Your revolution was dumb and it filled us with refugees: A Canadian take on the American Revolutionary War | National Post
To be clear; Canada loves you, United States. You buy our oil, you made Drake a superstar and you haven’t invaded us for 205 years. As Poland and Ukraine keep reminding us, we really couldn’t ask for a better superpower neighbour.
However, just because it all worked out doesn’t mean that starting a brutal war over a tax dispute wasn’t a bit of an overreaction. As the National Post’s own Conrad Black wrote in a 2013 history of the United States, the Founding Fathers “do not deserve the hallelujah chorus ululated to them incessantly for 235 years.”
Canada had to fend off an invasion during the Revolutionary War, after all, so consider us qualified to deliver this Independence Day buzzkill.
The colonists weren’t fighting a “tyrannical” king so much as they were fighting one of the world’s most democratic nations
The Declaration of Independence places sole responsibility on Britain’s George III for establishing what Americans called “an absolute tyranny over these states.” But George III wasn’t an autocrat. While his power was much greater than the current Queen’s, he had an elected House of Commons and a prime minister to check him. Parliamentarians were free to heckle British war plans, and members of the British press (the freest in the world at the time) openly sided with the colonists. British democracy was far from universal, of course, with voting barred to women, Catholics and the lower classes — and with representation ridiculously concentrated in rural areas. But it was not a far cry from the soon-to-be-independent United States, whose first presidential election would only see about six per cent of the population eligible to vote.
The war did involve an autocratic tyrant though … on the colonists’ side
Speaking of autocrats, the American rebels counted one of the world’s most notorious as their best friend in Europe. Louis XVI, the absolute monarch of France, wholeheartedly backed the colonists’ cause as a way to embarrass the English. France smuggled weapons and advisers to the rebels, dispatched thousands of troops to the colonies and ordered its navy to travel the world and harass British efforts to supply their North American armies. Historians generally agree that, without French support, the British would likely have crushed the American Revolution. Meanwhile, the incredible cost of the American proxy war helped to lead an unstable France ever closer to financial ruin, revolution and, ultimately, the execution of Louis. So in effect, the United States owes its existence to an impulsive dictator who ran his country into the ground so hard that he got himself beheaded.
American colonists had sparked a world war … and then refused to help pay for it
The American Revolution was largely sparked by colonial opposition to new taxes. But Great Britain’s bid to get some American revenue makes a bit more sense when one considers that the colonies had just bungled the Brits into a wildly expensive world war. In 1754, a 22-year-old Virginia militia officer named George Washington took a group of men into what is now Pennsylvania to work out a territorial dispute with some nearby French-Canadians. Instead, the inexperienced Washington ambushed a French-Canadian patrol, accidentally executed the patrol’s commander and ended up sparking the Seven Years War. The resultant worldwide conflict — which included Great Britain’s conquest of Quebec — drove London to the edge of bankruptcy.
Canada’s plan to recognize native land and respect Catholics was deemed “intolerable” by colonists
In 1774, the British government introduced the Quebec Act, which allowed French-Canadians in British-conquered Quebec to freely practise Catholicism. Crucially, the act also extended the borders of Quebec down to what is now Ohio and kept in place a large band of “Indian” territory on the western edge of the American Colonies. It was a remarkably liberal document for the time, but anti-Catholic colonists balked at it for promoting “Popery” and for banning their hoped-for expansion into indigenous land. The Declaration of Independence, in fact, directly accused King George of kowtowing to “merciless Indian Savages.” The Quebec Act was soon cited by colonists as the worst of the so-called “Intolerable Acts,” a series of punitive measures that ultimately turned the dispute with Great Britain into a shooting war.
Revolutionary America had a pretty serious terrorism problem
In the recent book Scars of Independence, historian Holger Hoock dismisses modern depictions of the American Revolution as rooms full of men in powdered wigs discussing liberty. It was actually a “profoundly violent civil war,” he writes. One largely forgotten aspect of the war was how much the Patriot cause was driven by terroristic mobs prepared to torture judges, customs officials, newspaper editors or anyone else seen to be supporting British rule. Pro-government officials had their homes burned, their horses poisoned and many were snatched out of their beds in the middle of the night, stripped naked and subjected to mock drownings or tarring and feathering. Accounts of these outrages help explain why the conflict escalated so quickly. When hotheaded Brits backed George III’s call to swiftly put down colonial rebels, it wasn’t because they were incensed at a lack of tea tax revenue — it was because they feared that their American lands had fallen to mob rule.
It’s a little odd when a “struggle for liberty” fills Canada with refugees
Between 60,000 and 80,000 Loyalists fled to Canada following American Independence and lost everything when their property was seized by the new United States. Revolutions commonly prompt an exodus of refugees. Just in the past century, the Russian Revolution, Cuban Revolution and the Zanzibar Revolution, among others, all spawned vast refugee streams, some of which ended in Canada. But unlike the communist and vengeance-minded architects of those revolutions, the Americans were ostensibly fighting for a free, pluralistic democracy where “all men are created equal.” In hindsight, it’s pretty bad optics that vast columns of families felt the need to seek actual freedom and equality elsewhere. “With malice toward none, with charity for all” would have to wait for another civil war.
Of all the countries to obtain independence from Britain, only the U.S. and Ireland chose to do it violently
Roughly 60 independent countries around the world were once counted as British colonies or mandates. Of those, only the United States and the Republic of Ireland gained their independence as a direct result of political violence. Compare that to Spain, which violently resisted the departure of almost every one of its overseas colonies. Great Britain wasn’t afraid to get its hands dirty in colonial affairs, but London could be convinced to tolerate a colony’s peaceful transition to independence — particularly when said colony was filled with white English-speakers. Which is to say that if Americans truly wanted freedom, there were lots more options on the table than simply taking a shot at the first redcoat.