In the United States, history tends to be presented in a clean, pre-packaged format. The past consists of people and places that are hollow, stale, and disconnected. As children, we are spoon-fed American history through teachers and textbooks. Unfortunately, history tends to be far messier than any teacher or textbook is willing to admit.
Take, for example, the 4th of July. Independence Day. The day on which we barbecue various meats and light off explosives in order to celebrate some super-ultra-mega-patriotic love fest. All this, the story goes, because brave Americans fought against the oppressive British Crown for freedom and liberty. King George III was smelly!
None of this is necessarily untrue, but it’s certainly a poorly constructed narrative.
First of all, not everyone who fought in the American Revolution was an American. The Revolutionary War lasted from 1776 to 1781, and involved the Iroquois, France, Spain, the Cherokee, and a host of other groups. As in almost every war, the sides were never clearcut and not everyone acted within their expected party lines.
“American”, of course, is a limited term anyways. In its historical context, this means white male adult, who usually owns property. In other words, not someone I’d trust to represent the interests of the people.
However, even these “Americans” in the colonies were split, usually based on class and property interests. Slaves and free blacks fought on both sides. Indigenous people fought on both sides. But some people didn’t fight at all, which brings me to my next point.
Not everyone saw the British Monarchy as oppressive. This is probably the worst trope of high school history classes: the glorious struggle between the heroic American revolutionaries and the evil, crafty Red Coats. Reality, as expected, wasn’t quite so simple.
In the colonies, many people were just concerned with living, rather than obsessing about revolution against the British Crown.
So not every “American” fought in the American Revolution, either.
On top of that, plenty of people were happy with good old King George and didn’t feel that a revolution was necessary or even desirable in order to change things. Besides, the Patriots were burning cities to the ground and torturing people, which wasn’t necessarily appealing.
Despite such brutalities, it was necessary for freedom and liberty, of course. That’s the price we pay for freedom and liberty, right?
Well, not exactly.
You see, the American Revolution wasn’t really about “freedom” and “liberty”. Hold on, before you have a patriotic heart attack.
Think about it – do you think the American colonists really had it all that bad under the British? Probably not.
So what was the issue?
Well, here’s where the story gets interesting. The important issue that no one talks about is expansion. The English had an agreement with the indigenous peoples not to expand past the thirteen already-established colonies. This didn’t jive well with the settlers, especially the ones who wanted some property. That’s colonialism for you!
So American Indians sided, for the most part, with the English – assuming it was in their best interest.
Actually, the bands of the Iroquois Confederacy were incredibly important in the revolutionary war, which didn’t really make the colonists too happy. By the end of the war, however, the English had totally screwed over the Iroquois by bailing on the whole endeavor. This left the door open for the newly-formed United States to move relentlessly westward.
By the early 1800s, the British-Indian partnership would lead to another war with the United States. Once again, the English screwed over the Indians – resulting in the death of Tecumseh and pan-Indianism. This ensured American hegemony over the whole eastern half of the country.
These two wars probably left some animosity between Native Americans and the white Americans.
Now, I could go in to how the “founding fathers” were all rich, white men who owned slaves and didn’t know the first thing about “freedom” or “liberty”. But that would simply be redundant, because the aforementioned textbooks already begrudgingly admit this.
Put simply, the American Revolution wasn’t the uncomplicated birth of a nation that it’s often portrayed to be. It’s important to keep in mind that the “founding fathers” were kind of huge buttholes and we probably shouldn’t celebrate their triumphs. It’s time for us to start changing the dominant narrative.
It wasn’t simply the “Americans” gloriously fighting the oppressive British Crown for freedom and liberty.
On the other hand, King George III was definitely smelly.
- Untold Truths About the American Revolution By Howard Zinn (repost) (dandelionsalad.wordpress.com)