of and was then taking 20$ a time of tourists.

    My partner’s conference is by invitation of medical companies. The first evening she arrived back after dinner with a box in her hand, looking pleased. “Darling, they have given us a tablet”. Being a dinosaur of the computer scene, for a second I thought I was going to get lucky. For anyone interested in the way that drug companies manipulate the healthcare system, I can recommend ‘The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine’ by James Le Fanu. The chapters about the way that social medicine has used misleading statistics and the incredible rise in profits from drugs used to treat conditions invented by drug companies are very amusing.

    • stred
      Posted June 8, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      In Vancouver, I met a butcher who had left his home town Boston ‘because it was finished’. He did not intend to go back. On CBC News, the equivalent of the BBC, someone was paying for an advert every break tellling Canadians that Britain was one of the easiest countries for entrepreneurs to start a business, with a picture of Richard Branson as a background. Money well spent? Why not use BBC World to spread PR cobblers?

  21. AJAX
    Posted June 8, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Good post in parts, but falls for the traditional view of those events also in places

    The revolution wasn’t about taxes & representation, or the Motherland’s inflexibility, it was at heart a power heist staged by one pack of English aristocrats against another.

    The military analysis here is also quite clever but a little 2 dimensional, the Red Coats’ leaders weren’t quite as clumsy as we may think.

    #1 It’s a very hard to pacify an organised & determined rebellion in a significant proportion of a civil populace without resorting to very severe measures, the Romans & Normans were masters of the latter, but governing by that means is a moral horror. The difficulties of mastering this sort of situation militarily is evidenced by the scale of controls that Kitchener had to resort to to pacify the Dutch population to bring the Boer War to an end, & the 30 years war with the Irish in Ulster recently

    #2 They were having to fight a war whilst Westminster – from which they received their directions -was divided from within, with the Liberals cheering on the revolutionay cabal

    #3 They were in dealing with an organised aristocratic cabal directing a large violent rabble (i.e. any 1 who had a gun & didn’t like authority) in the 13 Colonies which had the advantage over their rivals – who were an ocean’s distance away – of being on the scene directing the mobs in person to do their bidding, with the Loyalist population, primarily of a Tory disposition, being too passively inclined to wait in the assupmtion that HMG would in due course restore law & order.

    #4 They also had the French – who couldn’t believe their luck – dividing their martial strength with simultaneous assaults so as to feed the flames of the Anglosphere’s division, with the assistance of 5th columnists on the ground like Mr Revere (the son of a Frenchman) & his horse (who’s paternal provenance is unknown).

    #5 They had also had a brilliant strategy suggested by Henry Clinton of standing off & blockading the Eastern sea ports of the 13 Colonies with the Navy, thereby wrecking the fortunes of aristocratic cabal staging the heist to see if that cooled their ardour (which it probably would have, as it was all about money & power from the start with Washington’s gang) rejected by as an option by HMG, which preferred to set the Red Coated elephant wandering with 1/2 measures up & down America’s Eastern seaboard chasing after (& usually beating when it found it) a vicious revolutionary willo-the-wisp

    After the event characters like Jefferson went around propagandising the coup d’etat with packaging slogans of “Liberty” & “The Constitution” (& any one questioning this, or mentioning that “The Constitution” was merely a codification of English Common Law granting them nothing that they didn’t already possess before the 1776 putsch, could expect a visit from an ugly mob led by characters like “Judge” Charles Lynch with his portable gallows trundling along the highway & by-ways of the new nation), hence the mass flight of the American Loyalists

    There’s a hidden history behind the facade of Victor’s Version of the events if the American Revolution which is starting to emege now in the USA after 2 centuries of Jeffersonian propaganda
    Check ‘Maya Jasanoff An Imperial Disaster?’ into YouTube if any1’s interested

  22. Bazman
    Posted June 8, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    In the episode of the Simpsons called The Cartridge Family. Homer was asked as to why he needed a gun and replied that every American needed a gun to keep the King of England out of their face.

  23. Posted June 8, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    Saratoga was the key battle & not a mixed result. “Gentleman” John Burgoyne was quite the peacock & he attempted a strategic end-run that might very well have finished of the Americans. The Hudson River Valley was key to the overall American supply & communications. General Burgoyne was not supported in this action by his New York City based counterpart & the Americans pulled of a major coup. Despite the attempted treachery of Bennidct Arnold at West Point the key HRV was held.

  24. Conrad Jones (Cheam)
    Posted June 8, 2012 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

    “It is an uncomfortable visit for a British lover of liberty”

    The War of Independence was more about who controlled the money supply. The Americans created there own form of currency – called Continental Script, which wasn’t backed by Gold or controlled by London. The Economy flourished so London had to put a stop to it. They couldn’t have the Americans creating their own currency – especially when it worked, it would send the wrong messages to Britain and Europe. So London forced the American Colonies to use a Gold Backed Currency – one that was controlled by London. The money supply shrank casuing widespread hardship.

    Combined with England’s excessive War Debt’s, funds had to be rasied, and one way of doing that was by increasing the Taxation of it’s colonies.

    The American Civil War:
    “A serious conflict between Britain and the United States erupted over the “Trent Affair” in 1861; it was resolved in a few months. More of a problem was the British shipyard (John Laird and Sons) building two warships for the Confederacy, including the CSS Alabama,[1] over vehement protests from the United States.”

    Hard to believe, but the British Government (under Queen Victoria) supported the Confederecy.

    “In 1863, during the American Civil War, the Russian Navy’s Atlantic and Pacific Fleets wintered in the American ports of New York and San Francisco respectively. Some historians credit this visit as a major factor in deterring France and England from entering the war on the Confederate side. Delahaye states that besides supporting the Union, Russia was also preparing for a war with France and England should they intervene in the Polish insurrection of 1863. The Russian Navy was weak and could easily be blockaded in its home ports, but if it was in the US when the war started it could more easily attack British and French commerce.”

    Although Russia’s main motive wasn’t just supporting Lincoln, nevertheless they helped Lincoln deter England and France from getting involved in the Civil War on the Southern States side.

    This Rosy picture of England being on the side of Right is pure propaganda. Granted, The American slaughter of Buffalo and the Red Indian Race is something that the Yankees need not be proud of either.

    The British did not care about slaves in the South, they cared about Cotton in the South and were going to fight a War to protect those Cotton Imports.

    Looking at the 1812 War between the United States and England raises some questions – was it really about American Sailors being press ganged into the British Navy?

  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood has been the Member of Parliament for Wokingham since 1987. First attending Kent College, Canterbury, he graduated from Magdalen College, and has a DPhil from All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.
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