As another July 4th has come and gone, it might be interesting to think about whether the War for Independence from England was a popular uprising. When you grow up as a child, in the states, you’re told about that dastardly King George and the Heroic patriots, like George Washington. The poem by Longfellow telling the tale of Paul Revere’s ride to warn his fellow citizens about the British coming is part of your childhood lore. The American Revolution was a lot more complicated than that, it did not have universal appeal
America was a part of the British Empire with 13 colonies made up of 2 million inhabitants at the time of the Declaration of Independence. Among the colonists there were 3 groups, Patriots, Loyalists and a large part of the population who neither supported the rebellion or the British who sought to suppress the revolution. It was a complicated affair. Each colony had it’s own story.
New York was a hotbed of loyalists where most of the landed gentry as well as the upstate small farmers were loyal to the crown. The British army found a lot of support and had their base of operations in New York. There were key exceptions among the landed gentry with the Livingstons, the Schuylers being Patriots.
Loyalism had a geographical and class pattern. Loyalists were stronger in the Middle colonies and in the lower south.
Patriot strength was strongest in New England and Virginia. Massachusetts, Connecticut and Virginia had the longest tradition of self-government.
Loyalism was strongest among the rich merchant class, Anglican clergymen, and large landowners. A better idea of where the loyalist resided comes from the figures that the British accumulated after the war regarding the monies that they compensated those individuals who suffered financial loss as a result of their loyalty to the crown. Again, New York led the way with 941 who received compensation followed by South Carolina with 321, 226 from Massachusetts, 208 from New Jersey, 148 from Pennsylvania, 135 from North Carolina where the western part of the state had loyalists from the Scots-Irish, Virginia had 140 with most of them being from the western part of the colony and 129 from the relatively low populated colony of Georgia.
Of a population of around 2 million people at the onset of the war, it is interesting to note that the amount of people who exited America because they were loyalists to the crown numbered between 75,000 to 80,000 people. Their arguments for being loyalists are striking in their similarity to the Unionists positions of many during the Civil War. But many of those who maintained their loyalty to the crown held a conservative view regarding the radical notions of the Declaration regarding equality, as opposed to a view often held that property was more important than the radical ideas that Jefferson spoke of in his Declaration of Independence.
Most Americans today have no idea that most of the fighting in some of the soon to be states was done by Loyalists against the forces for Independence. They did most of the fighting in North Carolina, Georgia and in South Carolina. It is estimated that up to 30,000 Loyalists bore arms wearing British uniforms.
Loyalists sounded in many ways like conservatives today, in that they argued that the system that had worked for 150 years should be maintained. They were fearful of change, and were loyal to the King and Empire, while Loyalists defended what they had lived with since the colonies were formed. The Patriots had to justify a revolution.
Consider the argument The Reverend Samuel Seabury made in support of Great Britain in a letter he sent to Alexander Hamilton, on December 14, 1774. In answer to Hamilton he said the following:
” Do you think, Sir, that Great Britain is like an old, wrinkled, withered, worn out hag, whom every jackanapes, that truants along the streets may insult with impunity? You will find her a vigorous matron, just approaching a green old age, and with spirit and strength sufficient to chastise her undutiful and rebellious children. ………….Should the dreadful contest once begin—–God forbid! Save Heavenly Father! O save my country from perdition!
Consider, Sir, is it right to risk the valuable blessings of property, liberty and life, to the chance of war? Of the worst kind of war–a civil war? a civil war based on rebellion? Without ever attempting the peaceable mode of accommodation?”
It was a war much more complicated than our school children hear about. It was not so cut and dry. You hear about the British mercenaries, but I doubt that our students hear much about the state of division that existed between those who sought liberty and a separation between America and their parent, England, and those who were loyal to the crown.
We have heard virtually nothing about the many colonists who just wanted to be left alone. It has been estimated that around 1/3 of all residents of the colonies just did not care too much for politics. They were more concerned with taking care of their families by working hard each day. Politics was the last thing on their mind. My theory is that there were more of them than the revolutionaries and the loyalists but we will never know.
Not much has changed since those revolutionary days, we still have people who want things to stay the same or to even go back if they could to another era and time. We still have those who want to change to evolve. These are our current revolutionaries. And we still have millions of people who are disinterested, who just want to be left alone.
Since those difficult days, we have evolved into not only the Republic that we now have but we have seen in the latter part of the 20th Century and into the 21st Century, the march for greater rights for men and women. The struggle for a more perfect union continues.
Where do you stand, are you todays revolutionary, are you a person who wants to go back in time or keep things the way they are, or are you a person who just does not care?