Tag Archives: Gordon Wood

RUSSIA, BRITAIN AND THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION

This 1783 portrait shows the American delegation to the Paris peace talks. The British refused to pose with the Americans. Animosity was still running high more than a year after the war had ended.

With three young grandchildren in the house, including a baby that recently turned one year old, I’ve taken to watching silent movies on Turner Classic Movies (TCM).   There’s no dialog to hear, so surrounding noise isn’t a problem.

I started by watching the 1925 version of “Ben Hur,” which many consider the best of the three versions.  It certainly has the best chariot scene, made at a time when animal rights were not taken into consideration.  (Not that I advocate hurting animals – it was just so REAL!)

Recently, I watched “Love” with Greta Garbo and John Gilbert, made the following year.   The two actors were more famous than Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio are today.

The movie was an enactment of Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.”   The title was changed thanks to the tabloids.  The gossip papers had revealed that, while making the film, Gilbert and Gabo had started their own relationship.  This enabled the movie’s producers to put the following on marquees across America:   “Garbo and Gilbert in Love.” The movie was a sensation, a bigger hit than anything Hollywood turns out nowadays.

It wasn’t only the title that was changed.   Producers chose to make the movie with two alternative endings.  They referred to one as the “Russian ending,” with Anna, as in the classic, killing herself in front of a train after an adulterous affair that led to her losing her son.   Another ending was made for Americans, with Anna’s husband dying, thereby leaving her free to marry her lover, Vronsky, and keep her son.  It was felt that American audiences couldn’t handle Anna’s death.   The “American” version missed the whole point of the novel.

Interestingly, the Russian ending was shown in New York and on the West coast.   It was only Mid-western sensibilities that they were concerned about.

If Hollywood can’t even get a novel right, why would we expect them to be accurate when it comes to non-fiction?

Another Russian “story” caused a problem for Hollywood a few years later, by which time sound had replaced the old silent movies. This movie dealt with “Rasputin and the Empress” (1932).   It’s depiction of Prince Felix Yousoupov, the principal murderer of Rasputin, was so inaccurate it led to a major lawsuit; since then movies carry the words “all characters in this film are fictional,” or similar, to protect themselves from expensive lawsuits.   Now, no attempt is made at accuracy.

I’ve yet to see a Hollywood movie depict the American Revolution with any degree of accuracy.   In Hollywood, everything has to be black and white.  Real life is rarely like that.   The Revolution was not Americans against the king; the country was equally divided — one third rebelled against the crown, one third were loyal and the other third couldn’t spell “crown.”   On the eve of Yorktown, 40% were loyalists, with support for the Patriots down to 30%.

Rather than the claim that the king was acting selfishly, it can be argued that the leaders of the Patriots were.   They were heavily in debt to British banks, following a bad crop in 1773 – one way to get out from under the debt was to ditch the Crown.   It’s not surprising that wealthy indebted landowners led the revolution – the only revolution in history where those rebelling were richer than those they rebelled against!   This issue was finally resolved after the war when the belligerents got together in Paris.

I was thinking about this over the Fourth of July, when I read a review in The Economist by their American correspondent.   He reviewed a book titled:   “Scars of Independence: America’s violent birth,” by Holger Hoock of the University of Pittsburgh.    Mr. Hoock “. . . concluded that selective amnesia took hold soon after the war, as victors told their version of history, and the British displayed their genius for forgetting defeats.  In the republic’s earliest decades, stone monuments charging the British with “cold-blooded cruelty” rose on battle sites from Lexington, Massachusetts to Paoli, Pennsylvania.   Meanwhile orators told Americans that their revolt had been unusually civilized:  one public meeting in 1813 declared the revolution “untarnished with a single blood-speck of inhumanity.”  (The American Revolution Revisited – a Nation Divided, Even at Birth)

I have an extensive library of books on the Revolution, all of which were written by Americans.  The following quote from The Economist is an accurate observation:

“Browse through school history books, with names like “Liberty or Death!” and the struggle to throw off British rule is sanctified as a victory of American patriot-farmers and artisans against battle-hardened British redcoats and foreign mercenaries, defending ideals crafted by orators in periwigs.  Yet go back to contemporary sources, and they called it what it also was:  a brutal civil war.” (Economist review.)

6% of America’s population died in the Revolutionary War, as against 2% in the War Between the States eight decades later.  (By 1861 the population was much higher, but the percentage gives an idea of the relative suffering of the people.)

Note the following:  “At the war’s end, about one in 40 Americans went into permanent exile, the equivalent of some 8m people today.” (ibid.)

The Revolutionary War was a civil war.   Most battles took place without the presence of British soldiers – brother fought brother, to death, with little mercy shown.   Ironically, if the Revolutionary War had not taken place, the “Civil War” would never have happened – the imperial parliament in London abolished the slave trade in 1808 and slavery itself 25 years later.   No battles were fought over the issue.   Additionally, states’ rights would never have been a factor or cause for conflict.   Canada was spared both civil wars.

So, what did Americans gain?

FACTS TELL A DIFFERENT STORY

Consider the following gleaned from a variety of books on the subject:

>>>American historian Gordon Wood, considered the foremost expert on the Revolution, wrote in his book: “The Radicalization of the American Revolution,” that England in the eighteenth century was the freest country in the world and that the colonists were even freer.  The king was the guarantor of freedom – never again could a commoner like Oliver Cromwell take power and become a dictator. Celebrations for King George III’s coronation in 1762 were greater in the colonies than in England.   So, what went wrong and why, then, did some Americans want more freedom?

>>>The French and Indian Wars were fought by Britain and the colonists to defend the latter against a French Catholic take-over. George Washington, serving “King and Country”, fired the first shots. The seven-year war left the British government with serious debts, which they tried to recoup by taxing the colonies.   Americans did not want to pay for the war.   Over two centuries later, Americans still do not like to pay for wars.

>>>Contrary to what is often thought today, all thirteen original colonies had a democratic form of government.   All property-owning males could vote, with a 90% turnout at elections.   After independence, there was no immediate widening of the franchise.   In 1789, when the first election was held, only 6% of the population could vote.   Both the United States and the United Kingdom extended the franchise during the nineteenth century and both gave women the vote after World War One.   America lagged behind England in voting rights, not catching up until the Voting Rights Act of 1964.

>>>The Right to Vote and the Right to Bear Arms were in force before 1776.   Indeed, the revolution would not have been possible without these rights.

>>>It has often been pointed out that the leaders of the Revolution were richer than the people they rebelled against.

>>>In 1772, the monumental Somerset Decision sent shock-waves through the American colonies.  A slave  had taken his owner to court.  The court ruled that nobody in the British Isles could be owned by somebody else.  If extended to the colonies, this would have ruined prosperous farmers who needed free labor.

Wikipedia has this to say on the subject:   “Somerset v Stewart 98 ER 499 is a famous judgment of the English Court of King’s Bench in 1772, which held that chattel slavery was unsupported by the common law in England and Wales.”

>>>Rather than the claim that the king was acting selfishly, it can be argued that the leaders of the Patriots were.  They were heavily in debt to British banks, following a bad crop in 1773.

>>> Paul Revere did not ride through Lexington, Massachusetts, shouting:  “the British are coming.”   This would have made no sense as everybody was British.   It would be like somebody today, seeing the police approaching, would shout out the warning that the Americans are coming.   Rather, Paul Revere warned that “the Regulars are coming,” a reference to full time professional troops.

>>>Geoffrey Wawro, a distinguished scholar of military history who teaches at the University of North Texas, led a discussion some years ago on “Global View” (History International Channel).   The panel concluded that the separation of England and America weakened the English-speaking world considerably.

>>>By 1800, almost twenty years after independence, Americans were paying more in taxes than they had ever paid under colonial rule.

>>>As the Patriots called themselves the “Sons of Liberty,” the Tories referred to them as the “Sons of Anarchy.”   Partly because of what happened a century earlier when England itself became a republic, many loyalists feared a total breakdown of law and order if the country became a republic, a country without a king.   A Biblically literate population was aware of the warning at the end of the Book of Judges:   “There was no king in Israel in those days; every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”  (Judges 25:25).   No king meant anarchy!

>>>Many of today’s super-patriots, those who celebrate the 4th of July most vigorously, ironically, would probably have been Tories in 1780.   Conservatives don’t like change or uncertainty.

>>>This brings us back to the Russians.  Newt Gingrich’s book “Yorktown” brings out that Catherine the Great of Russia offered to mediate between the British government and those rebelling against it.   One idea proposed was that Americans would keep their unitary nation, but remain within the Empire.  On the eve of the final Battle of Yorktown, this was acceptable to most Americans, including members of the Continental Congress.  This would have resulted in America being more like Canada.   It would, of course, also have meant there was no need for Canada – loyalists would have stayed where they were.   Catherine’s mediation attempt got nowhere – the autocratic Russian Empress was hardly a credible mediator between two sides that both believed in democracy.

>>>The victory at Yorktown would not have happened without the French navy.   After the battle, the situation was unclear.   It wasn’t until the King asked parliament for more money to fight the rebellion that the war finally ended – parliament refused his request.

>>>Cut off from the empire’s trading system, the US struggled financially after independence.  Even in the 1930’s, the nations of the British Empire recovered from the Great Depression quicker than the US.  America was anxious to break into the imperial trading club without becoming a part of the empire.

The question remains:   what did Americans gain from independence?  One thing comes immediately to mind – that the new country was no longer bound by British treaties with the “Indians;” they could now expand westward.

Ironically, it was a British bank that financed the Louisiana Purchase and British investors who helped build the railways that opened up the West.   So the Brits did their part to make the country expand anyway.

On the other hand, if those treaties had remained in effect, California may never have entered the Union and Hollywood might not exist – some would say, those are two very good reasons for remaining loyal to the Crown!

So, why did Americans revolt and why did the rebels (patriots) win?

Decades after the American Revolution, the Anglo-Israelite movement believed that the British Empire and the United States of America were the fulfillment of a prophecy in Genesis 48; that the two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh, would become a great company of nations (Ephraim; the British Empire and Commonwealth) and his brother would become a great single nation (Manasseh, the United States).   As the “company of nations” (Genesis 48:19) was united by the Crown, the great single nation had to break away from the crown, which is exactly what the United States did.   Note: ”He set Ephraim before Manasseh (verse 20)”. Britain was the world’s superpower before the United States.  In relative terms, Britain was also greater than its successor.  After the loss of the American colonies, the British went on to develop the greatest empire the world had ever seen.

In other words, God determined the outcome of the Revolutionary War in order to fulfill Bible prophecy.

OBAMA’S EXECUTIVE ORDER

obama-cnn

President Obama’s speech on Thursday announcing his executive order on illegal immigration was not watched by many people. Most of the usual television stations did not show it.

It’s just as well.   It was misleading.

He referred to the fact that America has always been a land of immigrants (true) but it is misleading to imply that there is a correlation between the present situation and the past.

At the time of independence, the US was 98% Protestant, 1% Catholic, and 1% “Other,” including Jews. This means that, in the 175 years of the colonial period that came before independence, almost all immigrants came from the Protestant countries of NW Europe.   They mostly came from the British Isles.   This trend continued well into the nineteenth century.   When Irish Catholic immigrants started arriving in significant numbers, they were not made very welcome. Washington DC even witnessed anti-Catholic riots.

Today, according to the Pew Research Center, 51.3% are Protestants and 23.9% Catholic. “Others” number 4.7% — this includes Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, three religions not represented in America’s early years.   That’s quite a change in a little over 200 years. The United States is well on the way to becoming a minority Protestant country.

Religious tolerance developed in majority Protestant countries, the nations of NW Europe and especially England. This was due mainly to the proliferation of different denominations. “If there were only one religion in England,” wrote Voltaire in his Philosophical Letters, “we should have to fear despotism; if there were two, they would cut each other’s throats; but there were thirty and they live in peace and happiness.” (The Radicalism of the American Revolution by Gordon Wood, 1991, page 14.)   The number of denominations in both England and the American colonies was the same.

The fact that Protestantism is in decline in the United States will likely lead to greater religious intolerance. It has already contributed to significant changes.   Not so long ago the Protestant Ten Commandments were taught in school (the Catholic Ten Commandments are different; really, check out a Catholic Bible!)   The Bible was considered the Word of God. I grew up in England. I remember us being taught Bible stories as young children in school. I remember asking one of my teachers how you got three days and three nights into the period between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. I don’t remember exactly what he said but I do remember he attempted to answer the question.   This would be unheard of today in a state run school.

Some of the religions entering the US today are known for their intolerance. Many immigrants come from countries violently divided between different religious factions. Those divisions are in danger of spilling over into the US.

“America by the Numbers” is a PBS series dedicated to highlighting the “major demographic change” that is taking place in the United States. It makes the changes seem so positive, yet geography and history show that different ethnic groups and religions will not get along once they are present in significant numbers.

The President’s speech was also misleading in another way.

When immigrants came to the US in previous centuries they were very much on their own. Churches and charities might have helped to a limited degree but immigrants had to find work fast to take care of themselves. Today, government helps. At the very least, free medical care is provided (no one can be turned away from ER) and free education for children, courtesy of tax-payers who are largely unaware.

Government even helps with accommodation, food, and transport.

This is not just in the United States. Other western countries do the same. Is it any wonder that hundreds of thousands, even millions, annually, are leaving their own countries and moving to western nations? Without the freebies, most would not attempt the journey.

Mr. Obama’s executive order will help to fundamentally change the country, a process that started 50 years ago with the 1965 immigration act. In time, it will also guarantee the Democrats five million more votes!

AMERICA’S FIRST CIVIL WAR

REV WAR

What was America’s worst war?

I mean in the sense of numbers of people killed as a percentage of the total population.

Many would say the Civil War (1861-65), when 2% of the population died.

In fact, three times as many people, proportionately, died in the Revolutionary War, sometimes called America’s First Civil War, which took place almost a century earlier.

6% of the population died in the earlier conflict and tens of thousands fled the country when the war was over.  As with the later conflict, families were divided, brother fought brother and there were intense feelings on both sides.

Both wanted freedom.  The Patriots (or Rebels) wanted to free the thirteen colonies from British rule; the Loyalists (Tories) were convinced that, without a king, there would be anarchy.  They referred to their opponents as the “sons of anarchy.”

Gordon Wood, an American historian who has written a number of books on the Revolutionary War and the events that surrounded it, brought out in one of his books that England was then the freest country in the world and that the people in England’s colonies were even more free; so why did some colonists want even more freedom?

It’s a good question.

There were legitimate grievances just as there are against any government, but the American Revolution is different from all other revolutions in that the people revolting were not the poor and dispossessed.  They were, in fact, the aristocrats of the colonies.   They were actually better off than the people they were revolting against.

It’s no wonder then that this was not a popular uprising as movies have sometimes suggested.  The country was very divided.  By some estimates, the division was a third, a third and a third – a third in favor of the revolution, a third who were loyal to the crown and a third that were largely indifferent.

Tired of war after six years of fighting, on the eve of the final battle, the number of people who were supportive of remaining under the Crown was higher than those who wanted to sever the tie and build a completely independent republic.

That final battle, the Battle of Yorktown in October 1781, was to be decisive.

In their latest novel (2012), “Victory at Yorktown,” Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen are fair to both sides, until near the end when it is clear where their loyalties lie.

They bring out that, immediately prior to the battle, many in Congress wanted to negotiate with London on British terms.  Russia’s Catherine the Great had offered her services as mediator.  The proposal was that the new United States of America should remain within the British Empire but would maintain its newly created federation.  A total amnesty was proposed for those involved in the rebellion.

Washington had to persuade them to wait, to see first how the battle went.   If the battle was lost to the Continental Army, then a peace treaty would have been signed in Britain’s favor and the US would have remained within the Empire, under the Crown, similar to the way Canada is today.

If the sole combatants had been Washington’s Continental Army and British regulars, the British would have won.  But the French came in and made a big difference.  The British lost and their army surrendered.

Even then, the British could have simply sent another military force to continue the war.  Britain was the greatest military power on earth at the time but the parliament in London voted against further funds for the prosecution of the war.  The subsequent Treaty of Paris in 1783 recognized the new United States of America as a sovereign nation, albeit one without a sovereign!

The French paid dearly for their support of the rebel forces.  The country’s finances were in trouble as a result of the conflict and before the decade was out they had their own revolution, exacerbated by radical ideas brought back from America by French soldiers.

Following Washington’s victory at Yorktown, about 100,000 loyalists fled the country, mostly to Canada.  That was roughly 10% of the country.  Many loyalists remained – far more than left.  Former Secretary of State Dean Acheson came from an Anglophile, East Coast family that always toasted the king on his birthday, right up until after World War II (“Picking up the Reins” by Norman Moss, 2002, page 65).

In reading the book “Victory at Yorktown,” you realize how easily the battle could have gone the other way.  It’s too easy to say it was won because the French Navy was there.

There is also a biblical explanation.

Genesis 48 tells us that the two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh, were to become “a multitude of nations” and a “great” nation.

Many people in Victorian times and the early part of the twentieth century believed this prophecy was fulfilled in the British Empire and the United States.  The British Empire comprised dozens of different countries, each different from the other.  They were all united by a common loyalty to the Crown.

If the US had lost the battle of Yorktown and remained within the empire, it would have been a part of the multitude of nations.  It had to be separated from the Crown even though, arguably, most did not want that separation in 1781.

The country went on to become what Winston Churchill called “The Great Republic.”

At the same time, the loyalists that moved to Canada made Canada the great Dominion of the British Empire, which it became.

The Battle of Yorktown was likely a foregone conclusion!