Some Facts You Might Not Know About the American Revolution

Time once again to light up the grill, open a beer, hang up your flags and patriotic bunting, and celebrate our nation’s birthday with some fireworks! We all know the great tale of our nation’s founding by heart: Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere, Lexington, George Washington, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, Declaration of Independence, crossing the Delaware, the winter at Valley Forge, and victory at Yorktown.

But, as I’ve mentioned a number of times previously, the stories we are taught in history class are often not the whole picture. And in some cases, I feel that’s kind of a tragedy, because the whole picture can sometimes be more awesome than the history class version, especially when it comes to the American Revolution. Things like…

The Revolutionary War was also a World War

Many of us know that in 1778 Benjamin Franklin, after a long diplomatic struggle, convinced the French to help us fight the British. Spain joined in the following year. But we are often told that the alliance was a rocky one, and the French were unreliable allies that didn’t keep their commitments and only got really involved at the very end during the Battle of Yorktown. Heck, in the movie The Patriot France’s flakiness was a major plot point.

This view is completely distorted. The reason France had a hard time sending arms and troops to help the Continentals was because they were so busy fighting the British in Europe, the Caribbean, and Asia. Our French and Spanish allies turned the Revolutionary War into a world war in order to force the British to fight in as many fronts as possible, meaning they were no longer able to concentrate their strength in the Thirteen Colonies. This gave the Americans an advantage that set the stage for their eventual victory at Yorktown.

In India, France’s ally, Mysore, attacked the British in 1780 and kicked some serious British butt, largely thanks to the fact the Mysoreans were using freakin’ rockets against the redcoats!

Such awesomeness should never have been left out of our history books!

In 1779, the French and Spanish laid siege to the tiny British colony of Gibraltar, in what would become the largest battle  in the entire war. 7,500 British troops fought 63,000 combined enemy soldiers, sailors and marines in a four-year siege that inspired one of Mozart’s pieces.

The allies even built up an Armada with the goal of invading England, though disease spreading among their crews forced them to abandon the plan. So, no, the French and Spanish were far from being unhelpful allies – they arguably guaranteed that our fight for independence would succeed.

Information from Wikipedia

The Revolution was a Civil War to the Americans…

Though many Americans were gung-ho about independence, the cause was far from universally accepted. Many Americans were still loyal to King and Country, were accustomed to British rule and resistant to the idea that the colonies could make it on their own, and didn’t like that Patriots resorted to violence to achieve their means. Historians estimate that between 15% and 20% of the colonial population were so-called “Tories”, colonists who opposed independence and wanted to stay British.

Their reasons for continued loyalty varied. Many were part of the colonial establishment and feared “mob rule” if the Patriots won, or were recent immigrants from Europe who tried initially to stay neutral but felt pushed to the Crown’s side. Some sided with the British because they still had friends and family back in England, and many slaves joined the British army’s ranks because they were promised freedom for doing so.

In the early phase of the war, as Patriots staged coups d’etat and seized power from royal governors in each of the colonies, these Tories usually went into hiding, for if they were discovered Patriots would arrest them as spies and traitors, or worse subject them to “mob justice” such as tarring and feathering. However, not all of them were so passive: in 1775, nearly 2,000 Tories laid siege to a Patriot camp in South Carolina. A similar battle in North Carolina was fought the following year. Later, as the British captured New York City, Philadelphia, Savannah, and Charleston, Tories began flocking to the British ranks as volunteers for service to the Crown. Many battles in the Revolution featured Americans fighting Americans. When the war ended and America’s independence was recognized, many Tories fled to Canada.

Thus beginning one of our nation’s oldest traditions.

Information from the History Channel series The Revolution

… and a “Vietnam” to the British.

In Britain, the Revolutionary War produced a major identity crisis. 18th-century Britain had built its empire, rightly or wrongly, on the notion that they were an “Empire of Liberty”, a society where government was bound by laws and everyone had rights (except slaves, of course). When the colonists began demanding “No taxation without representation”, they were referring to the Magna Carta of 1215, which declared that no Englishman could be taxed without having some form of say in the matter – such as being able to vote their leaders into and out of office. In the colonists’ minds, they were Englishmen demanding their rights under English law, and there were many in Britain, including some voices in Parliament, who agreed. However, the majority in Parliament felt that the colonists were behaving like spoiled brats, and King George III ultimately agreed. They sent the army to shut the colonists up, and the rest is history.

The war in Britain was very controversial. How could they be an “Empire of Liberty”, opponents to the war asked, if they were denying liberty to their own people? As the war dragged on and victory seemed ever more elusive, more and more British voices joined the chorus calling for an end to it, especially after France and Spain joined the fight. The British surrender at Yorktown proved the decisive last straw – street protests forced King George and Parliament to sue for peace and evacuate their troops from America.

Information from the BBC series A History of Britain

The Continental Congress narrowly escaped a military coup

In 1783, the war was winding to a close, and thousands of soldiers were getting ready to go home and start a new life in the new nation they had fought and died for. There was one problem, though: the Continental Congress had fallen behind on their pay.

This had been a perennial problem during the war. Congress controlled the Continental Army and was responsible for funding it, but since Congress had no power to tax, it had to depend on the states for funding. And the states were not exactly known for actually providing the money they promised. Combine this with perennial corruption and mismanagement along the supply lines, and the average American soldier spent the war underpaid and under-supplied. Soldiers mutinied time and time again, and while sometimes Congress was able to negotiate a settlement for a particular unit’s grievances, the root problem remained.

Finally, on June 20, 1783, 400 American soldiers decided that they had been ignored and mistreated long enough. They marched up to Independence Hall in Philadelphia to confront Congress. This could very well have been the end of the Continental Congress, right then and there, but luckily for them Alexander Hamilton managed to persuade the mutineers to let them adjourn for the day to consider their grievances and find a compromise.

In fact, the Hamilton and several of his fellow Congressmen used the tiny breathing space the soldiers gave them to meet in secret that night. They wrote an urgent message to the government of Pennsylvania begging for aid. The state’s leaders, for reasons that have never been quite clear, refused the Congress’s request. Perhaps they were sympathetic to the mutineers, or thought the matter could be resolved peacefully?

Whatever the reason, Congress decided not to wait around to find out and instead skipped town, setting up shop in Princeton, New Jersey. They had survived the coup, but had seen just how precarious their position was. The experience was one of the key reasons we now have Washington, D.C. as our nation’s capital – if the states couldn’t be relied on to protect the federal government, then the federal government would be better served to not be based in any state.

Information from Wikipedia

The Revolution is part of the reason we have a planet named “Uranus”.

In 1781, British astronomer William Herschel discovered a new planet in our solar system, beyond the orbit of Saturn. At first, he thought he had found a comet, but after further observations it became clear that it was, indeed, a planet. The Astronomer Royal, Nevil Maskelyne, wrote to Herschel and said, “do the astronomical world the faver [sic] to give a name to your planet, which is entirely your own, [and] which we are so much obliged to you for the discovery of.”

And Herschel did. He named it Georgium Sidis.

So, why don’t our solar system models have a gas giant named Georgium Sidis between Saturn and Neptune? Well, we can thank the American Revolution, at least in part. See “Georgium Sidis” is Latin for “George’s Star”, the “George” in question being King George III. In Britain, this name was just fine, but in the countries at war with Britain at the time – the American colonies, France, and Spain – the name was flatly rejected. Soon, there were a number of competing names for the planet floating around out there, such as “Herschel” and “Neptune”. By about 1850, the global public had settled on the name Uranus, even in Britain. Why that name in particular, I’m not sure, but it does fit the explanation given by the German astronomer Johann Elert Bode, who first suggested it: “Just as Saturn is the father of Jupiter, the new planet should be named after the father of Saturn.”

I guess that one counts as a “Politics is Strange”, huh?

Information from this video.

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2 Responses to Some Facts You Might Not Know About the American Revolution

  1. Pingback: Four Often-Forgotten Heroes of the American Revolution | Cat Flag

  2. Pingback: Strange Politics: Beyond Fifty States | Cat Flag

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