If there is one extremely deceptive aspect of the American Revolution, it is that the Founding Fathers made revolution look easy. Since that fateful day, over two centuries ago, revolutions have ruffled across the globe, many claiming to follow in the ideals of the American Founders, or claiming to take their principles to a higher level. Almost none of them succeeded. None succeeded as fully. Quite often the result was a tyranny darker than the one overthrown.
So why did the American Revolution succeed so wonderfully?
Four things are necessary for a successful revolution:
1) The old order must be rotten
2) The revolutionary cause must offer improvement
3) Circumstances must be providential
4) The revolutionaries must be worthy
The first requirement is quite often easy to meet. As a general rule, governments are rotten. Some more than others; but it is the rare nation that is blessed with good government. The question is: Is the government rotten enough to merit a struggle, particularly an armed one?
In the case of the American Revolution, the British government was rotten and corrupt to the core. Our school books dumb down the cause to mere taxes, but it is more than that. British laws had put a stranglehold on the American economy, with the intent of making America nothing more than a dumping ground for British manufactures. Trade with the French or Spanish was forbidden.
To the untutored this may seem like nothing more than a protectionist policy; but in the seventeenth century this policy had reduced Scotland to poverty and Ireland to a slavish, starving state of penury; all by design. The rest of the Empire existed only to make London rich. On top of all of this, the colonists had no representation in the Parliament to correct the matter. Not that it would have mattered much with such a corrupt legislature.
Benjamin Franklin, who had spent some time in the British Isles, had seen the devastation wrought by these policies.
Franklin toured Ireland in 1771 and was astounded and moved by the level of poverty he saw there. Ireland was under the trade regulations and laws of England, which affected the Irish economy, and Franklin feared that America could suffer the same plight if Britain’s exploitation of the colonies continued.
More than anything else, Franklin saw how London Bankers, through the Currency Act, forced American colonies to stop issuing their own currency; and required them to take loans at interest. This caused an immediate depression in the colonies.
Franklin saw corruption and influence peddling that sickened him. He knew that America was slated to become nothing more than England’s useful doormat. Franklin had gone to England in 1757 as a cheerleader for the British Empire. He would return to the colonies in 1775 as a revolutionary.
The American Revolution met the first requirement. The old order was rotten.
The second requirement is to offer improvement.
One would be surprised how many revolutions do not. Quite often governments can be overthrown merely to exchange power, not improve the situation. This or that tribe feels oppressed, and overthrows the ruling tribe; but no improvement is sought. The underclass and ruling class have merely exchanged places. This is quite typical in the Arab and African world. The present Syrian Civil War between Sunni and Shia is just such a struggle. No matter who wins, the object is to oppress the other side.
In other cases, governments can be overthrown to prevent improvement. This is quite common in Latin America where right or left wing groups have been known to overthrow governments rather than have them proceed with reform. In such cases, the maintenance of tyranny is sought.
In Europe, governments were overthrown to institute murderous totalitarian regimes far worse than the previous order; often in the name of class or ethnic struggle.
In all these cases, these countries would have been better without such revolutions, if only to prevent unnecessary bloodshed, and quite often to prevent a genuine horror.
The second requirement of improvement is rarely met. The Belgians met it in 1830, but just barely. The French Revolution met this requirement initially, but then descended into the Reign of Terror — perhaps as a reaction against foreign interference. But the French Revolution became a bloodbath. Its initially high principles were trashed.
In America, however, the colonists had a clear vision of liberty; and what it meant. They had enough experience with self-government to know that they could indeed run things better than the British. They had been schooled in the writings of Locke to know how a good government should be framed.
The third requirement is circumstance. There are many fine worthy peoples who have never achieved independence and liberty for lack of providential circumstance.
The Basque come to mind. They are an industrious people who greatly outperform Spain proper. Their per capita output is equal to Germany’s. In the Middle Ages, they had a wrested a degree of local autonomy from Spanish kings and ran their provinces like republics guided by the fueros (laws). Moreover, they were amazingly egalitarian with their women; always a sign of high civilization. Devoutly Christian, the Basque — mostly part of the forces fighting Franco — refused to embrace the communist atheism rampant in the Spanish Republican ranks; but remained proudly Catholic.
After Franco’s victory, it was the Basque country which regularly protested against his fascist rule. The General Strike of 1947 being a famous example.
Yet, this noble people is stuck between France and Spain. They will almost certainly never rise above autonomy, though they certainly deserve more. Likewise, can anyone doubt that if it were not the circumstance of adjacent geography, all of Ireland would be free of British rule by now?
Americans of the Revolution were blessed with natural wealth, a century and a half of practice in colonial self-government, and a history of self-reliance when Britain ignored them, as it did during their Cromwellian Civil War. Most of all, the three thousand miles between America and Britain was a game-changer.
America’s circumstances were providentially blessed.
The fourth, and most important requirement, is the quality of men. Most revolutions are run by thugs or benighted intellectuals. Mussolini, Stalin, the Assads of Syria, etc. Worse yet, they often depend on illiterate masses following them.
The Americans of the Revolution were the most unique people in world history. Literate, self-reliant, and moral at levels that is hard for us to conceive of today. They were probably the most biblically educated people in world history. Even the unbelieving Tom Paine would frame his pamphlet, Common Sense, arguing for revolution based on the Old Testament passages.
Contrary to popular belief, America was not one-third revolutionary, one-third neutral, and one-third Tory. In actuality, ninety percent of the population was in favor on Independence, to some degree or another. The American people were of a rare caliber of excellence, unity, and character.
When one looks at other revolutions in history, no one other people comes close.
Cromwell, who claimed to be setting up a Christian Commonwealth in 17th century Britain, dismissed the Parliament, and assumed the mantle of Lord Protector; which is a fancy name for dictator. A Protestant Ayatollah.
Washington, on the other hand refused a similar prospect when Army officers at Newburgh offered to deliver the new American government into his hands. He would not take the path of Caesar, Cromwell, or the subsequent Napoleon. The Europeans were so astounded by Washington’s character that he would be honored by all as a giant of history, even in his lifetime; even by the British. Upon news of his death, Napoleon had the French navy fire volleys in his honor.
The American Revolution succeeded because of a unique set of providential circumstances and righteous men. But let us not delude ourselves. The present day American people are not up to their mettle. Not in the least.
Written under the pen name of Mike Konrad