The Gruntleds have just finished watching "John Adams," the excellent miniseries that ran on HBO, now rentable (thank you, Netflix). Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney do a superb job in the central roles of John and Abigail Adams, and the rest of the cast and script are really fine. I thought David Morse did a particularly good job in the hard role of making George Washington a man and not just an icon.
What I found especially gripping were the debates in Congress about independence. Watching that cranky bunch of localists debate whether it was just to make revolution, and whether it was wise to make this new thing, a republic, brought home to me that the choice of independence was not obvious, and the people who opposed it were not blind reactionaries. As a centrist and an institution builder, I would have been deeply torn about the wisdom of independence and revolutionary war. I suspect that I would have been working for a compromise and reconciliation to the end of June in 1776.
I think the larger picture is that Britain was always destined to bring the American colonies under tighter control just as soon as it was practical. American liberties, from Jamestown to the French and Indian War, were the result of sloth, distraction, and the sheer logistical challenge of governing people across an ocean in the age of sail. There was never a British constituency for the idea of American liberty.
Well, perhaps there was a covert constituency, at that. Burke, as an Irish MP, could sympathize with the idea that one People really did have a right to govern themselves. And I have a suspicion that the Howe brothers, admiral and general, deliberately held off from crushing the American army at its weakest point. Perhaps those free British gentlemen saw the point being made by those other free British gentlemen in Philadelphia 232 years ago.