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.


Mac said...

My honors American History professor--53 years ago--posited the following: What would happen if you were to set up a table on a big city corner, put the Declaration on the table, and ask people to sign it. After a lot of poetry from my classmates, he got to me. "I would be arrested for inciting treason," I said. Right answer.

%3 years ago, I swore to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States...", with my life, if necessary. In 1776. I like to think I would have joined the first 4 of 11 of the men in my blood-line who have served our Nation in combat. But, knowing my own make-up, I would probably have been in the Royal Marines, serving "The King, God Bless 'Im".

Gruntled said...

Yes, it is hard for patriots to imagine themselves being revolutionaries - even in the revolution which produced our patria.

Barry said...

I find it interesting to think about the position that would be taken on supporting the Revolution(including taking up arms) by the current political parties and their subgroups. Also reflecting on your previous post: what would be Mitch McConnell's position?

Gruntled said...

I think he would have been as close to the royal government as possible, and then ended up in London.

Gary said...

I have often thought what my position would have been, I would like to think I would have supported the Revolution. However, I do know this, individuals act for their own benefit and not for the benefit of others unless, both interests happen to be assimilated.

Gruntled said...

Tocqueville says the genius of American democracy is that we can see that serving the community actually serves me best. This is what he calls the "principle of self-interest, rightly understood."

Gary said...

I do help my " Community " ....sometimes I have to look in the mirror.