# MISC QUOTES
"We draw our presidents
from the people. I came from them. I wish to be one of them again."
- Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the USA
If we want an America
of heroes, we need to cherish our heroes of the past.
- Harry Crocker
The significance of
Columbus's discovery was that on a round earth, humanity is more interconnected
than on a flat one. On a round earth, the two most distant points are closer
together than they are on a flat earth.
- Matt Taibbi
If you seek Alexander
Hamilton's monument, look around. You are living in it. We honor Thomas
Jefferson, but live in Hamilton's country, a mighty industrial nation with
a strong central government.
- George Will
History had been man's
effort to accomodate himself to what he could not do. Amereican history
in the 20th century would, more than ever before, test man's ability to
accomodate himself to all the new things he could do.
- Daniel Boorstin, "The Americans"
Housetops were covered
with 'gazers'; all wharves that offered a view were jammed with people
… As British officers happily reminded one another, it was the largest
fleet ever seen in American waters. In fact it was the largest expeditionary
force of the 18th century, the largest, most powerful force ever sent forth
by Britain or any other nation.
- David McCullough, on the arrival of the British fleet in New York in "1776"
The British government
had not engaged in any serious actual oppression of the colonies before
1774, but it had claimed powers not granted by the governed, powers that
made oppression possible, powers that it began to exercise in 1774 in response
to colonial denial of them. The Revolution came about not to overthrow
tyranny, but to prevent it.
- Edmund S Morgan, "The Genuine Article"
The United States may
have retained more of the intellectual imprint of the British 18th century
than Britain itself.
- William Rees-Mogg, "The London Times"
itself quick with the seed of religious liberty, laid, without knowing
it, the egg of democracy.
- James Russell Lowell
French visitors discovered
that despite their alliance with the French against the British in the
War of Independence, the Americans seemed rather English underneath...
In 1968, a poll asked French people who on earth they thought least like
themselves. The Americans won by miles. The people the French felt closest
to were those who had invaded, decimated and/or enslaved them three times
in 70 years. Hatred of the liberator far exceeded resentment towards the
conqueror. It is the grim achievement of Philippe Roger’s book to demonstrate
that France’s lifelong hatred of America does not depend on intermittent
justification, but is a self-perpetuating state of mind that meets a vital
need in the French psyche.
- Sebastian Faulks, reviewing "The American Enemy" by Philippe Roger in "The Times"
America seemed a virgin
land waiting for civilization. But Europe had made the wilderness it found;
America was not a virgin, she was a widow.
- Ronald Wright, "Stolen Continents"
"What is still more
to our shame as civilized Christians, we debauch their morals already too
prone to vice, and we introduce among them wants and perhaps disease which
they never before knew and which serve only to disturb that happy tranquility
which they and their forefathers enjoyed. If anyone denies the truth of
this assertion, let him tell me what the natives of the whole extent of
America have gained by the commerce they have had with Europeans."
- Captain James Cook, on European contact with native peoples
The solitary woodsman
of the colonial frontier who traveled beyond maps and into the deepest
of a dark and deceptive wilderness is an image firmly rooted in American
culture. In a variety of story lines found in both print and film, this
linen-and leather-clad individual passes freely between the European and
Indian worlds, yet he stands squarely between the encroachment of the British
powers and the untouched garden of the American Indian. He resists the
coming of settlement and ignores the enticements of the most powerful,
yet he rescues the very individuals who will one day destroy his personal
Eden. He yearns for lasting peace in his wilderness home, yet he becomes
the most brutal of warriors when such a peace is threatened. Such a complex
and attractive natural man personifies the paradox of the westward movement
in American History.
- Mark A. Baker, "Sons of a Trackless Forest"
As manifested through
the exploits of Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton, not even the best of the
long hunters could always live up to the stalwart images perpetuated through
early America's popular culture or in the fictional tales of writers like
Cooper. The woodsmen of the colonial frontier did not possess the perfect
abilities, or the consummate blend of Indian and so-called civilized notions
of morality, justice and good judgement that Hawkeye consistently exhibits
throughout the five epic novels. Rather, the woodsmen, who ventured into
the western regions of Pennsylvania, Virginia and the Carolinas, and those
who eventually poured over into the Kentucky and Tennessee wilderness,
came out of several different cultures; and thus, judged the world through
a myriad of codes, a complex blend of morality, and faced the challenges
with a wide spectrum of wilderness talent. Understandably, some European
heritages adapted to the wilderness life quicker than others. But once
again, none of the cultures from which any of the frontiersmen came melded
perfectly with the Indian culture as does Cooper's hero, Hawkeye. Rather,
any direct influence of an Indian culture on any of the frontiersmen usually
happened only as a result of skirmishes, warfare, or the woodsman's capture
and subsequent adoption into one of the various Woodland Indian tribes.
- Mark A. Baker, "Sons of a Trackless Forest"
"I am safe in affirming
that the proofs of genius given by the Indians of N. America, place them
on a level with Whites in the same uncultivated state... I believe the
Indian then to be in body & mind equal to the whiteman. I have supposed
the black man, in his present state, might not be so; but it would be hazardous
to affirm, that, equally cultivated for a few generations, he would not
become so... In truth, the ultimate point of rest and happiness for [the
Indians] is to let our settlements and theirs meet and blend together,
to intermix and become one people, incorporating themselves with us as
citizens of the U.S. This is what the natural progress of things will of
course bring on, and it will be better to promote than retard it. Surely
it will be better for them to be identified with us and preserved in the
occupation of their lands, than be exposed to the many casualties which
may endanger them while a separate people."
- Thomas Jefferson (1803)
The American infatuation
with Lewis and Clark grows more fervent with every passing year. The adventurers
have become our Extreme Founding Fathers, as essential to American history
as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson but a lot more fun. Our Lewis
and Clark have something for everyone—a catalog of 21st-century virtues.
They're multicultural: an Indian woman, French-Indians, French-Canadians,
and a black slave all contributed to the expedition's success. They're
environmental: Lewis and Clark kept prodigious records of plants and animals
and were enthralled by the vast, mysterious landscape they traveled through.
They're tolerant: They didn't kill Indians (much) but did negotiate with
them. They're patriotic: They discovered new land so the United States
could grow into a great nation. Lewis and Clark, it's claimed, opened the
West and launched the American empire.
- David Plotz, "Slate Magazine"
"I am not belittling
the brave pioneer men but the sunbonnet as well as the sombrero has helped
to settle this glorious land of ours."
- Edna Ferber
David Hume, in his
essay "Of National Characters", asserted that "the same set of manners
will follow a nation, and adhere to them over the whole globe, as well
as the same laws and language. The Spanish, English, Frencha and Dutch
colonies are all distinguishable even between the tropics." Nature, as
he saw it, could never extinguish nurture. Yet comtemporaries with first-hand
experience on the other side of the Atlantic were in no doubt that they
deviated in important respects from their mother countries... Nature as
well as nurture had formed the new colonial worlds... New Spain was clearly
not old Spain, nor New England old England.
...A British colonization of North America undertaken at the same time as Spain's colonization of Central and South America would have been very different in character from the kind of colonization that occured after a century that saw the establishment of Protestantism as the official faith of England, a notable reinforcement of the place of parliament in English nationa life, and changing European ideas about the proper ordering of states and their economies.
...Without the example of the British colonies before them, would the Spanish colonies have thought the previously unthinkable and declared their independence in the early 19th century?
- JH Elliott, from the introduction to "Empires of the Atlantic World"
A dry, impoverished,
barren land: 10 per cent of its soil bare rock; 35 per cent poor and unproductive;
45 per cent moderately fertile; 10 per cent rich. A peninsula separated
from the continent of Europe by the mountain barrier of the Pyrenees –
isolated and remote. A country divided within itself, broken by a high
central tableland that stretches from the Pyrenees to the southern coast.
No natural centre, no easy routes. Fragmented, disparate, a complex of
different races, languages, and civilizations – this was, and is, Spain.
The lack of natural advantages appears crippling. Yet, in the last years
of the fifteenth century and the opening years of the sixteenth, it seemed
suddenly, and even miraculously, to have been overcome. …
How all this can have happened, and in so short a space of time, has been a problem that has exercised generations of historians, for it presents in a vivid form one of the most complex and difficult of all historical questions: What makes a society suddenly dynamic, releases its energies, and galvanizes it into life? This in turn suggests a corollary, no less relevant to Spain: How does this same society lose its impetus and its creative energies, perhaps in as short a period of time as it took to acquire them?
- JH Elliott, "Imperial Spain"
# BOORSTIN - THE COLONIAL EXPERIENCE
"Wee shall be as a
Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us."
- John Winthrop
What really distinguished the Puritans in their day was that they were less interested in theology itself, than in the application of theology to everyday life, and especially to society. They were less concerned with perfecting their formulation of the truth than with making their society in America embody the Truth they already knew. Puritan New England was a noble experiment in applied theology.
Never was a people more sure that it was on the right track.
A dissenion which in England would have created a new sect within Puritanism, simply produced another colony in New England. In New England, the critics, the doubters, and dissenters were expelled from the community; in England the Puritans had to find ways of living with them. It was in England, therefore, that the modern theory of toleration began to develop. In mid-17th century England we note a growing fear that attempts to suppress error would inevitably suppress truth, a fear that magistrates' power over religion might give them tyranny over conscience.
The leaders of Massachusetts Bay Colony enjoyed the luxury, no longer feasible in 17th century England, of a pure and simple orthodoxy. Had they spent as much of their energy in debating with each other as did their English contemporaries, they might have lacked the singlemindedness needed to overcome the dark, unpredictable perils of the wilderness. They might have merited praise as precursors of modern liberalism, but they might never have helped found a nation.
To try to live by the Bible was vastly different from trying to live by the Laws of the Medes or the Persians, by the Athanasian Creed or even by the Westminster Confession. For the Bible was neither actually a codification or credo, it was a narrative... for the Puritans, the Bible was less a body of legislation than a set of binding precedents.
All the circumstances of New England life - tradition, theology and the problems of the new world - combined to nourish concern with practical problems. It is easy to agree with Lechford's grudging compliment that "wiser men than they, going into a wildernesse to set up another strange government differing from the settled government here, might have falne into greater errors than they have done".
To the pilgrims, the Puritans and the Quakers, American seemed an opportunity to create a society according to plan. Their escape from persecution was perhaps less significant to them than their ascent to rul. America was not merely a way out of prison; it offered a throne in the wilderness. Such swift changes of fortune have always strained the characters of men, and never were changes more dizzying than those which occured on American soil in the earliest colonial years.
The Puritans, by building institutions in New England, had nourished a worldly human pride which diluted their sense of providence and their faith in the omnipotence of God. The Puritan success was accompanied, if not actually made possible, by the decline of American Puritanism as an uncompromising theology. Quaker success offers a dramatic contract, for when the opportunities of governing came to them, they preferred to conserve a pure Quaker sect rather than build a great community with a flavor of compromised Quakerism.
In England, Quakers remained a minority, raising an accusing and critical voice. In America the earliest Quaker voices had much the same sound. While others saw an opportunity here to pursue their orthodoxy unmolested, the Quakers engaged in a relentless quest for martyrdom. In colonial Rhode Island, where the rulers refused to persecute them, Quakers were unwilling to stay.
One after another of them seemed to list after hardships, trudging thousands of wilderness miles, risking Indians and wild animals, to find a crown of martyrdom. Never before perhaps have people gone to such trouble or traveled so far for the joys of suffering for their Lord.
The mortal test of Quakers in America was not at the whipping post or on the gallows. To such ordeals European life had accustomed them, and they endured their suffering with courageous dignity in the New World... European life had not trained the Quakers to sit in the seats of power; this was to be the novel test provided by America - a test which, in many important ways, they were to fail. The reasons for their failure teach a great deal about the limitations of their doctrine and about the special requirements of American community life.
The very ways which earlier Quakers had used to show contempt for rank and custom gradually became themselves customs as rigid as those they were meant to displace. The Quaker's refusal to remove his hat became as arrogant and purposeless as the non-Quaker's insistence on hat-honor... while the dogmas of Quakerism grew more fixed and uncompromising, those of Puritanism tended more and more toward compromise. Quakerism built a wall around itself.
To remain 'pure' in the matter of oaths, the Quakers bargained the lives of all those men and women who might be convicted of any one of a dozen miscellaneous crimes.... zealous men might sacrifice the welfare and even the lives of their fellowmen to the overweening purity of their own consciences.
Somehow, whenever tested, the Quakers chose the solution which kept themselves pure, even though others might have to pay the price. To avoid taking oaths, Quakers sacrificed the humanity of criminal laws. While die-hard Quakers kept free of the taint of militarism and preserved inviolate their testimony against war, hundreds of innocent women and children were being massacared by Indians in western Pennsylvania.
Men who set too much store by their dogmas and who will not allow themselves to be guided by the give-and-take between ideas and experience are likely to suffer defeat in one way, if not another.
The Quakers discovered that they were less free (for example, to be pacifists) as rulers of a province than when they were a persecured minority.
The intellectual and dogmatic character of Puritanism had shown the enquiring Puritan a path to God in every little fact.
THE SETTLERS OF GEORGIA
"It is a melancholy
thing to see how zeal for a good thing abates when the novelty is over,
and when there is no pecuniary reward attending the service."
- Earl of Egmont
Th virtues, like the vices, of any age bear its peculiar flavor. The swashbukling grandeur of the projects of Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake expressed the aspirations and daring of Elizabethan England. The clarity, simplicity and doggedness of the purposes of William Bradford and John Winthrop were that special combination of grand end and commonplace means which characterized the England of Oliver Cromwell. Similarly, the altruism of the founders of the Georgia colony in 1732 was a touchstone of the limited aspiration of the England of that day. In England, the middle decades of the 18th century were distinctly unheroic.
The promises and weaknesses of the Georgia venture were symbolized in its two leaders: Lord Percival, the wealthy aristocrat, interested in doing good for other Englishmen and in strengthening his nation, insofar as this could be accomplished from an upholstered chair in a town-house, on the floor of Parliament or in coffee-house, or from the lordly ease of his Irish estates; and General Oglethorpe, the man of action, clear and specific in his purposes, arbitrary and impatient, and unbending with the doctrinaire rigidity of the completed 'practical' man. Together they expressed the combination of vagueness and concreteness which the virtue and fault of 18th century humanitarianism.
Conviction that they were doing good for the settlers, for the neighboring colonies, and for all Great Britain hardened their obstinacy against the facts of life in Georgia. The basic error of the Trustees, from which many other evils flowed, was the rigidity of their rules for the ownership, use, sale and inheritance of Georgia's primary resource - land. By preventing the free accumulation, exchange and exploitation of the land they stultified the life of the colony. Their sin was not so much that they were ignorant (although they might have done more to acquaint themselves with the facts), but they acted as if they did know, and by their laws imposed their ignorance upon the settlers.
London philanthropists were trying to make Georgia fulfill a European dream. They were less interested in what was possible in American than in what had been impossible in Europe. Their ideals for the new colony were the Englishman's picture of what such a colony ought to be: protector of the frontier, refuge for the unfortunate and unemployed of London, and source of valued semi-tropical products.
Illusions die hard and the brighter they are the longer they take adying.
The government of Georgia failed too because the Trustees had burdened themselves with powers which no one could wisely exercise from London.
Philanthropists, like martyrs, missionaries and apostles of the Good, have never been noted for their experimental spirit, they philanthropists precisely because they know what is good and how to accomplish it. By nature they are inclined to be too clear and too dogmatic about any situation.
The Georgia project was not abandoned because its settlers had found American unpromising, but on the contrary, because what its settlers wanted was opportunuity, with all its risks - and what they were given was a plan. The opportunities of the New World could not be encompassed by any plan, however selfless or noble, devised by the Old World imagination. American possibilities were notthe same as European impossibilities, they had a character all their own.
'Self-government' in 18th century Virginia — in religious no less than in civil matters — was, of course, self-government by the ruling planters on behalf of their servants and neighbors.
Virginians had founded their community, not as religious refugees held together by a common fanaticism, but as admirers of the English way of life who hoped to preserve its virtues on this side of the water.
Many of the settlers of Jamaica and Barbados in the 18th century also hoped to build their little Englands, but the exotic flora and fauna, the enervating tropical climate and myriad other differences put anything resembling English outside the bounds of a sane imagination. Before long those who could not tolerate an alien way of life returned to temperate England. The left the Caribbean islands to resident-managers and to the few expatriate plantation owners who preferred a frankly exotic way of life with its special privileges of luxuriance, indolence, despotism and irresponsibility. In contrast to all thise, the climate and landscape permitted Virginians to live in reasonable facsimilies of English country houses and to transplant English institutions. Yet they avoided the temptation of making imitation a dogma or building by a blueprint of English life.
Althought Virginia was governed by an aristocracy, its capital was not a city - a circumstance as decisive for Virginia's bookish culture as for her political institutions. In 1776 she was the most populous of the colonies, containing one-fifth of the inhabitants of the colonies. Yet while other colonies possessed metropolises, the legal capital of Virginia, Williamsburg, had a year-round population of only 1500.
Not the least significant consequence of Viriginia's thriving localism was a wholesome identification of self-interest with political activity. A man who entered politics in Virginia was doing so not only because he had large property and family interests to be protected, but because he was personally involved in every aspect of life in a particular place and he therefore wished to be a voice for that place. This identification of the public man with the interests of his particular place led Virginians to find the counsels of politics not in the peremptory commands of absolutes but in the balancing of local interests. Localism, like traditionalism, was an enemy of political dogma.
The vast extent of the Virginia parishes naturall affected the quality of their religious experience. As a quantative measure of religious zeal, the Rev. Alexander Forbes (in 1724) noted that while parishioners were faithful enough to go five or six miles to church, ten or fifteen miles were simply too much for them.
Their desire to increase their population and their lack of interest in theology made them generally lax in enforcing laws against dissenters. Men who wished to strengthen their colony with a solid citizenry - of English non-conformists, of Scots, Irish, Hugenots, Germans and Dutch - could not split theological hairs.
The Revolution which
the Virginia aristocracy did so much to make and 'win' was in fact the
suicide of the Virginia aristocracy. The turmoil of the war, the destruction
wrought in Virginia by British troops, the disestablishment of the Church,
the disruption of commerce, and the decline of tobacco-culture all spelled
the decline of aristocracy and its institutions.
The Federal Constitution was a national road on which there was no return. When the United States ceased to be a greater Virginia, Virginians ceased to govern the United States. The virtues of 18th century Virginia, when writ large, would seem to be vices. Localism would become sectionalism; the special interests of where a man lived could come to seem petty and disruptive.
AN AMERICAN FRAME OF MIND
"A certain person among
the Greeks being a Candidate for some Office in the State, it was objected
against him, That he was no Scholar. True, saith he, according to your
Notion of Learning I am not; but I know how to make a poor City rich, and
a small City great."
- Jared Eliot
They saw new perspectives and found new viewpoints in their new place. There was no American system of thought, but there were signs of American ways of thinking. As the community-plans drawn in Europe were changed in each colony, ways common to the colonies began to appear. New things were seen from the New World, not because Americans had sharper vision but because their vision was less obstructed by the piled-up wealth of the past.
The ideal of knowledge which came from natural history was admirably suited to a mobile society. Its paths did not run only through the academy, the monastery, or the university; they opened everywhere and to every man.
In 1760, the question then being debated in pamphlets and on the floor of Parliament was whether the British should drive the French from North America by annexing Canada or should instead take the sugar island of Guadeloupe. Orthodox mercantilists argued that the frigid, unsettled wilderness of Canada, adding a long boundary to be protected while yielding only a scanty fur-trade, would become a heavy burden on Mother-England; and that to remove the French from North America would dangerously increase the independence of the Americans. But Benjamin Franklin saw the question differently; according to him, growth, expansion and multiplication were the law of American life. The American market, by consuming English manufactures, would provide more employment for English labor, and would eventually increase tenfold the population of the mother-island.
The proliferation of sects and the growth of religious enthusiasm in 18th century America had prouduced an unpredicted and unplanned (often an undesired) religious tolerance. Where every sect lacked power to coerce, they all wisely 'chose' to persuade.
"It was a place free
from those 3 great Scourges of Mankind, Priests, Lawyers and Physicians...
the People were yet too poor to maintain these Learned Gentlemen."
- William Byrd
The American Provincial Age was not an age of genius so much as an age of liberation. Its legacy was not great individual thinkers but refreshed community thinking. Colonial America was not the first age or place were such breaking of old molds had occured. The Protestant Reformation in Europe had opposed the distinction between priest and layman, between the holders of the Keys to Heaven and the multitudes who sought admittance. But the Reformers could accomplish was limited by their institutional inheritance. Provincial America was free from all this; it was therefore freer to allow a new fluidity to life and thought. The universal priesthood of all believers attained a fuller expression in American ways of daily living.
By the 18th century in Europe the departments of thought had been into professional categories, into the private domains of different guilds, city companies and associations of masters; and the professions separated the areas of thought. America broke down distinctions.
LANGUAGE AND THE PRINTED WORD
The American language
has shown a spectacular uniformity. There is more difference between the
speech of Naples and Milan, or of Canterbury and Yorkshire, or of a Welsh
coal-miner and an Oxford undergraduate, or of a Provencal peasant and a
Paris lawyer than there is between the language of Maine and California,
or between the speech of a factory-worker and a college president in the
The linguistic uniformity of America is geographic (without barriers of regional dialect) and social (without barriers of caste and class). Both types of uniformity have had vast consequences for the national life; they have been both symptoms and causes of a striving for national unity. Many features of modern American culture - including the geographic mobility of the population, the public educational system, the mail-order catalogs, the networks of radio and television, the national mass-circulation magazines and national advertising (with all these have meant for the standard of living - would have been more difficult in a nation of several languages. What would have happened to the Log-Cabin-to-the-White-House stykle of American politics if, as in England, a man who lacked the 'proper' background betrayed himself in every word? Our common, classless language has provided the vernacular for equality in America.
Recent linguistic scholars have noted this tendency toward uniformity to be a general characteristic of the speech of any colony compared to that of its mother country.
Very early, Americans
began trying to discover how a word 'ought' to be pronounced by seeing
how it was spelled. This seemed to provide a ready standard of pronunciation
in a land without a cultural capital or a ruling intellectual aristocracy.
The casual way of prounouncing which followed caste and custom and not
the spelling-book had long prevailed in the English of England. Our insistent
spelling-pronunciation shows itself in our habit of preserving the full
value of syllables.
Our deference to spelling as a guide to pronunication has been so strong that was have kept alive here ways of speech which soon died in England.
The 'Dictatorship of the Schoomarm', often attacked by sophisticated students, has dampened our ebullience and ingenuity. But the Schoolmarm, by declaring teachable rules of language has helped dissolve class distinctions and has kept one more avenue open in a mobile society. Who could have predicted that a free and equalitarian society would be promoted by a pedantically precise standard of language?
In America, in place of the "King's English", there had developed a "People's English", particularly suited to a country without a capital, where everybody was privileged to speak like an aristocrat.
Almost wholly dependent
on London for their books, the colonists could not avoid borrowing English
ways of thinking about many things, but they did not borrow the institution
of the literary class. The rich variety and equal competition of town life
in America deprived the colonies of the natural habitat of the literary
class. That class usually cannot thrive unless it can sit at the center
of things, and in America there was no center.
The simple fact that books in America were, for all the colonial era, primarily an imported English product held a vast significance: it helped make tolerable, or even desirable, to the minds of energetic Americans their own lack of a literary class. In short the colonists could enjoy the best of poetry without having to put up with a class of poets.
Almanacs offered an 18th century American farmer the services now performed by agricultural extension, urban newspapers, magazines, radio and television. The hours of the rising and setting of the sun, the cycles of the moon and the tide and the prospects of weather were the timetable of his life - as necessary to him as the railroad schedule to a modern commuter. For many a farmer, the almanac was the most important printed matter he possessed other than the Bible. It told him the dates of court-sessions and the schedules of post-riders, coaches and packet-boats. It combined features of "Better Homes and Gardens", "Popular Mechanics", and "The Reader's Digest".
WARFARE AND DIPLOMACY
American experience in the colonial age shaped a particular view of peace and war which would long affect our attitude toward the objectives of war, the uses of diplomacy, and the place of the military in political life. War and peace are more than the presence or absence of sound, smell, destruction, pain and bloodshed; they are institutions. What a nation means by war or peace is as characteristic of its experience and as intimately involved with all its other ways as are its laws or its religion.
From the middle of
the 17th until near the end of the 18th century, European war was merely
an instrument of policy. It was not waged to exterminate another people
or to change their ways of life or their political or economic institutions.
Objectives were much more limited than they had been during the religious
wars of the 16th and early 17th centuries.
War, then, was not an encounter fought by two fully mobilized communities and hallowed by patriotism. War had become the task of warriors, whose functins were as separated from those of the common man was were the tasks of the learned barrister or the cleric. Military engagements occured not in the rubble of factories and cities, but usually on a military playing field, a plain at some distance from the populace. There the 'rules of warfare' were neatly and scrupulously followed, with the least possible interference to the peaceful round of household, farm and fair.
In colonial warfare all were soldiers because all lived on the battlefield. War had become an institution for the citizenry as well as warriors. Just as everybody in America was somewhat literate but none was greatly literary, everybody here was a bit of a soldier, none completely so.
Boys' pastimes early prepared them for defense. Shooting small game with a bow or a gun and throwing a tomahawk became life-saving kills when Indians attacked. "A well grown boy," Doddridge noted of the Valley of Virginia in the 1760s, "at the age of 12 or 13 years, was furnished with a small rifle and shot-pouch. He then became a fort soldier, and had his port-hole assigned him."
European war by the 18th century was far removed from the naive defense of the hearth: specialized fighters were trained to kill for reasons they did not understand and in distant lands for which they had no love. As the 18th century wore on, such wars commanded more and more of the blood and treasure of Europe. But these wars were barely intelligible, much less defensible, among colonial Americans, to whom war was the urgent defense of the hearth by everybody against an omnipresent and merciless enemy.
An armed citizenry was by no means an American invention. A prime example of American 'regression', it was a revival of the medieval Assize of Arms (1181), from which the English had developed a militia of every able-bodied freeman, each required to provide himself with arms, to train periodically under a local officer, and to be ready on sudden call. By the later 17th and early 18th century, as Europe's "limited" warfare left fighting to a small number of professionals, the English militia system had become something of a joke. In America, however, the ancient militia system, with a number of striking New World modifications, was the pattern by which whole communities organized against their enemies. The unit in this system was not the trained professional solder armed and supplied from above; it was the self-armed citizen.
The failure to distinguish between the "military man" and every other man was simply another example of the dissolving of the monopolies and distinctions of European life.
The militia system
itself, with its axiom that every man was a trained and ready-armed soldier
who would instantly spring to the defense of his country encouraged the
belief - which often proved a dangerous illusion - that the community was
always prepared for its peril.
The long-standing American myth of a constantly prepared citizenry helps explain why Americans have always been so ready to demobilize their forces. Again and again, our popular army has laid down its arms with dizzying speed, only to disperse into a precarious peace. This rhythm of our life began in the earliest colonial period. The people sprang quickly to arms: for example on the night of September 23, 1675, during King Philip's War, an alarm at a town thirty miles out of Boston brought twelve hundred militiamen under arms within an hour. As soon as the alarm was past, an expedition over, or a campaign ended, militiamen showed the same speed in disbanding.
Perhaps the dominant fact about the relationship of the colonies to each other was the reluctance of any one colony to send its militia to join in the defense of its neighbor.
There is no paradox in the fact that the colonies were willing to 'revolt' and yet were unwilling to unite: on the contrary, the two facts explain each other. The intense separatism and the determination to keep local resources to defend homes and towns also caused the nearly overwhelming difficulties which afflicted the colonial armies during the Revolution. These too, were the very reasons why, in the long run, it was impossible for the British regular army to subdue the Americans. And these were the reasons which would make American federalism difficult, necessary and in the long-run spectacularly successful.
There was not a single problem that plagued Lord Loudoun in the French and Indian War that did not also trouble Washington in the War of Independence. Washington, trying to raise a unified Continental Army from unmilitary Americans, now stood in the shoes of Loudoun. The Continental Army, like the British Regular Army twenty years earlier, had to compete for men against the separate state militias, and Washington had only slightly more success. Had the American cause been forced to depend on an American regular army, the outcome would have been even more doubtful and drawn-out. Washington, however, took wise advantage of his opportunity to fight the war seriatim - first in New England, then the Middle Colonies, then in the South - rather than all-at-once, as the French and Indian Wars had been fought. Thise made the dispersed militia force more useful and his smaller army more effective.
Even though the Federal Constitution later gave the power to wage war to the central government, the American army was never fully unified. State militias, under their late guise of the "national guard", remained important. The peacetime regional nucleus of the militia or "national guard" stayed together through a Civil War and two World Wars, so that many men continued to fight beside their neighbors.
# ANDERSON - CRUCIBLE OF WAR
The Seven Years War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766.
A conflict that had begun in an Allegheny glen with the massacre of 13 Frenchmen had spread over two oceans and three continents — half a world — and had claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.
The most important event to occur in eighteenth-century North America, the Seven Years' War (or as the colonists called it, the French and Indian War) figures in most Americans' consciousness of the past as a kind of hazy backdrop to the Revolution. As citizens of a nation created by an act of collective secession from the British empire, we Americans have always tended to take as our point of reference the thirteen rebelling colonies, not the empire as a whole - or the North American continent. This perspective has generally limited our ability to see the continuities between our pre-Revolutionary past and the rest of our history. Coming to grips with the Seven Years' War as an event that decisively shaped American history, as well as the histories of Europe and the Atlantic world in general, may therefore help us begin to understand the colonial period as something more than a quaint mezzotint prelude to our national history. For indeed, if viewed not from the perspective of Boston or Philadelphia, but from Montréal or Vincennes, St. Augustine or Havana, Paris or Madrid - or, for that matter, Calcutta or Berlin - the Seven Years' War was far more significant than the War of American Independence.
Unlike every prior eighteenth-century European conflict, the Seven Years' War ended in the decisive defeat of one belligerent and a dramatic rearrangement of the balance of power, in Europe and North America alike. In destroying the North American empire of France, the war created a desire for revenge that would drive French foreign policy, and thereby shape European affairs, for two decades. At the same time, the scope of Britain's victory enlarged its American domains to a size that would have been difficult for any European metropolis to control, even under the best of circumstances, and the war created circumstances of the least favorable sort for Whitehall. Without the Seven Years' War, American independence would surely have been long delayed, and achieved (if at all) without a war of national liberation. Given such an interruption in the chain of causation, it would be difficult to imagine the French Revolution occurring as it did, when it did - or, for that matter, the Wars of Napoléon, Latin America's first independence movements, the transcontinental juggernaut that Americans call "westward expansion," and the hegemony of English-derived institutions and the English language north of the Rio Grande. Why, then, have Americans seen the Seven Years' War as little more than a footnote?
Virtually all modern accounts of the Revolution begin in 1763 with the Peace of Paris, the great treaty that concluded the Seven Years' War. Opening the story there, however, makes the imperial events and conflicts that followed the war - the controversy over the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act crisis - into precursors of the Revolution. No matter how strenuous their other disagreements, most modern historians have looked at the years after 1763 not as contemporary Americans and Britons saw them - as a postwar era vexed by unanticipated problems in relations between colonies and metropolis - but as what we in retrospect know those years to have been, a pre-Revolutionary period... To start in 1754 would be to begin in a world dominated by wars between the northern British colonies and New France: conflicts that had been frequent, costly, indecisive, and so central to the thinking of contemporaries that the colonists were all but incapable of imagining themselves apart from the empires to which they belonged. Such a story would begin when the greatest unity the British colonists knew came not from the relations of one colony with another, but from their common connection with what they thought of as the freest, most enlightened empire in history - and from the enemies they also shared, the papist French and their Indian allies.
It is not, therefore, a story that has the birth of an American republic anywhere in view. Its centerpiece is a war that began when the diplomatic miscalculations of the Six Nations of the Iroquois allowed the French and British empires to confront each other over the control of the Ohio Valley. The ensuing conflict spread from North America to Europe, the Caribbean basin, West Africa, India, and the Philippine archipelago: in a real although more limited sense than we intend when we apply the words to twentieth-century conflicts, a world war.
The colonists who shed their blood and gave their treasure in the 1750s on behalf of the British empire could think of themselves as nothing else but British subjects in 1763, when they fairly reveled in the name of Briton. By 1766 they had confronted, and in their own minds had surmounted, a challenge to the British rights and liberties they loved, on behalf of which they believed they had fought and paid and bled. Their commitment to empire structured their political ideas, identities, and hopes for the future. If in their view there was no problem without an imperial solution, it was because the victory that lay behind them had created their vision of the future, no less than their understanding of the past.
"The air one breathes
here is contagious, and I fear lest a long sojourn here makes us acquire
the vices of a people to whom we communicate no virtues."
- Louis Antoine de Bourgainville, French officer in North America during Seven Years War
On May 1, 1756, Austrian and French diplomats signed the Convention of Versailles, a mutual defense pact that mirrored the Convention of Westminster between Britain and Prussia. By this agreement, the French agreed to come to Austria's aid, should it come under attack; while by a special article the Austrians were freed from any reciprocal responsibility to support the French in their present dispute with Great Britain. The combination of the two conventions should, reasonably, have immunized Europe against a war spreading from North America. Hanover had been made as secure as any flat and virtually indefensible country could be; Austria's anxieties at the prospect of a Prussian attack had been allayed as fully as a defensive alliance with the greatest land power in Europe could allay them. France and Britain might now attack one another's colonies and shipping at will, but only a truly bizarre - indeed almost unthinkable - act could disturb the peace of Europe. The only thing that could shatter the new equilibrium would be for the King of Prussia to attack Austria, and that would be the act of a madman. Frederick had a large and capable army, it was true, but it was no match for the army of France, let alone for those of France and Austria together.
The Earl of Loudon did not appreciate how starved for cash the colonial economies were, and therefore how unable they were to generate the revenues necessary to make the war for America self-funding. Accustomed to the sight of rural impoverishment in England and Scotland, he looked at New England's evidently prosperous countryside and believed that the representatives these yeomen elected to their assemblies were reluctant to tax their constituents because they lacked the patriotic spirit of self-sacrifice. He did not realize, or at least did not see as clearly as the colonies' legislators did, that so little money circulated in the countryside and so much indebtedness prevailed among farmers that heavy taxation could reduce even substansial yeomen to penury.
To a truly remarkable degree, Pitt's new policies took advantage of the strengths of the colonists and compensated for their deficiencies, tolerated their parochialism and capitalized on their hatred of Loudon. The colonies had men who were willing to serve, not as long-service, highly disciplined regulars, but as short-term provincials; Pitt would take as many of these as the colonies could raise. If the provincials were expensive, untrained and hard to discipline, they could still build roads, garrison forts, haul supplies, and thereby free effective soldiers - redcoats - to win battles. If the colonial economies were short on capital, credit and cash, Pitt would make up for these with subsidies and reimbursements offered in the same proportion to their efforts as the subsidies the sustained the exertions of Hanover and Prussia. And so it would run, through the whole range of problems that had so far hobbled the war effort in North America... in all of these measures Pitt did not hesitate to overthrow the reforms of the Board of Trade, who had worked so diligently before the war to impose some measure of administrative control on America. Pitt could do what he did with so little apparent concern for their efforts because he cared nothing for administration or reform or the depressing history of colonial intrusions on the prerogative. He only wanted to win the war. Pitt's action in reversing the thrust of a decade-long policy toward the colonies can only be properly understood if we see him as a man to whom caution was no longer a constraint, a gambler so desperate or so sure of his luck that he could stake everything on the next roll of the dice.
Pitt himself would
direct policies and, insofar as possible, plan campaigns. The result would
prove to be a series of victories unparalled in British history. Pitt's
policies would gain him not just the colonists' help but their adulation.
Never before had the energies of so many colonists been engaged on behalf
of the empire as they would be in three remarkable years that began in
1758; never before had their affection for Great Britain been so heartfelt,
or their passion for the empire burned with so bright a flame.
From 1758 onward, the French would fight to maintain their influence in continental Europe while the British would fight to conquer an empire, a difference in goals that would eventually prove decisive. Canada would only continue to grow weaker, more impossible to defend against the Anglo-American onslaught.
George Washington had grasped the most significant lessons that the wilderness war had to offer: that to win campaigns, or presumably even the war itself, one need not necessarily win battles; that, indeed, to win a battle at the wrong time or in the wrong way could lead to failure in the larger realm of conflict. Any number of tactical defeats could be compensated for merely by retaining discipline and maintaining one's force in the field longer than one's enemy. The absence of a strict relation between victory on the battlefield and achieving one's strategic purpose was by no means obvious.
"Our bells are worn
threadbare with ringing for victories."
- Horace Walpole, during Britain's Year of Victories, 1759
The matchless discipline of the Prussian army had given Frederick an edge early in the war, but that discipline was an asset less easy to replace than the dead and broken bodies of the men who had once possessed it. Whereas Prussia had boasted the best-trained troops in Europe at the outset of the war - so much so that virtually any company could fire four or even five volleys a minute, a phenomenal rate for the day - by the time of Hochkirch, Frederick had lost more than a hundred thousand soldiers to death, wounds, capture, disease and desertion. These he could only replace with untrained men, many of whom were foreigners, and prisoners of war.
The most valuable component of Amherst's army was the one that Amherst most despised and distrusted: the seven hundred Iroquois warriors who had accompanied him from Oswego. Amherst had been outraged at the size of the present Sir William Johnson had thought necessary to secure their cooperation - £17,000 worth of goods and cash - and had never believed they were anything but an expensive, savage nuisance. Thus he, like every British general who served in America except John Forbes, failed to grasp the Indians' real significance. Wherever his army appeared at a mission village - as at the mission of La Presentation near Fort Levis - the mere presence of the Iroquois, and their testimony to the benefits of alliance with the British, gave enough weight to Sir William's offers of amnesty and trade to procure not only peace by active support for the invaders. Through the whole of Amherst's expedition, therefore, the very Indian villages that had always furnished New France with its most loyal auxilliaries actually expedited the British advance.... without the seven hundred Iroquois warriors whose presence in the army testified to Great Britain's power and largesse, Amherst's campaign could never have been as quick, and as comparitively bloodless, as it was.
Warfare on the fantastic geographical scale of the Seven Years' War in American had been conceivable because Parliament was willing to grant the sums necessary to fund far-flung campaigns; because the British people were able to shoulder the taxes required by a war vaster than any their nation had ever fought; because the colonists cooperated in the imperial enterprise with an enthusiasm and a vigor unprecedented in their history. Amherst, the beneficiary of these vast financial, military and emotional resources, could complete the conquest of Canada not just because his three northern armies converged in such remarkable synchrony on Montreal, but because the Royal Navy had cut off the French shipping without which Canada could not survive, and because the northern Indian nations had at length decided to cast their lot with the British. Most of all the conquest of Canada had become a reality because Pitt, the northern governors and legislatures, and Amherst himself had been able to mobilize the resources of entire colonial societies in support of the campaigns of 1758-60. As a result, to a degree virtually unknown in the 18th century, every colony north of Virginia had experienced the conflict as a people's war. Much more than a military professionalism, then, enabled three armies to converge on Montreal: a combination of factors so complex that no one present at the surrender ceremony on September 9, 1760, could fully have understood them.
Great Briain triumphed
in North America for two related reasons. One was military and well understood
at the time; the other was in the broadest sense cultural, and understood
not at all. The military factor centered on supplies and supply lines.
Once the British navy had swept the French fleet from the seas, as it had
by the end of 1759, there was no safe passage for men or munitions or provisions
from France to its colonies. In the absence of these, the soldiers and
militia-men charged with defending New France soon lost the ability to
resist the well-supplied, vastly more numerous Anglo-American invaders.
In terms of broadly influential cultural factors, France maintained its empire in America for more than a century despite the steady increase of British power and population because the governors of Canaa had generally sponsored cordial relations with the Indian peoples of the interior. Trade was the sinew of these intercultural relationships, which in time of war became the military alliances that made the frontiers of the British colonies uninhabitable, and rendered a succesful invasion of the Canadian heartland impossible. The tide had turned against the French only when their alliances with the nations of the pays d'en haut began to fail after the fall of Fort William Henry in 1757; it rose inexorably thereafter, as trade goods became more difficult to transport from France to North America. But the marquis de Montcalm had aggravated the situation by seeking to command the Indians as auxiliaries, rather than to negotiate for their cooperation as allies. Eventually the combined effects of poor supply and Montcalm's Europeanized command aliented even the converted Indians and the habitants, so that in 1760 the chevalier de Levis and his regulars stood alone, abandoned by the peoples they ahd crossed the Atlantic to defend.
The progression had been almost precisely the opposite for the British. Just as France were forfeiting allies among the Indians of the pays d'en haut, then, the British were forging effective alliances between the metropolis and most of its colonies. At the same time that the redcoats, supported by vast provincial levies, were winning their first victories, the strategically crucial Ohio Indians moved to realign themselves through peace negotations at Easton, Pennsylvania. When the Iroquois shifted from a posture of neutrality to active support of the British in 1759, the tide surged against the French, who never won another battle, and who watched their Indian allies slip away until none remained.
The British army had expanded enormously during the war, ending with approx. 100,000 men under arms in 155 regiments. To maintain such a force permanently was inconceivable financially, ideologically and politically... yet to return the army to its prewar level of 49 regiments and 35,000 was impossible. First came the strategic necessity of securing the new empire. Peace was clearly going to leave Britain in possession of overseas territories, and alien populations, that would need to be policied internally and defended against foreign aggression. In formulating policy, no one even asked whether British forces should remain in America. The only real questions concerned how many battalions should be left, whete they should be stationed, and how long they should stay. Factors other than imperial policy, however, would decree that the American garrison should be a permanent one.
George III took a keen interest in the army. He was determied to preserve it at levels of strength and readiness higher than those at which it had entered the Seven Years' War, and he dedicated considerable ingenuity to finding a way to do so while holding costs down to a politically manageable level... George's solution showed his genius in full flower - there would be no expansion of the number of troops stationed in Britain. Twenty of the new battalions would be stationed in the American colonies (including the West Indies) and twelve would be added to the Irish establishment. Parliament would pay for these new garrisons only in 1763. Thereafter taxes on the colonies would support the troops stationed there, and the Irish Parliament would bear the expense of that island's new defenders.
The war had transformed the world of thousands upon thousands of provincial veterans, more than they knew. Moreover, the war had changed them, too, by laying the groundwork for something unprecedented in the history of the colonies: a generation capable, on the basis of shared experience, of forming a common view of the world, of the empire, and of the men who had once been their masters.
During the previous half century, and particularly during the Seven Years' War, the most important bonds in colonial America had been those that extended across the Atlantic. The most significant trends in political and economic integration had not drawn colony closer to colony, but the colonies as a group closer to the metropolis. The American provinces had thus been able to demonstrate unprecedented coordination during the war, but only as a result of direction from above, not as a consequence of consultations among themselves. The Seven Years' War had provided two unifying elements: a common enemy to animate agreement among colonies that were otherwise intensely localist; and a commander in chief to orchestrate colonial activities by issuing directives and transmitting requisitions through the governors to the legislatures.
All first lord of the Treasury George Grenville's efforts to construct a sound imperial relationship had centered on integrating the colonies into the British state system and subordinating the colonists to the sovereign power of the king in Parliament. Its ultimate logic would have welded the colonies and the realm together in a union like that of Scotland and England in 1707, extending the power of the metropolis over an even more distant periphery, former a greater Great Britain. He besought King George "Not to draw a line between his British and American dominions".
"If America looks to
Great Britain for protection, she must enable us to protect her. If she
expects our fleet, she must assist our revenue."
- Charles Townshend, during Parliament's debate of Stamp Act (1765)
How, the colonials
wondered, could any politician who was not a rogue deny that colonial contributions
of men and money had enabled Britain to conquer Canada and the West Indies?
How could anyone but a scoundrel demand that Americans pay for those conquests
twice - once with their blood and sweat and treasure during the war, once
more with their taxes, afterward?
Of course, it was all a matter of perspective. A decade earlier, at the dismal beginning of the war, when British officers had tried to treat colonists like subjects, they and their assemblies - fearing the loss of their prerogatives and the infringement of their constituents' rights as Englishmen - had balked. William Pitt had broken the impasse by treating the provinces as if they were tiny Prussias to be subsidized in proportion to their contributions to the war effort.
Grenville assumed that the colonists were neither more nor less than British subjects - and that the payment of taxes, not the bearing of arms, defined their responsibility to the state. But colonists like John Adams failed to see how Americans could have been one kind of subject under Pitt's war effort and another kind in the reformed postwar empire of George Grenville. The only reasonable explanation seemed to be that the coercive policies of 1755-57 had been revived, and they were being deprived of their rights as Englishmen. But the truth was that Grenville and his fellow reformers really were treating the colonists like Englishmen: as subjects, not allies, of a sovereign state. The colonists liked that just as little as they understood it.
The fact that the great war was over had changed everything. No longer would military necessity make ministers hesitate to demand the subordination that was a sovereign's due; nor would the colonists be able to stop short of articulating their reasons for resistance. But whereas in 1755-57 politicians in the assemblies had resisted by the traditional tactics of non-compliance and sullenness, in 1765 colonial politicians were no longer in effective control. Demonstrations and riots more fierce than any in living memory cracked open the shell of colonial politics, a carapace made brittle by war and depression and counterproductive efforts at imperial reform.
"The army, as an instrument
of state control in time of peace, had a dull edge."
- John Shy, "Toward Lexington"
Regardless of what Britain's political leaders believed about their nation's capacity to crush America to atoms, it was not British power that could preserve the empire to which George Washington and those like him were devoted. In truth the security of the empire depended on intangible qualities that the vigorous exercise of power could only destroy: faith in the justice and protection of the Crown, hope for a better future, and love of English liberty. Not all of these qualities were equally important to the various peoples who inhabited the North American colonies and the conquests, but taken together they were indispensable to the survival of a transatlantic political community. For Indians on whose lands the Anglo-American settlers were pressing, as for the former subjects of Louis XV who now lived under British military rule, the first element was all-important: both needed a powerful patron to protect their communities from the vastly more numerous, aggressive Anglo-Americans. The Anglo-Americans themselves took the protection of the Crown for granted, as the basis of all poltical life. What mattered more immediately to them, in light of their rapidly expanding numbers, was the hope of improving their material circumstances. That in turn depended on access to the empire's new lands and to markets for their produce... thus the aspirations and assumptions of the Anglo-American colonists were necessarily at odds with needs of the Indians and at least indirectly opposed to those of their new fellow subjects, the Canadians; yet George III was obligated to offer his protection and justice impartially, to them all.
In view of the difficulty of building any earthly kingdom on a foundation of faith, hope and love, we may not find it surprising that even an earnest, conscientious king should have failed to find the formula that would harmonize such competing interests, fulfil so many conflicting expectations, and strengthen the emotional bonds that were the only durable cement of empire.
The empires of eighteenth-century North America, Eric Hinderaker has written, can better be understood as "processes than structures," for they were not merely metropolitan creations imposed on a distant periphery of lands and peoples, but "negotiated systems," created by the interactions of peoples who "could shape, challenge, or resist colonialism in many ways." Empires, he observes, are "sites for intercultural relations."
Both the French and British empires in America had been most succesful before the Seven Years' War when neither had tried to project metropolitian power in more than the most rudimentary ways. We have seen how the strength of the French empire depended on a tissue of assumptions about Onontio's (French Governor-General) fatherly regard for his Indian children, his willingness to use gifts, trade and mediation rather than force in dealing with them. So long as the Indian alliances fostered by this forbearing approach endured, France maintained a surprisingly secure hold on Canada, Louisiana, and the Illinois Country. As the peak of its success, the Most Christian King's empire in North America had been less a French dominion than a multicultural confederation knit together by diplomacy, trade, and the necessity of defending against English aggression.
Practically speaking, the Anglo-American colonists understood the imperial relationship as a combination of trade partnership and military alliance, superintended by a protector-king - and understanding that was not, in that sense, vastly different from the way the Indians conceived of their relationship with Onontio. On these minimalist terms, the British empire before the Seven Years's War had grown into an economically robust, if institutionally anemic, state system sustained by the cooperation and loyalty of the colonial elites, the members of which exercised local control.
# ELLIS - FOUNDING BROTHERS
No event in American history which was so improbable at the time has seemed so inevitable in retrospect as the American Revolution... Based on what we now know about the military history of the American Revolution, if the British commanders had prosecuted the war more vigorously in its earliest stages, the Continental Army might very well have been destroyed at the start and the movement for American independence nipped in the bud. The signers of the Declaration would then have been hunted down, tried, and executed for treason, and American history would have flowed forward in a wholly different direction. In the long run, the evolution of an independent American nation, gradually developing its political and economic strength over the nineteenth century within the protective constraints of the British Empire, was virtually inevitable. But that was not the way history happened. The creation of a separate American nation occurred suddenly rather than gradually, in revolutionary rather than evolutionary fashion, the decisive events that shaped the political ideas and institutions of the emerging state all taking place with dynamic intensity during the last quarter of the eighteenth century.
Though there have been many successful colonial rebellions against imperial domination since the American Revolution, none had occurred before. Taken together, the British army and navy constituted the most powerful military force in the world, destined in the course of the succeeding century to defeat all national competitors for its claim as the first hegemonic power of the modern era. Though the republican paradigm-representative government bottomed on the principle of popular sovereignty-has become the political norm in the twentieth century, no republican government prior to the American Revolution, apart from a few Swiss cantons and Greek city-states, had ever survived for long, and none had ever been tried over a landmass as large as the thirteen colonies.
Although Washington actually lost more battles than he won, and although he spent the first two years of the war making costly tactical mistakes that nearly losy the American Revolution as its very start, by 1778 he had reached an elemental understanding of his military strategy; namely, that captured ground - what he termed a 'war of posts' - was virtually meaningless. The strategic key was the Continental Army. If it remained intact as an effective fighting force, the American Revolution remained alive. The British army could occupy Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and it did. The British navy could blockade and bombard American seaports with impunity, and it did. The Continental Congress could be driven from one location to another like a covey of pigeons, and it was. But as long as Washington held the Continental Army together, the British could not win the war, which in turn meant that they would eventually lose it. Space and time were on his side if he could keep the army united until the British will collapsed. And that is precisely what happened.
True to his word, on December 22, 1783, Washington surrendered his commission to the Congress, then meeting in Annapolis: "Having now finished the work assigned me," he announced, "I now retire from the great theater of action". In doing so, he became the supreme example of the leader who could be trusted with power because he was so ready to give it up.
Based on what we now know about the Anglo-American connection in the pre-Revolution era-that is, before it was severed-the initial identification of the colonial population as "Americans" came from English writers who used the term negatively, as a way of referring to a marginal or peripheral population unworthy of equal status with full-blooded Englishmen back at the metropolitan center of the British Empire. The word was uttered and heard as an insult that designated an inferior or subordinate people. The entire thrust of the colonists' justification for independence was to reject that designation on the grounds that they possessed all the rights of British citizens. The term American, like the term democrat, began as an epithet, the former referring to an inferior, provincial creature, the latter to one who panders to the crude and mindless whims of the masses.
Any clear resolution of the slavery question one way or the other rendered ratification of the Constitution virtually impossible. The distinguishing feature of the document when it came to slavery was its evasiveness. It was a prudent exercise in ambiguity.
on the slavery question was strategic, believing as he did that slavery
was a cancer on the body politics of America that could not at present
be removed without killing the patient.
Perhaps it was inevitable, even preferable, that slavery as a national problem be moved from the Congress to the churches, where it could come under scrutinty as a sin requiring a national purging, rather than as a social dilemma requiring a political solution. That, in any event, is what happened.
No model of a genuinely biracial society existed anywhere in the world at that time, nor had any existed in recorded history.
It bet, in effect,
on England rather than France as the hegemonic European power of the future,
which proved prophetic. It recognized the massive dependence of the American
economy on trade with England…it linked American security and economic
development to the British fleet, which provided a protective shield of
incalculable value throughout the nineteenth century. Mostly, it postponed
war with England until America was economically and politically more capable
of fighting one.
- on the 1794 Jay Treaty between America and England
The trademark Adams style might be described as 'enlightened perversity', which actually sought out occasions to display, often in conspicuous fashion, his capacity for self-sacrifice. He had defended the British troops accused of the Boston Massacre, insisted upon American independence in the Continental Congress a full year before it was fashionable, argued for a more exalted conception of the presidency despite charges of monarchial tendencies. It was all part of the Adams pattern, an iconoclastic and contrarian temperament that relished alienation. The political conditions confronting the presidency in 1798 were tailor-made to call forth his excessive version of virtue. Though wife Abigail was with him all the way, for Adams himself it was the supreme collaboration with his own private demons and doubts, his personal declaration of independence.
Adams realized that
the act of transforming the American Revolution into history placed a premium
on selecting events and heroes that fit neatly into a dramatic formula,
thereby distorting the more tangled and incoherent experience that participants
actually making the history felt... as Adams remembered it the real drama
of the American Revolution was its inherent messiness. This meant recovering
the exciting but terrifying sense that all the major players had at the
time — namely, that they were making it up as they went along, improvising
on the edge of catastrophe...
Adams spent most his retirement years marvelling at the benefits that accrued to ayone willing to pose for posterity in the mythical mode. If he could only control himself, if he could speak the lines that history wanted to hear, if he could fit himself into that heroic mold like a kind of living statue, he might yet win his ticket to immortality.
"The same political
parties which now agitiate the US have existed through all time. And in
fact the terms of whig and tory belong to natural as well as to civil history.
They denote the temper and constitution and mind of different individuals."
- Thomas Jefferson
John Adams suggested that Thomas Jefferson had misread the meaning of the French Revolution — sincerely misread it and not just manipulated it for political purposes — because of a faulty way of thinking conveniently conveyed by the new French word, 'ideology'. As Adams explained it, the French philosophes had invented the word, which became a central part of their utopian style of thinking and a major tenet in their 'school of folly'. It referred to a seat of ideals and hopes, like human perfection or social equality, that philosophers mistakenly believed could be implemented in the world because it existed in their heads. Jefferson himself though in this French fashion, Adams claimed, confusing the seductive prospects envisoned in his imagination with the more limited possibilities history permitted. Critics of Jefferson's visionary projections, like Adams, were then accused of rejecting the ideals themselves, when in fact they were merely exposing their illusory character. 'Ideology' then, had provided Jefferson with a politically atractive pro-French platform, which had turned out to have enormous rhetorical advantages no matter how wrong it proved in reality.
[Quotes from "Wagons West" & "The Lance
and the Shield" have been moved to American West page]
# MORE WORKS ON AMERICAN HISTORY
~ Quotes about the
~ James McPherson - Battle Cry of Freedom
~ David Hackett Fischer - Albion's Seed
~ Alan Taylor - American Colonies
~ John Keegan - Warpaths
~ Andrew Barr - Drink
>> Return to Quotes index, or Site homepage.