The American Revolution: Misconceptions Clarified

Given the common misconception that the American Revolution was won by some rag-tag militia force (a view restated on one of my blogs by a friend who is, of all things, a teacher), and the pervasive influence of that myth on our political discourse, I had to set a few things straight.

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(Thank you, France. We’ll be sure to repay your help by slandering you for the next 235 years.)

That “rag-tag group” with “only their wits and resourcefulness” was actually a well-funded collection of brilliant political and military thinkers; outfitted with strong industrial, natural and agricultural resources; packed with seasoned veteran troops and officers; and allied with powerful foreign rivals of the English empire (*1). Those colonists had weapons comparable-and in the case of Kentucky rifles, superior – to those employed by the British troops. Their tactics were likewise superior; the English wore bright red uniforms and tended to use stand-and-fire open-ground formations, while the colonists employed cover, hit-and-run strikes, and uniforms that blended with the terrain when and if they wore uniforms at all. (Though in all fairness, a British general literally wrote the book on guerrilla warfare, and the Americans began winning more battles when they adopted European mass-musketfire tactics.) Isolated from the British empire by an ocean and wilderness deep enough to impede supply lines (not to mention a trade-and-shipping blockade enforced by American pirates and French and Spanish navies), the colonists had several territorial advantages from the outset, too. Those advantages were bolstered by England’s mad king, cultural arrogance, political divisions, financial problems, and additional foreign wars. Oh, yeah – the rebels also employed domestic terrorism (the tarring-and-feathering of Tories and tax collectors, the burning of their homes, and – by some accounts – the scalping of English loyalists and soldiers); vibrant propaganda (including the landmark Common Sense, whose ideas were anything but “common” at the time!); and several of the most eloquent political authors, orators, and documents in human history. Also worth noting for Tea Party enthusiasts: The rebellion was funded by wealthy Americans and foreigners who staked – and, in many cases, lost – everything they had to provide the necessary monies.These sponsors endured vast financial and physical hardships when they put their money where their mouths were. If folks like Pierre Beaumarchais, Thomas Jefferson and especially Robert Morris had followed Randian philosophies, the rebellion would have ended before it began. Even with these advantages, the Continental army got slaughtered in its first few engagements – so badly so that English commanders foolishly concluded (as George W. Bush did over two centuries later) that the fighting had ended and the resistance had been broken. Crazy gambles by commanders Generals George Washington, Benedict Arnold and “Mad Anthony” Wayne  – gambles that violated the conventions of war at the time – allowed the Americans to turn tables on the British. This fact alone should have given pause to American commanders and journalists in 2002-2004… but like the English, we were too self-impressed to consider the lessons of history.

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(Not pictured in American history books: Spain.) 

Despite all of those advantages, it still required massive interventions from France and Spain (who were firmly based in North America and the Caribbean, and whose colonies, resources and local alliances had, in many cases, predated the English ones) to finally secure the surrender of British forces. Without financial and military backing from those powers – two of the world’s largest at the time – Washington’s army would have been crushed. Contrary to cherished American myth, the after-effects of the war were messy. The freshly independent states nearly broke apart several times due to disagreements over law, trade, currency, taxes, slavery, diplomacy with other nations, back-pay owed to Continental soldiers, and the ruthless collection of debts from those same unpaid soldiers and their families. This last factor resulted in several skirmishes between government troops and former troops, clashes that became Shay’s Rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion, and Fries’s Rebellion. Sensing that, as James Madison said, “Liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty as well as by the abuses of power,” state and federal representatives worked to shore up the foundations of the budding nation. The results, for good and ill, became the basis for the United States government we know today.

I’m not denigrating the heroic efforts of the American men and women who fought to secure our United States. Neither, however, do I ignore well-documented historical facts to perpetrate the myth that a bunch of hard-working militiamen rolled up their sleeves and did it all by themselves. Even after the initial conflict called the American Revolution, we had a long, bitter road ahead – a road that included vast expansions of the federal government; institutionalized genocide against the Native Americans; the dregs of African slavery (the importation of which was banned in 1808, but the continuation of which provided many of the nation’s greatest shames); several internal wars that are still, in some regards being fought today; and a staggering level of ingratitude directed at our former French, Spanish and Native American allies. That, however, is a very long and complicated story… much like history itself. Personally, I consider the so-called “civil war” to be the third of four “American Revolutions.” The first was the one known by that name; the second involved the various internal revolts and the expansion of federal power; the third was the War Between the States; and the fourth was the Civil Rights Struggle that began around the turn of the last century, accelerated in the 1940s, turned into a shooting war in the 1960s, and still continues as the “culture war” we’re fighting – sometimes literally – today in the shadow of that initial Revolution. Image

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*1: Both sides had valuable allies among the Native Americans, and exploited tribal rivalries between them to strong effect. Both also employed American Black slaves who had been promised their freedom… promises that, in many cases, were broken at war’s end by United States commanders. America’s allies likewise included pirates, smugglers, and several members of the British Parliament – including the infamous Satanist rake Sir Robert “Hellfire Club” Dashwood. So much for that whole “favor of God” thing…

—————— copyright (c) SatyrPhil Brucato 2011. All rights reserved. Permission granted to re-post with attribution. Permission to republish for profit without author’s consent and attribution denied. 

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About Satyr

Award-winning fantasy author, game-designer, and all 'round creative malcontent. Creator of a whole bunch of stuff, most notably the series Mage: The Ascension, Deliria: Faerie Tales for a New Millennium, and Powerchords: Music, Magic & Urban Fantasy. Lives in Seattle. Hates shoes. Loves cats. Dances a lot.
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