10 Uncomfortable Truths About the American Revolution

3

The American Revolution and the founding fathers are practically deified in modern America and many of the greatest figures from the period have been made into almost demigods of American myth and legend. However, the truth is that much of the reasoning for the revolution wasn’t as pure as the history books make it out to be, and while it may be insanely popular now, the common man back in the day, more or less, was less than enthused one way or the other. The American Revolution may have been the greatest triumph for early America, but things were not always what they seemed, and the Americans could not have achieved it without a lot of outside help.

10. George Washington Was Hardly A Singular Military Genius

George Washington is probably the most popular and non-controversial American in history, and for very good reason. He presided over the revolutionary forces as they sought to gain freedom for the colonies from Britain. He managed to keep up the morale of his men throughout extreme adversity, he pulled of a couple very clever sneak attacks, and overall managed to ingratiate himself so much with the people that they practically begged him to be president afterwards, and many were disappointed when he did not seek a third term — setting a precedent that would last until it was finally broken first by the Roosevelt family with an attempt, and then finally with a success at winning a third term in office.

However, while today most people in the United States consider him one of the greatest military minds of all time, many historians actually beg to differ. The truth is that General Washington lost way more battles than he won, and spent most of his time running away from fights. His most famous victory, the crossing of the Delaware, was a sneak attack that would have failed if not for a British commander disregarding a warning note. His most famous victory was a combination of luck and enemy ineptitude. George Washington did a good job of keeping up morale, and setting an example for the entire country, and he was very good at keeping his army from being pinned down or captured. However, the real credit for the genius military maneuvers, in most historians minds, goes to generals like Nathaniel Green, without whom the war effort would likely have been totally lost.

9. The British Were Spread Incredibly Thin, And We Still Needed Help From Their Strongest Enemies

The American Revolution is looked upon with great pride by most Americans, so it is really easy for Americans to play up their own part, and forget how close things really were, or just how much of a team effort it was — with the fledgling colonies really more of a bit player much of the time. The truth was that, at the time, the colonies were fighting for independence and the British Empire, as usual for the time, had their fingers in every pie imaginable. They were in one way or another irking their other powerful neighbors in Europe, and so it was in this atmosphere that the colonists managed to wrest control of their lives from the British Crown.

The French were the biggest key of all, and the naval help they provided simply cannot be underestimated. Without their naval blockades of key areas at the right time, and their naval support against what was a far superior navy than ours, we wouldn’t have been able to even get the revolution off the ground. The Spanish also played a very big part; by having a second war front against the British, it spread them even thinner and made it harder for them to focus all their energies on their colonies in the Americas. Much of the support from our allies in Europe, especially the French, was negotiated very carefully by Benjamin Franklin, whose deals in Paris may have single-handedly tipped the balance to win the colonies their freedom.  

8. The American Revolution Was Not Nearly As Popular At Home As You Might Think

The American Revolution today is probably the most well-regarded historical event in the history of the United States, and you couldn’t possibly find a person alive in the country who would criticize it. For this reason, especially due to the very exuberant history we all read, most of us figure that people were just itching to get out and fight for the cause of freedom from the British. However, the truth is that things were almost entirely the opposite. Now, when the war first broke out there was quite a rush of volunteers, but the enthusiasm didn’t last long. Life as a soldier is grim and brutal, and many of them had farms back at home that they were afraid would languish and fall to ruin if they weren’t around to tend to them.

As the war started to drag on, Washington despaired of getting enough men by voluntary enlistment, and starting suggesting that congress instate a compulsory draft. While the congress did not instate this nationally, many of the fledgling states were already flexing their muscles to force people to join if enlistment quotas were not being met. However, lots of cash bounties were also offered including land offers to sweeten the pot and many soldiers admitted they only joined for the big payout, as they saw it as a way to move up economically. Also, there were still many British loyalists (known as Tories) living in the country, and they were not interested in fighting against the crown they still held sentiment for. The fight for freedom from England would mostly benefit rich landowners, so your average, poorer loyalist would see little reason to take up arms against the old homeland.  

7. The Revolutionary War Was Basically A Proxy War Between France and Great Britain

As we mentioned in an earlier entry, the revolutionary war had a great deal of involvement from the French, who supplied a lot of naval and other support that helped give the United States far more than just a fighting chance. However, it really requires a explanation to get the full extent of it. The truth is that the French were not just helping us out, but really had created a proxy war between themselves and the English right here on our soil, much like some proxy wars you see today — it was really just another bloody front in their prolonged political and military conflict with their neighbors in the British Isles.

The true extent of French involvement is staggering. Not only did they provide the vast majority of naval support, which we could not have done without, but they also provided training and let us borrow some experts to help us out, also much like you see today in proxy wars. They supplied us with the bulk of our ammo reserves, uniforms, boots, weapons, and pretty much everything else you need to fight a war. Many Americans find it a bit uncomfortable to admit, but without the French the fledgling colonies would probably have had little chance at all. While Benjamin Franklin is revered in American history, he may actually not get enough credit — it was his meetings with the French which sealed the full support of their government.

6. American Indians Fought For The British And Provided Excellent Guerrilla Warfare

One of the most enduring myths of the American Revolution is that Americans relied on guerrilla warfare to win, being mostly farmers who knew their land really, really well. Even some in Britain believe this silly myth to this day, but it isn’t really grounded in any real fact. For starters, this was a time period when guerrilla warfare in general was kind of difficult as the latest popular weapons were actually very inaccurate and extremely slow to reload, which could make ambush and hit and run tactics difficult to implement properly.

This does not mean they were not used at all, but when they were, the British had plenty of experience with the tactic, and had Native American allies who knew the land even better than the colonists, and used weapons like bows that were much better for guerrilla warfare than muskets. With their use of allied Native American forces, it is likely the British actually had a bit of an edge when it came to these kind of more sneaky tactics. The Native Americans, for those who did not know of their alliance with the British, joined voluntarily because they saw the British as being kinder to them than the colonists. Laws made and enforced by the British Crown made it harder for the colonists to take Native American lands away, so the natives saw the British troops as natural allies.

5. No Taxation Without Representation Really Only Applied To Rich White Landowners

The most famous reason for the American Revolution is that well known line “no taxation without representation.” The argument was that it was unfair for the British to heavily tax the Americans when they didn’t have proper representation in parliament based on their value to the British Crown and their size. This was really the main basis for the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution at large, but as we mentioned most common folk didn’t see much reason to be very excited about joining after the initial euphoria over freedom.

The reason most people weren’t particularly enthralled by this idea is that the founding fathers really were only looking to get more rights for the citizens who already basically “had a vote” in the colonies to begin with. For starters, this was a time when women couldn’t vote anyway, the colonies were at war with the natives, and black people were enslaved. On top of that, to vote you were also expected to own land in almost all the colonies, even if you contributed significantly to your local economy in some other way. After the war almost all the colonies started to realize the hypocrisy, and eventually it changed state by state so any free adult male who paid taxes could vote — suffrage for various other groups would of course come much later still.

4. American’s Consider The Founders Christian, But Many Were Deists Or Masons

The founders are perhaps most beloved of all among the Christian right in America, which is strange in a way, because if they had a truly accurate picture of these mens’ beliefs they may not find them so endearing. Many of the founders called themselves Christian, but if you read their writings and philosophies, many sound more agnostic  — there were also a lot of openly Deist thinkers among the founding fathers. The idea of Deism is essentially that God created the universe, and then stepped out of the way and only gets involved on a largely cosmic scale — he’s not going to step in and throw in a tornado, or prevent someone from dying of malaria, and so on.

Some thinkers today believe that Deism is hardly that differently from many forms of atheism, and it is possible it was a way for an atheist at the time to fit into society while still explaining their beliefs — affirming to others they do believe in a just and loving God, but that they just don’t believe God intervenes in petty human affairs. This could also be because many of the founders were high level Masons, and it has been speculated by many historians that these Masonic connections may have been what helped Benjamin Franklin setup his most important diplomatic meetings in France to begin with. To be a Mason, you still had to be a Christian of some kind — although not a Catholic — so Deism may have been a mushy way to ingratiate yourself enough with the Masons to join them, even though you only want in for the brotherhood and power, not for the religion you don’t necessarily believe in.

3. King George III Did Not Put Extra Taxes On The Colonies Just To Be A Big Meanie

King George III is infamous in the USA as the evil tax levying king who unfairly tried to tax the American people into oblivion without even offering them representation in parliament. Most Americans know little of the history and just assume that he was a ruthless tyrant who wanted to take from people and offer nothing in return. However, the truth is that, as is often the case with history, things were a good bit more complicated than many have been led to believe. Just a few years prior to the beginning of the serious tit-for-tat over increasing taxes, the British were fresh off barely winning the Seven Years War. For those who aren’t too familiar with it, it was a war so all-continent and all-world power-encompassing that many historians now refer to it as World War Zero.

The two years that led up to the actual declaration of war started with quite a lot of skirmishes in the Americas, which was the beginning of what Americans know as the French and Indian War. However, Americans tend to be a bit insular in their thinking and most don’t know that once the war truly got into full swing and all declarations of war were official, the French and Indian War was just one of many bloody fronts all around the world. And, especially during the lead-up to the full war, the British spent a lot of money and resources in the Americas during the Seven Years War to protect the colonies, so they thought it would only be fair that the colonies help shoulder the economic losses from the protracted conflict.

2. Many Of The Most Famous Revolutionary Heroes Are Embellished Or Did Not Exist At All

The American Revolution is as much myth and legend now as anything else, and many of those myths are based on almost complete and utter fabrications. Two of the most famous legends involve that of Paul Revere and Molly Pitcher. Molly Pitcher was a woman who was allegedly bringing water to the troops, saw her husband die and took up his place at the cannon despite having no training, and soon tore into the enemy troops — some accounts even say she got medals for it. Paul Revere’s story, of course, is very well known. He rode off on his horse to Concord to warn the colonists that the British were coming and successfully saved the day.

However, the truth is that nearly all of that is untrue. To start with Molly Pitcher was likely not even a real person at all. Despite historians’ best efforts, they have been unable to find any evidence that a woman by that name even existed in first hand accounts. The only stories about Molly Pitcher were written about one hundred years later, which makes them rather suspect as factual stories. There are a handful of first hand accounts of women getting involved in battle during the revolution, but none matching that name or story. As for Paul Revere, he did ride his horse in an attempt to warn the colonists that the British were coming, but he was one of many — after the whole team was out he was one of forty people riding to warn the resistance. As a matter of fact he wasn’t the most effective messenger either, as he was temporarily waylaid by the British, and the one to reach Concord first to bring a warning was another fellow rider — Samuel Prescott.

1. The Revolutionary War Did Not Actually End Officially Even After The Surrender At Yorktown

It was an historic day on October 19, 1781 — the colonists, with the help of the French, had won their independence from Great Britain. The British General Cornwallis had surrendered at Yorktown to George Washington and the Marquis De Lafayette, and the colonist fighters couldn’t be happier. Most Americans today think of it as the end of the war and the beginning of freedom from the crown, but the actual war didn’t truly end until 1783. The truth is that while Cornwallis had the right to surrender his troops and army to a certain extent, he didn’t have the authority to permanently halt all conflict between the fledgling United States and Great Britain — that power lay with King George III.

The king was reluctant at first to completely cease hostilities and did not withdraw his men or order an end to the war. Until the Treaty of Paris in 1783 that fully marked the end of the war, the last British soldiers did not truly head out to vacate from the colonies, and even then, news traveled very slowly back in the day. For this reason, there was a solid two years of fighting, especially in the early American South, between the British soldiers and the fledgling colonies. There were also lots of naval skirmishes as well, since the king had not yet called for his navy to cease hostilities against the colonies. The king did not wish to end the war at first, even though in the end it really was likely for the best at that point, because it had been such a colossal failure for Great Britain — for a time he even considering abdicating the throne over his incapability to keep the colonies under British rule.

Liked it? Take a second to support Toptenz.net on Patreon!
Share.

3 Comments

  1. Deists are 100% not the same as atheists. Atheists do not believe a god exists that’s the exact opposite of deists who believe god does exist but uninvolved. Thats calling Russia and the USSRthe same when the USSR Was a communist superpower that controlled half the world while Russia is a weakened superpower run by an oligarchy of rich oil tycoons and businessmen

  2. John Henry Walker on

    No. 10) At the end of the Revolutionary War, George Washington was the most popular, the most influential and the most powerful man in the newly independent colonies. There was a very strong movement among the people to have him proclaimed as King, similar to what Napoleon would do in France just a few short years later. With all the power and grandeur of his world offered to him on a silver platter, he was undoubtedly tempted. Instead, however, he shocked the world by resigning his commission as Commanding General of the Continental Army, and retired to his home in Mt. Vernon. Yes, he was eventually convinced to come out of retirement and eventually serve as our nation’s first president, but this one selfless act for his country makes George Washington the greatest president of the greatest nation the world has ever known.

  3. John Henry Walker on

    No.4) Freemasonry is not a religion, it is a fraternity. You do not have to be a Christian to join. You have to believe in God. There is no such thing as a high level Mason. All Master Masons sit as equals in a Masonic Lodge.

Leave A Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.