Tuesday, July 04, 2017
Would You Have Supported the Revolution in 1776?
I audited a colleague's course on the American Revolution this year. It made me revisit some attitudes I had taken for granted, probably since elementary school. As an American today I am a patriot. I strongly support republican government. When I was in Britain and someone offered a toast to the queen I discovered just how visceral my loathing for monarchy is.
I was raised a Quaker in the originally very Quaker town of Plymouth Meeting, PA. The Revolution was fought in the territory around where I lived. And Quakers, as pacifists, were mostly opposed to the war. So what would my position have been if I had been, say, 16 in 1776 (as I was in 1976)?
I probably would have opposed the American Revolution.
Since my 20s I have been a Presbyterian. Of all the American denominations, Presbyterians were the most responsible for promoting the Revolution. If I had been 26 in 1776, I would have been more moved by the arguments of republicanism. But as a meliorist, I would have thought the arguments for achieving a republic by immediate revolutionary war were dangerous. I expect I would have pointed to the the bad effects of a previous revolution, the regicide of Charles I and the gross excesses - Presbyterian excesses - of the Commonwealth.
I probably would have supported the aims of independence, but opposed the revolution.
If I had been 56 in 1776, I would have been more confident that justice requires changing the culture, as well as changing the laws. I would have supported a movement for gradual, negotiated independence from Britain. But in the negotiation we would firmly push for liberty for all. Using the power of the crown on the way to an American republic, the United States of America might not have emerged until a generation or two later - without slavery.