HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES
THE Revolution succeeded because it was the American phase of an English civil war. It was not so much a conflict between the colonies and the English government, as it was one aspect of a war between different divisions of the English people on both sides the Atlantic.1 Indeed, it was, in reality, but one battle of a great worldwide struggle between contending social classes. It was a part of the violent upheaval of society by which the capitalist class overthrew feudalism and came into power.In England there had been a reaction after the overthrow of the Commonwealth and the restoration of Charles II. Feudalism, kingly prerogative, and privilege had gained a new lease of life. The Georges were seeking to push this reaction still further. In this they were supported by the landed nobility and its followers, who constituted the Tory party. Against this party the Whigs, as the representatives of a still new and un-
1 Justin Winsor, "Narrative and Critical History of America," Vol. VI, article on "The Revolution Impending," by Mellen Chamberlain, p. I: "The American Revolution was not a quarrel between two peoples, . . . it was a strife between two parties, the conservatives in both countries in one party, and the liberals in both countries as the other party; and some of its fiercest battles were fought in the British Parliament." Page 2 : "The American Revolution, in its earlier stages at least, was not a contest between opposing governments or nationalities, but between two different political and economic systems."
developed capitalism, were struggling. Many of the supporters of the old merchant class remained with the Tories, so that the Whigs were coming more and more to be dominated by and to express the interests of the manufacturers.
As we have already seen, the dominant interests in the revolutionary party in America were those from which sprung the present capitalist class, - smuggling merchants, manufacturers, land speculators, etc. But these had already learned how to draw to themselves and use in their interest the great mass of the laboring and small business classes. They did this through the paper money issue and the appeal to the defenders of the popular local legislative assemblies. We shall see later how these issues were discarded or repudiated when they had served their purpose. It would be foolish to attempt to draw the class lines too clearly at this time. In only a few localities was the factory stage present. All industrial stages from frontier savagery to this beginning of the factory system existed. Class interests could not but be confused in such a society, and their political expression would necessarily confound that confusion.
On the whole, however, it may be roughly stated that in England the Whigs stood for capitalism, constitutional government, freedom of trade, and the powers of Parliament, while the Tories represented feudal landed privileges, kingly prerogative, and increase of the royal power.
In America there was no landed nobility with interests of its own to defend, and no king to exercise a royal power. Nevertheless, the Tories on American soil were
at all times, up to the very close of the Revolution, fully as numerous as the revolutionists, and their partisans always insisted that they were in a great majority. We hear much of the "hireling Hessians" whom the British brought to America; but which of our textbooks tell us that there were 25,000 Americans enlisted in the British army, or that at many times there were more Americans under the British than the colonial flag?
As a general thing, the Tories in America came from some of the following classes : (1) the personal, political, and business followers, dependents, and friends of the royal governors ; (2) the nonsmuggling merchants of New York and the Middle colonies, whose interests were bound up in the British trade, and who suffered from the competition of the smugglers ; (3) the large landholders of the same states ; (4) the clergy who were attached to the Church of England, and such of their followers as they could influence. In addition to all these more or less active classes there was that great mass of the population that, having no direct interests at stake in a change, remains indifferent, or clings to things as they are.1
Each of these two classes extended its ties across the Atlantic, and some of the most effective blows for American independence were struck by those who fought on English soil.
When we come to consider the actual fighting of the Revolution, we meet with many
facts that seem to be of considerable importance, but that are usually
1 Justin Winsor, "Narrative and Critical History of America," Vol. VII ; article on "The Loyalists and their Fortune," by George E. Ellis; M. C. Tyler, "The Royalists in the American Revolution," in the American Historical Review, Vol. I; A. C. Flick, "Loyalism in New York," Columbia University Series, Vol. XIV, No. 1.
from our histories. Perhaps this is explained by the statement of S. G. Fisher in his "True History of the American Revolution."
The people who write histories are usually of the class who take the side of the government in a revolution; and as Americans, they are anxious to believe that our Revolution was different from others, more decorous, and altogether free from the atrocities, mistakes, and absurdities which characterize even the patriot party in a revolution. . . . They have accordingly tried to describe a revolution in which all scholarly, refined, and conservative persons might have unhesitatingly taken part ; but such revolutions have never been known to happen.
The truth is that the Revolution was to a large extent started and maintained through methods of mob violence and terrorism, such as civilized war hardly tolerates today. One of the first hostile acts, while the colonists were still loudly protesting their loyalty, was the burning of the revenue frigate Gaspe, that had very foolishly and tyrannically dared to interfere with the regular business of the New England smugglers. The first active steps toward organized revolution consisted in the formation of "Committees of Correspondence," a sort of semisecret network of conspirators extending throughout the colonies. This body had its headquarters in Boston, with Samuel Adams, one of those natural organizers and agitators, skilled in all the arts of arousing the masses that have ever been characteristic of popular leaders.1
This1. J. K. Hosmer, "Sam Adams, The Man of the Town-Meeting," in Johns Hopkins University Studies in History and Political Science, 1884, p. 34: "He had no private business after the first years of his manhood, was the public servant, simply and solely, in places large and small, - fire-ward, committee to see that chimneys were safe, tax-collector, moderator of town-meeting, representative, congressman, governor. One may almost call him the creature of the town-meeting. His development took place on the floor of Faneuil Hall and Old South, from the time when he stood there as a master figure; and such a master of the methods by which a town-meeting may be swayed the world has never seen," etc.
chain of committees early took up the work of terrorizing those who opposed them.
The story of the methods used to accomplish this end does not make nice reading. It tells of the whipping of unarmed men by armed mobs, of the wholesale application of that humorous method of torturing which is peculiarly American, and is supposed to have originated at this time, tarring and feathering, and riding on a rail. It describes the burning of houses, the "confiscation" of property, the hanging of not a few, and the application of nearly all the methods of mob violence that ingenuity could devise.
One of the weapons which was most widely used, both locally and nationally,
privately and officially, was the boycott. One of the first acts of the first
session of the Continental Congress was to declare a boycott on all English
goods. This was two years before the Declaration of Independence, while the
colonies were still making a great parade of their loyalty. Yet this resolution
provided not simply for what has come to be known as a "primary" boycott against
English goods. It went on to describe most elaborately the methods to be used to
enforce a boycott upon any merchants who should handle British goods, or who
should trade with England in any way.1 The Committees of
Correspondence then saw to it that this boycott was enforced, and they worked to
1. Journals of the Continental Congress, Vol. I, pp. 23-26.
good effect that importations from England fell off one half almost at once. When the statement is made that only a minority of the population were revolutionists, the question naturally arises as to how this minority was able to win out. The answer is found in the fact noted by every writer who has studied this period that the revolutionists were much more active, efficient, cohesive, and belligerent, more conscious of their aims and more determined in their pursuit than any other portion of society.1 This is an invariable characteristic of a rising social class. The capitalist class was then the coming class. It was the class to whom the future belonged. It was the class whose victory was essential to progress. The Tories, with their adherence to the royal governors and to the old system of social castes and legal privileges, were harking back to an already dead society. They had neither ideas nor ideals to inspire them. The economic system to which they belonged was already crumbling into the dust of history.
In so far as the military operations on American soil are concerned, they can
best be understood if we recall the geographical features of the Atlantic coast.
Throughout history the strategic line of attack and defense on that coast, from
either a commercial or a military point of view, has been the valley of the
Hudson. If the British could occupy this valley, rebellious New England would be
cut off from the other colonies, and a base of supplies and operations created
from which other mili-
1 The revolutionists were also the armed and trained riflemen of society. It was the frontiersmen who captured Burgoyne, won the battle of King's Mountain, and generally furnished the fighters at critical times.
tary movements of conquest would have been comparatively easy. Boston, the center of revolt, and Philadelphia, the largest city, could have been occupied almost at will, and a brief raiding expedition would have sufficed to have subdued the Southern colonies.
At the opening of hostilities Boston was already occupied by a British army under General Gage. He permitted a portion of his force to be drawn away to Lexington in the effort to destroy the military stores that the colonists had accumulated, and saw a large portion of this detachment wiped out by a guerrilla attack. Then came the occupation of Bunker (or Breed's) Hill, which commanded Boston. The British army attacked the American intrenchments, and was successful, but at a terrible cost. However, the British still occupied Boston, and the American army was little more than a disorganized mob, totally incapable of conducting any effective siege.
At this moment a most important change took place in the command of the British troops. General Sir William Howe was given charge. The important fact about General Howe was that he was a most intensely partisan Whig, and that he had been one of the strongest defenders of the colonies in the British Parliament. He was absolutely opposed to any use of force against them ; believed them to be in the right and entitled to victory. In other words, the work of conquering the colonists was turned over to a man who was anxious that they should not be conquered.
This was the situation when George Washington was made commander in chief of the American forces. He at once prepared to conduct as much of a siege of Boston
as was possible. He had an army without guns, ammunition (Bunker Hill was lost because the American ammunition was exhausted), cannon, or even food and clothing. Some small cannon that had been captured by Ethan Allen at Fort Ticonderoga were hauled by the New England farmers on sleds, and at last preparations were made for actual hostilities.
Howe's conduct, in the meantime, had been most mysterious if we consider it as that of a sincere British general. He was a man of military ability. He was located in a city that had once been rendered untenable by the occupation of a hill that commanded it. It is a first principle of military tactics that all elevations commanding a position must be occupied if the position is to be defended. Yet Howe lay in Boston all winter without occupying Dorchester Heights, which commanded the city, and was apparently very much surprised when Washington at last took the hint and threw up some intrenchments on that position. Howe then discovered the very obvious fact that his position in Boston was endangered. He had plenty of ships in the harbor; and the artillery of that day in the hands of such artillerymen as were to be found among the Continentals was not particularly dangerous to a retreating army. Moreover, there had scarcely been a time during the previous winter when he could not have completely routed the American forces, as these were practically without ammunition.
Then, at a time when the Revolution was languishing for lack of the munitions of war, when New York was unguarded at the mouth of the Hudson, Howe sailed away to Halifax, leaving behind him over two hundred
cannon, several tons of powder, and a great stock of other military stores. It is hard to conceive of any greater service he could have extended to the revolutionary cause, unless he had marched his troops directly into Washington's camp and turned them over to the American general, and there were some serious obstacles in the way of doing this. Is it any wonder that this auspicious moment was seized to issue the Declaration of Independence?
A few days before that declaration, however, General Howe came back to New York, which he occupied without resistance, showing that his trip to Halifax was unnecessary. He was accompanied by his brother, Admiral Howe, who was equally partisan to the American cause. Here General Howe sent back requests for reenforcements, which were promptly sent him, until he had between 35,000 and 40,000 well armed, fed, and disciplined troops with which to fight between 5000 and 15,000 ragged, ill-fed, and poorly equipped soldiers under Washington. So small were the resources of the Americans that it is doubtful if their military supplies would have permitted six weeks of active fighting before they would have been completely exhausted and scattered. But Howe conducted no active campaign. On the contrary, he was careful never to follow up any advantage which he gained. He would defeat the army under Washington, but always gave ample time for recuperation. At the same time it must be recognized that Washington showed himself a brilliant general, fully capable of utilizing all the opportunities that Howe so kindly gave him.
The next year, 1777, brought the turning point of the
war. The British occupied New York with many more men under Howe than were really needed to hold the position. If now the Hudson Valley could be occupied throughout its length, the backbone of the colonies would be broken. Accordingly Burgoyne was sent down from Canada, byway of Lake Champlain, to occupy that valley. General Howe was to detach some of his superfluous troops and send them up the Hudson to meet Burgoyne. Howe did not do this. He did not even conduct an energetic campaign against that portion of the American army which was near him. On the contrary, he was so mild in his efforts that the Americans, with a much smaller force than Howe, were permitted by him to divide their forces and to send a portion under Gage to assist in the attack upon Burgoyne. Under these circumstances the latter soon found himself much outnumbered, in a hostile country, without supplies and no prospect of relief, and was compelled to surrender.
By this time the British government had become thoroughly aroused to the attitude of Howe. Criticisms of him became so sharp that he resigned and went back to England, where he was the subject of a Parliamentary inquiry that developed the facts as set forth. He was too powerful politically to be punished, but throughout the Revolution the favorite toast at banquets of American officers was "General Howe "; but, strange as it may seem, no school history considers these facts worthy of mention.
With the fall of Burgoyne and the return of Howe to England the war took on a different aspect. It was more rigorously prosecuted in America, so much so that at times it appeared as if the Revolution would fail and
become only a rebellion. Its scope, however, had widened. The old commercial rivals of England had joined hands with the colonies. France, Spain, and Holland extended aid in the form of money, munitions of war, and even troops and battleships. England, beset upon all sides, was unable to send the troops that were needed, and that had been so plentiful when Howe was playing at war. Cornwallis was hemmed in at Yorktown by the allied French and Continental troops, was compelled to surrender, and independence was assured.