Friday, April 1, 2011

Revolution isn’t particularly easy or pretty

It is interesting how Americans continue to view revolution and potential revolution in the rest of the world.  Our revolution resulted in a government and a land that was about as perfect as man could make it from 1787 through about 1910.  There are no nations that have come even close and for that reason alone America is exceptional whether President Obama thinks so or not. 

As English-speaking Christian people who believed in laws, commerce and freedom, early Americans had the very best chance of success that one could have.  There are no Islamic Republics and there never will be.  We have imposed democracies of sorts in Afghanistan and Iraq but neither country will ever experience the flowering of freedom and the explosion of productivity that America has experienced. 

Since America turned out so well there is a tendency to believe in the inevitability of the American Republic.  In reality it was a very near thing.  In 1763 Britain had just concluded the Seven Year’s War which was one of the most lopsided victories in history beating the French severely.  Americans had enthusiastically participated in that war both as militia and in the regular British army.  One-third of that population rose up a mere 13 years later and threw off the bonds of Mother England.  Americans fought on both sides while many sat the conflict out.  Fortunately the French King did not listen to detractors who wanted him to stay out of what was essentially a civil war. 

The Battle Yorktown in 1781 made victory inevitable and Americans immediately put together a government.  However the Continental Congress who had governed free America had done such a bad job of supporting the Continental Army that it took the person of George Washington himself to prevent the army from marching on Philadelphia and deposing the government.  They probably don’t teach this in the public school system anymore, but Washington discovered a secret plot.  Days later he stood in front of the mutinous army officers and uttered “Gentlemen you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.”  In that instant on 15 March 1783 Washington prevented the overthrow of our fledgling democracy.   

It took until 1787 in a meeting held in strictest secrecy that had been called for a different purpose that the Constitution was crafted.  Even with the “greatest collection of intellectual candlepower” in American history the resulting Constitution was again a very near thing.  The story is fascinating from how they dealt with power sharing to how they planted the poison pill that would end slavery.  But most fascinating of all - it isn’t taught in our public school system. 

Of course the greatest test developed a mere 73 years later and our bounds were tested in a great civil war.  It doesn’t take much imagination to change just a few details at Chancellorsville, Antietam or Gettysburg that might have sentenced us to having two different republics in the place of one. 

So I watch Afghans, Iraqis, Libyans, Egyptians, Yemenis, Mexicans, Venezuelans, Syrians, and people in the Ivory Coast struggle with what freedom and democracy means.  I wish them luck but hold out little hope that they will succeed.  It will be particularly hard for them to succeed with “Hope and Change” guiding our foreign policy.  

The War That Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War        Miracle At Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention May - September 1787


  1. When people cry about how long are we going to stay in Afghanistan or Iraq, I always tell them how long it took us to come up with our government, and how many changes we have made over the years. Most people think we sprang into being on July 4, 1776.

  2. Thanks H-Nox.

    10th - I started looking back at "Founding Brothers" a book I had read awhile back. The author points out that while it looks today as if our independence was inevitable, it didn't look that way on July 3, 1776. After signing the Declaration of Independence Benjamin Harrison (a very large man) of Virginia turned to Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts and dryly pointed out that when he (Harrison) was hanged his weight would cause his neck to snap putting Harrison out of his misery - while Gerry as light man and small in stature would hang there and take some time to die.