There is a very good reason why we fought the American Revolution
In recent years, there has been a string of documentaries on television along both sides of the Atlantic, which portrayed the American Revolution as an unnecessary war, fomented by a hothead minority, who fanned very reasonable policies by the British Crown into raging political issues. Standard history texts tell students that it wasn’t really an revolution, but rather a war for independence, since our society remained the same afterward. The states had the same representative government as the colonies. . . only their parliaments were now close to home. I have been doing some legal reading in preparation as my role as a prosecutor, trying a crime done against myself. That opened the door to some very interesting historical discoveries, which are never mentioned in our elementary and high school textbooks.
The truth is the federal government created by the US Constitution mimicked the ancient representative democracies of the major Southeastern indigenous tribes and the Iroquois Confederacy . . . except that white women would have to wait until the early 1920s to be able to vote and hold office. Creek women could always vote and hold political offices in their tribal governments. However, in the eyes of the federal and state governments, Native Americans were not even citizens of their own land until 1924. Georgia did not officially dump its laws that banned Native Americans from voting, attending public schools, holding licensed professions or even appearing in court on their own account until the Jimmy Carter Administration.
There was a difference, though. Native American societies were also commonwealths in which the overriding concern of their leaders were the general welfare of all members of the tribe, not just the ruling elite. Both having members starve and excessive display of wealth were consider inexcusable.
Yes, it was a Revolution!
In 1775, Great Britain was completely controlled by a landed aristocracy, which represented a tiny minority of the total population. Most of the North American colonies were not so different . . . although most of the North American elite was not nearly so wealthy as its counterpart in Great Britain. On the other hand, the average white North American household was far more affluent than its counterpart in Great Britain . . . especially in comparison to Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The British aristocracy was increasing wary of the growing affluence of the colonists. Such laws as the Stamp Act and Tea Act were exactly what American leaders claimed they were . . . the initial steps of the British aristocracy to reign in the economic vitality of the colonies so that a few could control many.
The students’ textbooks claim that representative democracy existed in all 17 North American colonies, which in addition to 13 that rebelled, included East Florida, West Florida, Quebec and Upper Canada. At best, these colonial governments could be labeled oligarchies.
Small groups of extremely wealthy families, who were members of the Church of England, controlled most aspects of the colonial economies. Only their male members could serve on the Governor’s councils and colonial assemblies. Whether elected or appointed by the Royal Governor, membership in such assemblies was typically limited to white men, owning 500 or more acres . . . today’s equivalent of millionaires. Sheriffs, notaries and customs officers were appointed by the crown. There was very little local government in most counties. In those colonies that even allowed elections of colonial assemblies only those, who owned substantial property, could vote. In many colonies, only members of one or two certain Protestant denominations could vote. The reason that the earliest synagogues were in Savannah and Charleston, was because those two colonies permitted immigration by Jewish families and even allowed the propertied Jews to vote for local council and colonial assembly members.
The criminal justice system and government barely existed outside large towns along the coast. What was deemed a violation of the law was typically determined by the local landed gentry. A sheriff, appointed by the royal governor, was typically the only full time government official in most rural counties. The sheriff could summon members of the local militia to help him apprehend a supposed criminal and runaway slaves or bond servants. That person would be held in a makeshift jail until a traveling judge, appointed by the Crown, could arrive . . . . or alternatively, the accused would be transported to a major town on the coast to be tried. The sheriff would also appoint a prosecutor for the specific criminal case. Lawyers were extremely rare in rural areas, so the special prosecutor would also be from the landed gentry. Only voting, white male citizens could serve on a jury . . . so again landed gentry determined the guilt of the accused.
The provisional governments set up by rebelling colonies during the American Revolution, were far more inclusive of societal members than their royalist predecessors . . . mainly because the rebel leaders did not want to alienate any section of the population that might furnish soldiers to the Patriot Cause. The democratization process accelerated during the aftermath of the Revolution, with local communities electing their own judges, sheriffs, state assembly members and Congressmen. However, it was not until the 1820s or later that the states began allowing white male citizens to vote for governors. It was not until ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913 that citizens were allowed to vote for US Senators.
The United States of America was indeed “a light to the world during the late 1700s and early 1800s.” The revolutions in France and Haiti might never occurred had not the revolution in North America been successful. Certainly, Great Britain and its remaining colonies, would have been much slower in evolving toward true representative government, had not the American Revolution occurred. The wars of independence between the Spanish colonies in Latin America and the Spanish Crown probably would have been delayed many decades, without the example of the United States. The “middle way” championed by the United States until the late 20th century was proof to the repressed peoples of the world that there was a preferable alternative to either the dictatorships of Fascism and Communism. Since 2000, the United States has rapidly accelerated toward an oligarchial society, more closely resembling Great Britain on the eve of the American Revolution.
Lessons taught by history
The primary reasons that democracy has struggled in Latin American countries since their independence from Spain are (1) the continuous gap between the haves and the have-nots, (2) lack of a democratic tradition in the Spanish colonies, and (3) lack of socio-economic mobility between economic classes and ethnic groups.
Democracy can only thrive when there is a large, well-educated middle class that can at least hope to better itself within a lifetime. When the middle class sees itself shrinking and life as a hopeless struggle to maintain the status quo, political instability will be followed by either a police state or societal chaos or both.
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