Posted: Saturday, July 4, 2015 6:00 am
By John Diers
We celebrate our triumph in the American Revolution on July 4, but what if the revolution took a different turn and the British crushed the rebellion and captured all its leaders and tried them for treason?
Losers seldom write the history of a war. We’ve always had flag-waving histories. They’re a part of our heritage and culture, but good history demands objectivity and perspective, even on July 4.
We forget there was no certainty to the outcome of the American Revolution, nor was there a sound, overwhelming reason for the rebellion itself. Keep in mind it doesn’t take a majority to make a rebellion, only a few determined leaders and a cause. We also forget there were many colonists with close ties to Great Britain who did not support independence and fought on the British side during the Revolutionary War. For them, the patriots were extremists and the celebrated Boston Tea Party an act of vandalism and disloyalty. Even Benjamin Franklin called it piracy and demanded there be compensation.
The Americans resisted taxation and protested their lack of representation in Parliament, yet Britain was not a democracy as we know it today, and there were areas in the home country that had no representation and still paid taxes to the crown. It’s forgotten that the colonies needed a standing army along with naval protection and government support to keep the French at bay after the French and Indian War, and that, if the colonists failed to pay, the cost would fall on the homeland. Taxation without representation made for a great rallying cry for the colonists but did nothing for the British treasury and the need for revenues to support the colonial administration and the defense of the colonies themselves.
There were opportunities for compromise and a resolution to the colonial grievances. Even after the debacles at Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill, there was support for the American cause in the British press, even the British military. To quote a British officer writing from Boston in the Morning Chronicle: “What in God’s name are you all about in England?” He wished that all the violent people who favored war in America could see for themselves. “God send us peace and a good fireside in old England.”
There was opposition when George III opened Parliament on Oct. 26, 1775 and called for war; some came from the House of Lords, but there was even more in the Commons. The great conservative statesman Edmund Burke denounced war as folly. Other members of Parliament called for a change in the king’s ministers and policy:
“I cannot consent to the bloody consequences of so silly a contest about so silly an object, conducted in the silliest manner that history or observation has ever furnished an instance of, and from which we are likely to derive nothing but poverty, disgrace, defeat and ruin,” said MP Charles Fox.
Three weeks and 3,000 miles separated Britain from its American colonies.
Time and distance made negotiation and compromise difficult. It also ironically assured British defeat once war began. At no time in history had there been an attempt to sustain such a large military force as would be needed at so great a distance. Britain was a mighty power, but it had to turn to Prussian mercenaries for its army. That and keep France and Spain at bay.
The American forces were a ragtag bunch of farmers, but they were an army with a cause. They were motivated and had two superb generals in Washington and Nathaniel Green. Once the Americans besieged and eventually booted the British out of Boston and stopped Burgoyne at Saratoga in 1777, and the French came into the war, it was all but over. There were battles to be fought and the war dragged on for another six years, and the British doggedly held on, but once French aid poured in, the outcome was a foregone conclusion.
The French sent the American colonists 25,000 uniforms and pairs of boots, hundreds of cannons and thousands of muskets, all the things that were needed to prosecute the war, and, most important of all, gunpowder. France supplied 90 percent of the colonial need. And then there was the French Navy that British ships had to face and fight to get across the Atlantic. The Seven Years War—French and Indian War—was over, but the American Revolution was an encore, and this time the French prevailed.
We salute American valor on the Fourth of July, and justifiably so, but it’s important to remember there could have been a much different outcome, and we could be subjects of the queen and citizens of the British Commonwealth—or even a part of France.
There are many theories of history, but in the end it’s usually serendipity that prevails. Think about it tonight, when you’re enjoying the fireworks at Lakefront Park.