Showing posts with label Revolutionary War. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Revolutionary War. Show all posts

Friday, July 4, 2014

July 4 Reflections on the Revolution

Today Americans celebrate Independence Day but, of course, as is usual with such cases, the ideas that are celebrated are more myth than reality. That independence was achieved is certainly a fact but it is also a fact that what is commonly known as the Revolutionary War or the American Revolution was a war of secession rather than a true revolution. The rebel colonists were not fighting to overthrow King George III of Great Britain and Ireland but to seize control of British North America and break it away from the British Empire. This is highlighted by the fact that independence was not really the ultimate issue of the conflict as, in the course of the war, the British were prepared to concede independence so long as the colonies remained within the British Empire as self-governing dominions. This offer was made in 1778 by the commission led by the Earl of Carlisle which dealt with the Continental Congress and offered them self-rule and representation in the British Parliament. This was rejected by the counter-demand that Britain recognize the total independence of the colonies and withdraw all Crown forces before any agreement was made, which of course was the same as asking the British to surrender before talking peace. Most agree that, had such an offer been made earlier, it likely would have been accepted. However, coming at a time when British forces were withdrawing from Philadelphia, it was seen as a sign of British weakness and the rebel forces let their ambitions run wild.

That there was considerable ambition on display and not simply a desire for the colonies to govern themselves as they were is not disputed but, most often, simply not talked about. The rebel leaders envisioned their new country including not only the thirteen colonies and their territorial claims but the whole of British North America and the West Indies. This was made perfectly evident with the invasion of Canada early in the conflict in 1775 and efforts to seize the Bahamas in 1776 and 1782 by American naval forces. It is also a fact, not often discussed, that one of the acts the Americans most objected to before the war was the 1763 act recognizing the right of Native Americans (Indians) to the land they held which the colonists wanted for themselves. Anger in Puritan New England over the Crown granting civil rights to Catholics in Canada is also not often discussed as it tends to appear quite hypocritical in light of later American claims of being driven by a desire for freedom of religion (which there already was more of in North America than in Great Britain and certainly Ireland). This is one reason why, when the war came to Canada, the Catholic bishops there threatened excommunication for anyone who joined with the rebel colonists.

When the facts are looked at dispassionately, it seems quite odd that anyone in America would have wished to rebel at all. The colonies were not suffering under British rule; quite the contrary, they tended to be better off than the motherland itself. The American standard of living was higher, the social ladder was easier to climb, land was easier to own, the people were even physically larger because they were healthier and had a better diet than most people in Britain. They paid almost nothing in taxes, unlike their fellow subjects in the British Isles and, on the whole, already enjoyed more freedom and prosperity than almost anyone in the whole continent of Europe while under the protection of the British Crown. There were no bread riots, no hordes of starving masses only petulant fits by well-fed people over how much the luxury items they enjoyed would cost them. Even when the British Parliament passed acts they did not approve of, they were almost invariably repealed or never enforced. Likewise, without exception, the most prominent leaders of the War for Independence were the wealthiest men in the whole of North America, men who owned vast estates and hundreds of slaves. The people of America were not suffering and when one ignores the political “spin” of most histories, what the rebel colonists most protested against seems most often unsavory if not illegitimate.

The Boston Tea Party
The colonists could not complain about laws limiting manufacturing in the colonies to protect the jobs of British workers. After all, these laws were regularly circumvented. Smuggling was easy to do and officials were often easy to bribe. In 1764 Parliament passed the Sugar Act but it was never enforced. In 1765 it passed the Stamp Act but Crown officials were assaulted and intimidated into ignoring it and it was repealed the following year amid cries from America that “taxation without representation is tyranny”. That, of course, was a pretty phrase for propaganda purposes but nothing more as is made clear by the fact that when Benjamin Franklin was sent to London as a sort of envoy for the American colonies, he was given strict instructions not to accept any deal that gave the colonies representation in the House of Commons because they knew full well that, if they had such representation, with their much smaller population they would be easily outvoted. So, they would be doomed to democratic defeat while also losing a valuable propaganda tool. In 1763 the act was passed to limit the American colonies to the land east of the Appalachian mountains with that to the west being reserved for the Indians. It hardly seems draconian considering how sparsely populated the colonies were but it angered the land speculators who wanted to take the land from the Indians to obtain an immense fortune for themselves. The Navigation Acts were widely ignored and never fully enforced, the Quartering Act was resented but it makes American rebels seem anything but patriotic to protest so heavily against providing shelter for troops stationed in America to protect them from French and Spanish encroachment. Likewise, the Townshend Acts were quickly repealed, save for the duty on tea which, as we know, led to the famous “Boston Tea Party”.

Nothing better illustrates how ridiculously overblown the fomented outrage of the colonial rebels had become. Consider the fact that, even while paying the miniscule tax on British tea, the American colonists would still have been paying less than they did for Dutch tea smuggled into the colonies illegally. They had become so entrenched in their idealism that they were actually acting illegally, destroying private property in protest to paying *less* for an item than they normally paid. It obviously does not take much intelligence to see that these people were not being driven by practical reality, they were not being oppressed and they were not suffering under the ‘authoritarian’ rule of King George III. If anything, the colonies had done extraordinarily well under the benign neglect of the British government. It was only after they acted out so, again, in order to pay more for foreign tea as opposed to paying less for British tea, that Parliament passed acts intended to punish the port of Boston and force the rebel leaders to pay for the private property they had destroyed in their little tea party. This resulted in the calling of the first Continental Congress which voted to boycott all British goods and which saw Patrick Henry declare, “give me liberty or give me death!” He might have said, “give me liberty and more expensive tea or give me death” but that wouldn’t have sounded so stirring. If more people were able to look at this period dispassionately they might recognize the absurdity of someone boasting of his willingness to sacrifice his own life rather than buy tea at a cheaper price or to make restitution for vandalism.

Battle of Bunker Hill
The result of all this was the passing of the Restraining Act and finally the outbreak of war in 1775 with the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord. It does make one wonder how a country could ever come to be such an economic powerhouse that started out by demanding the freedom to overcharged. Then again, it is also rather amazing that the United States was to become the premier military power of the world when the military record of the colonists in the War for Independence left so much to be desired. They were defeated at Bunker Hill in the first major battle, invaded Canada but were totally defeated at Quebec. They managed to bluff the British into evacuating Boston but when the British army returned for the major campaign, British troops under General Howe bested Washington and his Continental Army time and time again, driving them across Long Island, capturing New York City, then White Plains and then Fort Washington. Only at the end of the year and the beginning of 1777 did Washington manage to win any victories with two skirmishes against small detachments of British troops at Trenton and Princeton, retreating quickly in the aftermath.

The British won the battle of Brandywine, captured the rebel capitol of Philadelphia and then defeated Washington again at Germantown. The only bright spot was the American victory at the battle of Saratoga. British General Burgoyne had gambled and lost but, even then, the Americans credited the wrong man with the victory. Benedict Arnold had been the real hero but all praise was given to General Horatio Gates who, in time, proved beyond all question that he was as cowardly as he was incompetent. In 1778, after intense preparations, the best Washington could manage was a stalemate at Monmouth and at the end of the year the British captured Savannah. 1779 passed with no major, decisive actions though Spain did join in by declaring war on Britain, as France had done in 1778. In 1780 the rebels suffered a major defeat with the British victory at Charleston, South Carolina which was followed in the summer by another stunning British victory against a larger rebel army under General Gates at Camden. The rebel forces were totally routed and ran from the field so fast that the British dubbed the fight the “Camden Races”. There were minor rebel victories, again over small detachments at Kings Mountain and Cowpens but the advance of Cornwallis was not hindered by this. At the battle of Guilford Court House the British under Cornwallis were again victorious, though the victory was a costly one and then there was the siege of Yorktown which ended in victory for Washington only because of the timely arrival of the French and the victory of the French navy at sea.

Ben Franklin before King Louis XVI
In short, there is simply no way to attribute the American victory to any sort of military brilliance on the part of Washington and his subordinate commanders. At best they were able to occasionally capitalize on British mistakes when up against small, isolated detachments but when it came to major battles they were defeated time and time again by forces often smaller than their own. It was only the timely arrival of the French, the widening of the war and British weariness and the drain of blood and treasure that finally compelled Parliament to practically force the King to come to terms and recognize American independence. Also not often pointed out is the fact that this was rather shameful itself on the part of the Americans. They were fighting in alliance with France, Spain and the Netherlands but when the opportunity came to end the war, the American rebels abandoned their allies and made a separate peace, leaving Britain free to concentrate on these European rivals who were deemed the greater threat. Indeed, in the wider war that grew out of the American Revolution, it was Britain that won and Spain and France that lost. Still, it can be amusing sometimes to see how some proud, Yankee-Doodle historians can make George Washington sound like an absolute military genius by describing how brilliantly and cleverly he retreated.

2014 is, of course, the one hundredth anniversary of the start of the First World War (as we have been covering) and it is perhaps not something most would wish to dwell on but is nonetheless true that King Louis XVI of France greatly endangered and overextended himself to aid the Americans in their quest for independence from Great Britain yet these same Americans were nowhere to be found when the unfortunate Bourbon monarch was in his hour of need. Yet, when it was the latest of the many failed French republics that was in danger in 1917 and 1918 the United States came to lend a helping hand, invoking the Revolution by saying, “Lafayette, we are here!” That is something that those in the Old World should consider before giving in to the anti-Americanism that is so popular these days. The United States was an American power and confined itself to American matters for the majority of its history, wanting nothing to do with Europe. In fact, the USA would not exist at all were it not for European assistance. Later, the rise of the USA could have been stopped or at least slowed considerably if the Old World had shown more solidarity. When the USA finally stepped on to the world stage as a major power in World War I it was after considerable pleading and cajoling by European powers that she do so.

Most Americans did not enjoy the experience but many politicians did and soon enough Europe was calling for help a second time and, having tasted a bit of power on the global scale, the government helped change the public mood to get into the war and the USA has been a superpower ever since. Many today are inclined to view America negatively but few are willing to recognize the part played by their own countries in bringing America to this point. By getting involved in the War for Independence and not getting involved on other occasions, the great powers of Europe played a part in the rise of America from the very beginning. As republics go, it has been one of the better ones, partly by simple good fortune, partly by an uncanny ability to believe things they want to be true and partly because, despite claims of being “revolutionary” the American republic bore a very striking resemblance to the British constitutional monarchy they had just broken away from. In any event, today the patriots will prance and preen while those of us of the Tory persuasion will grumble and roll our eyes but, while I cannot resist pointing out the oddities listed in the paragraphs above, I will not be giving any sweeping condemnations of those celebrating the Fourth of July today. It is, after all, only natural for people to do this. They have to believe that the colonists were being oppressed and they have to believe that King George was a tyrant or they cannot justify the existence of their country and to make such a leap is asking too much of most people, regardless of the facts. Instead, as I have done before, I will simply say that while they celebrate their independence day, they should spare a word of thanks and praise for absolute monarchs who made their democratic republic possible; His Catholic Majesty King Carlos III of Spain and His Most Christian Majesty King Louis XVI of France. Without them, the United States would not be here now.

For past reflections on the Fourth of July and a look at numerous events and people of the Revolutionary War, click here.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Behind a Declaration

Another fourth of July having passed, it is an occasion again to ponder the dramatic events of the American War for Independence, popularly known as the American Revolution (or Revolutionary War). The most important thing about the conflict is that it gave birth to the United States of America which has had no small impact on the subsequent history of the entire world, particularly after assuming global super-power status in the aftermath of World War II. That created some problems for the idea of the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence that is still celebrated every fourth of July. As someone once said (I want to say it was Mussolini but I could be wrong), ‘the problem with revolutions is that the revolutionaries survive them’ or words to that effect. With the Declaration of Independence, the American revolutionaries claimed extraordinary powers. They claimed the “right” that any people dissatisfied with their government were justified in using violent means to overthrow that government and replace it with one more to their liking. The document, of course, is silent on how “the people” come to such a decision. After all, no democratic vote was taken across the colonies in favor of independence or even for rising up against the British. Even the most ardent Patriots had to admit that their cause was a minority one and that most colonists either opposed the revolution or were unwilling to support it.

Even at the time those stirring words were penned, exactly who “the people” included was a debatable point. Loyal Americans were even then being killed, tortured, robbed and driven into exile because they did not support the revolution. And, of course, as we still see clearly today, the United States, having achieved independence (and ultimately great power status) has never been willing to apply those same rights to other people or even their own. When the southern states voted to secede from the Union they were met with crushing military force and the utter devastation of their country to force them back into the Union. When the United States won The Philippines from Spain, the Union inherited a guerilla war for independence and American troops had to be sent in to crush the Filipino rebels. Americans are expected to change governments by means of the democratic process rather than armed rebellion, within the structure of the federal republic set up by the constitution with must remain always sacrosanct. Revolutionaries all around the world, oftentimes the most monstrous of characters, have not hesitated to point out to the United States the hypocrisy of American opposition to their own acts of terror and rebellion given how they revere their own founders who did the same.

In that respect, the Revolutionary War and the Declaration of Independence have sometimes been problematic for the United States but because it created the country these things can never be denounced but must be clung to with religious fervor. Some of the very same men who fought the Revolutionary War and helped write the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were some of the same men who had rebels shot for defying government regulations and passed the Alien and Sedition Act which put people in jail for daring to voice opposition to the government. Most historians, if they have any honesty at all, will admit this. However, they will usually fall back on the tired line that, while the American Patriots may not have been perfect, they were at least better than the British alternative. This is most often seen when modern, liberal American scholars must deal with groups they have ordained as perpetual victims; African-Americans and Native Americans. They must admit that men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had slaves but paint them as being kindly masters who were never really comfortable with the institution. To hear some talk, one would think slaves had been forced on these men and that they were incapable of emancipating them even though they really, really wanted to.

They will also have to admit that, during the Revolutionary War, most Blacks took the side of the British Crown. Some will try to appear even-handed and understanding, pointing out (quite correctly) that it only made sense for slaves to side with the British since the British offered freedom in return for service to the Crown. However, most will hasten to add that this was no more than a British ruse and that the British never had any intention of actually keeping that promise. Here, despite their best efforts, their liberal condescension can usually be detected. They paint a picture of unfortunate, ignorant slaves being duped by those dastardly Brits. The truth, of course, is that most African-Americans sided with the British because it was in their own rational self-interest to do so and they were absolutely right. Just as attitudes on race were different in the northern colonies where there were no slaves, so too in Britain itself was slavery regarded as rather unsavory even at that time. Regardless of what happened during the war, slavery would have been abolished in America much earlier had the British won. At the time, the British attitude toward Blacks was not that different from any other people. The only difference was that in Britain the idea of equality, racial or otherwise, was still regarded as absurd. They saw slavery for what it was and that probably helped in getting rid of the institution. In America, on the other hand, slave holders could shout for liberty and be praised for it. Slavery was not really slavery, it was the “peculiar institution”. Because the Founding Fathers had already declared that “all men are created equal” yet still owned slaves, it could only be reasoned that slaves were not just men deprived of their freedom but not men at all, simply property. With such an attitude it is no wonder that slavery lingered in America so long and was so hard to eradicate.

On the subject of the Native Americans, their suffering and the horrors inflicted on them are one of the least known aspects of the Revolutionary War. Many books tell of their attacks on colonial settlers, and there were such attacks and they were quite brutal affairs -such was local custom. However, few American history books relate how the Continental Army went on a punitive campaign against the American Indians, endeavoring to wipe them out completely, destroying everything they had, killing men, women and children alike and leaving nothing behind so that the survivors would starve or freeze to death. How many people know that the idealized George Washington, because of this campaign, was given a name by the Iroquois that meant, “Burner of Villages”? After Washington became the first President of the United States, for a long time many American Indians still used the term “Burner of Villages” as the title of every American President. Again, most American history does not talk too much about the part played by Native Americans at all, however, those that do try to play up the minority who allied with the Patriots or they, again, blame Indian atrocities on the British and paint the American Indians as being duped by more clever British officials into supporting their side. In fact, most Native Americans displayed a clear grasp of the political situation at the time and had for many years. They acted in their own rational self-interest which, unfortunately, meant choosing the side that was to lose. Just as in the French and Indian War they looked at the British who were sending over colonists and the French who mostly sent over Jesuits and fur traders and most decided it was in their best interest to side with France. In the Revolutionary War, even more looked at the colonies continuously reaching westward and the British Crown trying to keep them confined to the coastal region so as to avoid costly conflicts and quite logically sided with the British.

Unlike some monarchists, although my sympathies would unquestionably have been with the loyalists on July 4, 1776, I do not have the animus some do against the United States. It was a “revolution” in an academic sense only. Technically it was simply a war of secession. The “revolutionaries” won and yet the British government went on as before and King George III remained safely on his throne. I do, however, object to the way facts are glossed over (usually unpleasant ones) and the way the Revolutionary War and its main players have been so deified in the popular imagination. Many remark about how successful the United States was, growing and expanding and yet they fail to mention how this came about. There were certainly bitterly antagonistic political factions in the early republic (and still are) but the United States benefited immensely from what were rather cruel policies. The divisions that existed were differences of opinion between two varieties of liberals. The traditional conservatives, the loyalists, had all been driven from the country and that certainly makes government a great deal easier. Perhaps most significant though is the refusal to take responsibility for the consequences of the ideas and the fanaticism encouraged by the Revolution.

Many monarchists are quick to blame the French Revolution on the American Revolution. The ideas inspired it and the expense of French intervention caused it to this way of thinking. I, however, have never subscribed to that mentality. To me, this lets off far too easy those who actually rioted in the streets, who actually stormed the palaces, who actually voted for the revolution and who actually carried it all out. However, there is no question that the success of the American rebels helped to make revolution thinkable in France and the French Revolution had far more disastrous and long-term consequences than simply the division of the English-speaking world into two camps. There again though, to this very day, we see a refusal of people to face up to the responsibilities of the revolutionaries. The Declaration of Independence that Americans celebrate on the Fourth of July could certainly be used by the revolutionaries in France to justify their grotesque behavior. Modern historians, however, praise the French Revolution for bringing food to the hungry and democracy to the disenfranchised (neither of which is true) while also acknowledging that this came at a terrible price in terms of human suffering, as though this were an entirely unavoidable consequence. Not true!

The Reign of Terror did not just happen, it was ordered. It did not have to happen, the King and Queen did not have to die and those who preached the principles of revolution and even those who embraced the Declaration of Independence in America should be made to accept responsibility for what their ideas caused. No revolution ever filled the stomach of a starving child. Killing the King and Queen of France put no bread on anyone’s table. Even if you believe that some of the ideals of the revolution were laudable, the revolution was not necessary to bring those about. There is every indication that King Louis was moving toward a more representative government anyway. Similarly, King George III did ultimately offer the American colonies autonomy within the British Empire, effectively dominion status as it would later be known, but was rejected. These people all could have remained loyal and worked within the system to achieve those goals that were just and reasonable. They chose not to, it was their decision and they are responsible for the consequences of  that, most of which have been very, very negative.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Celebrating Crime in Colonial America

Modern-day Americans, for completely understandable reasons, idealize their colonial forefathers as the founders of their ideals and federal union. They are portrayed as noble, upright, God-fearing patriots who were champions of liberty, democracy and all the usual, “truth, justice and the American way” stuff. Perfectly understandable but also very far from the truth. In many instances it was more like being the champions of assault, vandalism, theft and racial and religious bigotry. A case that illustrates this is that of HMS Gaspee. It may not be as well remembered today as the mob assault of the so-called “Boston Massacre” or the large-scale theft and vandalism of the “Boston Tea Party” but it was just as famous at the time and served to keep the revolutionary fervor up between those two more famous events. The background for this case is tied up in all the commercial regulations and taxes that the American colonials had a problem with. However, in reality, these were not often much of a problem since smuggling and the buying and selling of illegal goods was so widespread. One area that was a particular hotbed for smuggling was the many coves and inlets of Narragansett Bay just off Rhode Island. It became such lucrative location for smugglers that they were positively bumping into each other and the Royal Navy dispatched a warship, HMS Gaspee, to the bay to deal with the smuggling problem.

Governor Wanton
The schooner was under the command of Lieutenant William Dudingston who arrived in the spring of 1772 and he proved to be an officer dedicated to his duty and quite successful. Did the locals applaud this enforcer of law and order on the water? Of course not! They sympathized with the criminals and were extremely peeved with Lt. Dudingston for cutting such a swath through the illegal trade going on in the area. While the local colonials were more than happy to romanticize breaking the law, they demanded that the man upholding the law be treated like a criminal and the elected governor of Rhode Island, Joseph Wanton, was quick to heed their cries lest he be voted out of office. He was not a radical revolutionary by any means but he was also a man of rather little spine. So, he threatened to have Lt. Dudingston arrested! Yes, imagine that; the local governor wanted to arrest the man enforcing the law rather than the smugglers who were breaking it. In fact, he wanted to arrest a man for bringing actual criminals to justice. Obviously, the lieutenant was not impressed by this and reported the threat to his admiral who entered into a rather testy exchange of letters with Governor Wanton who was being pushed on by the wealthy merchants of his colony who profited immensely from the illegal trade.

Sheriff Whipple
Ultimately, more than words were exchanged as HMS Gaspee went about the business she was assigned to. On June 9 the ship was in hot pursuit of a smuggler sailing very close to the shore when she ran aground near Providence. Nearby was Sheriff Abraham Whipple but if one would expect a lawman to be on the side of upholding the law one would be quite mistaken. His support was firmly with the smugglers and he took advantage of the misfortune of the Gaspee and gathered a group of like-minded colonials who rowed out to the immobilized schooner than night. When the little flotilla was spotted, Lt. Dudingston called out, “Who comes there?” The sheriff shouted back, “I am the Sheriff of the County of Kent G** d**n you! I have a warrant to apprehend you, G** d**n you -so surrender, G** d**n you!” Then as now, Royal Navy officers are not in the habit of surrendering to foul-mouthed county sheriffs for upholding the King’s laws and he politely refused. So, the sheriff and his party forced their way onto the ship (the crew compliment of a schooner not being very large) and when the lieutenant pulled his sword to defend himself one of the colonials shot him in the groin. Ouch!

A surgeon was rushed in to tend to the wounded officer and then the lieutenant and his crew were hustled off the ship which Whipple then set fire to. It was not the first time that colonials had attacked ships in defense of smuggling but it was certainly the first time that a local official had ever burned one of His Majesty’s armed vessels and assaulted one of the King’s officers. Orders were dispatched from Great Britain for those involved to be charged with treason and (most importantly) brought to London to stand trial for it. However, the urge for swift justice fell afoul of a confused bureaucracy and widespread colonial outrage so that in the end no one was ever punished for the crime. This certainly gave courage to the rabble-rousers in America and the case became famous across the colonies with radicals somehow managing to portray the lieutenant as the villain and the defenders of smuggling and organized crime as the heroes. The incident, in fact, led to the formation of the “Committees of Correspondence” which were organized across the American colonies and which were little more than the older “Sons of Liberty” groups under a more mature-sounding name. In fact, they contained so many of the same people and advocated so much the same message and tactics that the two groups were effectively identical.

The consequences were more far reaching than most people realize. The Gaspee Affair (as it tends to be called) prompted the formation of the Committees of Correspondence which led to greater unity throughout the American colonies in fomenting revolution. The greater level of organization as well as the impression that British laws could not only be ignored but that a British warship could be attacked and still have a sizeable portion of the public sympathize with the attackers who went unpunished led ultimately to the events of the Boston Tea Party. With that bit of vandalism, undoubtedly to the surprise of many who remembered the Gaspee Affair, Britain finally decided that enough was enough and took repressive measures. They learned, perhaps a little too late, that when the public embraces criminal behavior and when elected civil officials start to pick and choose which laws they will uphold and which they will not (sound familiar) the country is on a fast track to disaster.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Highland Charge in America

It was on this day in 1776 that the battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge was fought near Wilmington, North Carolina. Unfortunately a victory for the republican side, it was nonetheless a display of great courage and heroism on the part of the loyal royalists and, as far as I am aware, the last example of a traditional “highland charge” in North America. The Revolutionary War had still not taken hold completely in the southern colonies prior to the battle and the Royal Governor of North Caroline, Josiah Martin, was, like others, convinced that with only a modest force of Redcoats the loyalists of his colony could be rallied to the cause of King and Country, subdue the rebels and restore the place to loyal obedience; and not only North Carolina but the whole of the south. These expectations proved to be rather overly optimistic as when the two sides met at Widow Moore’s Creek bridge, it was the loyalists who were outnumbered by the equally hastily organized rebel militia by a few hundred men. Perhaps the most memorable thing about the battle, and what our focus today will be, was that the loyalist side was made up almost totally of Scottish highlanders and, it is noteworthy, a great many Jacobites.

Governor Martin
After the glorious disaster known as the ‘45 Jacobite Uprising, many highland Scots had left the rather unpleasant atmosphere of Scotland for the New World and settled in the Piedmont area of North Carolina. Some today would probably not expect these men to have been likely sympathizers with the cause of King George III, however, not long after the troubles in America began, the Scotsman Allan Maclean obtained permission from the King to recruit loyal fellow Scots in North America to fight for the Crown in the Royal Highland Emigrants Regiment. Some of these men were long-time veterans of the British army but others had previously fought against it. For example, in North Carolina, to of the leading officers employed by Maclean in gathering Scotsman for the Royal Emigrants were Donald MacLeod and Donald MacDonald both of whom were veterans of the Battle of Bunker Hill. However, also recruiting for the cause of King George III was Allan MacDonald, a noted loyalist and the husband of the Jacobite heroine Flora MacDonald who had saved the life of “Bonnie Prince Charlie” and aided his escape to Skye. She supported the Crown as well and Allan MacDonald was appointed brigadier-general by the governor and rode himself across the colony from town house to country cabin urging people to take up arms for the King and in opposition to the rebels.

Those who responded had a variety of motivations. Aside from the pull of King and Country, there were local tensions to be considered. Since there settlement more and more people had started to move into the Piedmont area and these people tended to be of the Whig/Patriot persuasion and clashed with the more established residents of the area. Even those Scots not inclined to great adoration for King George III were often willing to fight for his side simply to stop the influx of colonists intruding on what had previously been their exclusive domain. For the Jacobites among them, there was also the memory that they had fought for something more than simply fidelity to the House of Stuart, as fervent as that was and as deeply felt as their personal loyalty to the “King across the water” had always been. Part of what was at the core of all of that was the idea that legitimate authority comes from God and so the idea of a democratic republic was unthinkable and downright wicked. King George III may not have been the monarch they would have most preferred, but better a Hanoverian king than a revolutionary republic and regardless of who was on the throne it was important that the ties between America and Britain (including Scotland) not be broken.

By 1776 Anglo-Scottish tensions had also eased considerably and it is a fact as well that even in the ‘45 at least as many Scots as supported Prince Charles just as fervently supported King George II. For many, it took the outbreak of republicanism in North America to reconcile the two sides in the common defense of the principle of monarchy. When they set out to confront the rebels they expected some assistance from Britain but the expedition intended to reinforce them was delayed by bad weather in Ireland and did not arrive. Neighboring Virginia had also known disaster was a hastily organized loyalist force with little support was overwhelmed by rebel forces and it was to be the same for North Carolina. Donald MacDonald, Donald McLeod and John Campbell led a little over 700 men into the fight at Widow Moore’s Creek where they were met by more than a thousand rebels. It was an awesome sight, coming on as they were in the ‘grand old style’ many in full highland dress and with bagpipes wailing away. At one point, Captain Campbell picked a group to charge across the bridge, which they did brandishing their claymores and shouting “King George and Broadswords!” only to be cut to pieces by withering rebel fire.

The aftermath was pretty bad for the cause of the Crown with loyalists being hunted down and taken prisoner or simply dispatched out of hand but, of course, it was only the beginning of the revolutionary war in the south and by no means the end. Today, however, I would suggest that monarchists take inspiration from those highland Scots who charged the rebel lines at Widow Moore’s Creek and the Jacobites in particular. Certainly it is an example of great bravery but from a somewhat unexpected quarter. Therefore it can also serve as something of a lesson for monarchists today, particularly those die-hard Jacobites who linger about the on-line world of theoretical monarchism. Far from sitting comfortably from a safe distance, pouring scorn on the existing authorities of the time, some of these men had actually suffered at the hands of Hanoverian troops, men who had shed blood and had their own blood shed in the cause of the House of Stuart and yet they put that past aside, never forgetting it and never ceasing to honor it, but in order to come together for the cause of kingship and traditional authority in opposition to revolutionary republicanism. That is an example that we would all do well to emulate.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Monarchist Profile: Major John Pitcairn

The name of Major John Pitcairn may not be well known around the world or even in his native Britain. However, his name (if nothing else) is certainly well known amongst students of the American War for Independence because of the part he played in the initial skirmishes that marked the beginning of the long war that would ultimately end in the separation of thirteen colonies from the British Empire and the creation of the United States of America. John Pitcairn was born on December 28, 1722 in Dysart, Fife, Scotland to Reverend David Pitcairn and Katherine Hamilton Pitcairn, an old and respected Scottish family. As a young man, he decided on a military career, which was not surprising. His father had been with the army, was regimental chaplain to the Cameronians and had seen action at the battle of Blenheim. However, John Pitcairn did not join the army, opting instead for the Royal Marines. He also married, while still a young man, to Elizabeth Dalrymple and their first child, a girl named Annie, was born in Edinburgh in 1746.

It was during that year that John Pitcairn received his commission as a lieutenant in the seventh marine regiment. That was, of course, during the Jacobite emergency where the Royal Marines were raided as a ready pool of qualified officers for the new units raised to deal with the crisis. Afterwards, many were disbanded but the Royal Marines was reformed as a permanent body in 1755 and Pitcairn had his old commission reconfirmed. Unlike the army where the purchase of commissions was common, in the Royal Marines (like the Royal Navy) this was not the case and promotions came more slowly. However, by 1756 Pitcairn earned the rank of captain and the following year saw service in the French and Indian War, participating in the British capture of Louisbourg in Canada. After returning home he moved his family from Edinburgh to Kent, met his second daughter for the first time and eventually he and his wife had two more daughters and six sons. Pitcairn showed himself a reliable officer but promotions came slowly and it was 1771, when he was 48-years old, before he made the rank of major.

By that time there was already trouble brewing in the American colonies, particularly in Boston, Massachusetts. In December of 1774 Major Pitcairn arrived in Boston with 600 Royal Marines as part of the British effort to quell unrest and protect private property. As soon as he arrived he had many problems to deal with from a lack of warm clothing to a lack of trained officers and to disputes between the army and navy over who had final authority over the Royal Marines. Pitcairn found his command a rebellious and undisciplined lot, given to drunkenness and slovenly behavior, but Pitcairn was a humane and hands-on leader who worked diligently to get them into shape and turn them into an efficient and effective unit. Even when he was lodged with a very pro-revolutionary family, Pitcairn diffused many a tense situation with his charm and good humor. Eventually, he succeeded in making his hosts warm to him even if there political views never changed. The Americans who came in contact with Major Pitcairn invariably came to hold a high opinion of him because of his honesty, integrity and friendly attitude. His reputation for fairness meant that he was often chosen as a go-between in tense disputes between the local populace and the British military.

Major Pitcairn was a regular attendee at church on Sunday, one day when he restrained his famously foul mouth. Even ardent revolutionaries had to admit that he was a good man and Major Pitcairn was quite fond of many of the locals even if he could never agree with them politically, being staunchly loyal to his King and country. Of course, it was in April of 1775 that his moment of greatest fame came when he was second-in-command of a column under Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith that was to move to Concord, Massachusetts to destroy stockpiles of weapons reportedly being held by people of questionable loyalty. On April 19 they came face-to-face with the local Minutemen on the town green at Lexington. The rebels were ordered to disperse but someone fired “the shot heard round the world” and the Revolutionary War began. Major Pitcairn tried to restrain his men though his horse was wounded in the brief skirmish that ended with the rebels taking flight.

Major Pitcairn continued the rest of the way on foot as the British column completed their mission but were harassed every step of the way back to Boston by sniping groups of rebels before they were met by a relief column and escorted back to town. Colonial rebels began to gather around Boston in ever increasing numbers while the British sent in more troops and three major generals to take command of the situation. When the rebels began building siege fortifications around Boston, British General Howe ordered a frontal assault on Breed’s Hill, an engagement which would go down in history as the Battle of Bunker Hill. Major Pitcairn was as full of fight as ever and commanded a reserve force of 300 Royal Marines. The initial British attacks advanced up the hill into heavy enemy fire, taking severe losses before falling back, reforming and trying again. As the British survivors were reformed to charge again, Major Pitcairn led his men into the fray. Full of fight, Major Pitcairn led from the front, encouraging his men forward when he mortally wounded by a shot to the chest, falling in the arms of his son and fellow Marine William. It was a blow to the entire unit though, all of whom saw Major Pitcairn as a father figure.

Pitcairn was carried back to town and died a few hours later. In his absence the Battle of Bunker Hill was won by the British who finally drove the rebels off though they suffered very high losses doing it. Eventually the British were forced to evacuate Boston after the emplacement of heavy guns captured from Fort Ticonderoga. Still, it was only the beginning of what would be a long conflict and Major John Pitcairn had already earned an honored place amongst those who, in the course of the war, would give their lives for the cause of their King and the British Empire. He was remembered even in America for his courage and humanity while at home his children would go on to add further luster to the Pitcairn family name.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Monarchist Profile: General Sir Guy Carleton

Although he is probably not as well known as he should be, Sir Guy Carleton was a major figure in the history of North America, the last commander of British forces during the American War for Independence and a pivotal leader in the early history of modern Canada. He was born on September 3, 1724 in Strabane, County Tyrone in Ireland to a Protestant military family that had been there since the Seventeenth Century. Orphaned at fourteen he had little formal education and along with three of his brothers entered the British army fairly early in life. He was seventeen when he was commissioned Ensign of the 25th Foot in 1742 and gained promotion to lieutenant in 1745. According to some accounts he befriended the young officer James Wolfe (who would die a glorious death in Quebec) at fought alongside him against the Jacobites at the battle of Culloden but this is not certain. We do know that in 1747 Carleton and his regiment were sent to Flanders during King George’s War where he fought against the French until a peace was negotiated.

As usual, peace brought cuts to the military and Carleton was frustrated that no promotions would be forthcoming in the new tranquil atmosphere. However, he had some good contacts and had done fairly well to distinguish himself and in 1751 was able to join the 1st Foot Guards where he was promoted to captain the following year. When the Duke of Richmond was in need of a guide to take him on a tour of the battlegrounds of the last war, Wolfe suggested his friend Carleton and the Duke chose him. Because of this, Carleton gained a powerful and well placed friend and patron who would be of great help to him in the advancement of his career. Carleton was a reasonable and practical man but not without his prejudices. During the French and Indian War his old friend General Wolfe recommended Carleton to serve as his Quarter-Master General but King George II at first refused to allow it as Carleton had previously made some rather unflattering statements about the quality of German soldiers, which the still quite German George II took great offense over. However, others prevailed upon the King to change his mind and Carleton went to America.

During the war Carleton, by then a lieutenant colonel, served with Wolfe in Quebec, keeping the British forces supplied and overseeing the placement of artillery and defensive works in his role as an engineer. He was not directly involved in the famous attack that cost Wolfe his life but won Canada for the British Crown. After returning to Britain, Colonel Carleton was dispatched with a force to capture the French island Belle Î le off the coast of Brittany. Carleton was wounded in the initial attack and unable to play any subsequent role in the battle, which was nonetheless a British victory. Once he was sufficiently recovered he was promoted to full colonel in 1762 and sent back to the American neighborhood to participate in the British invasion of Cuba. The battles for Havana again secured a decisive British victory but, again, Carleton was wounded while leading an attack on a Spanish outpost. By this time Carleton had made a solid military career for himself, nothing too spectacular but he had shown himself to be a brave and reliable officer. Considering that his accomplishments up to that point had been entirely military with no forays into politics it came as a surprise to some when he was appointed acting Lieutenant Governor and Administrator of Quebec in 1766. The appointment was likely due to the friendships Carleton had formed throughout his career, particularly that with the Duke of Richmond.

Not long after arriving in Canada, Carleton soon clashed with Governor James Murray over government reform issues. Carleton gained the support of the growing merchant class as a man they could work with and who would make common sense decisions. The biggest issue of contention was over officials charging fees for their services which Carleton opposed, preferring a regular salary instead. Nonetheless, when Murray resigned in 1768 Carleton succeeded him as Governor of Quebec and Captain-General of the British forces there. Carleton realized that to succeed in his position, and for British sovereignty over Canada to be secure and lasting, he would have to have the support of the local French elites and clergy. In the past, the British had been rather heavy-handed in their treatment of the French Canadians and the result was a great deal of lingering animosity and many leaving Canada (some of whom settled in south Louisiana). Carleton recommended a new approach, treating the French as partners rather than conquered enemies.

Carleton was promoted to major general and in 1774 the Quebec Act was passed based on his recommendations and it enacted many of the changes he had been lobbying for. These included allowing the French to maintain their own customs, recognizing their property rights, allowing full freedom of religion for Catholics and allowing Catholics to hold government positions (something forbidden in Britain) as well as making French law the basis for the legal system in Quebec. This greatly upset the Protestant colonies to the south (in what would become the United States) but it proved extremely beneficial for the peaceful development of Canada. When the American Revolution broke out the disgruntled colonials expected their new realm to include all of British North America but, because of Carleton and the reforms he pushed for, Canada remained loyal to the Crown. In fact, the Catholic clergy in Quebec went so far as to threaten anyone who would join the revolution or display disloyalty to the King with excommunication. Given what was said and done in the colonies to the south, they were confident that their rights would be much better protected by the King in London than by the Congress in Philadelphia.

Not long after the war broke out the colonial rebels launched a two-pronged invasion of Canada, one led by Richard Montgomery who had fought alongside Carleton in the British attack on Cuba. Canada had not been well defended to begin with and Carleton had been forced to dispatch two regiments to Boston when that port city was besieged. He was thus in an extremely vulnerable position when the Americans launched their offensive. He tried to make up for the loss by recruiting a French Canadian militia but was less than impressed with the results. They would not join the revolution but Britain was still not so loved that the public would rush to defend the empire. Nonetheless, Carleton made do with what he had. At first things went badly. Montreal fell to the Americans and Carleton himself only barely escaped being captured. However, despite outnumbering their enemies, by the time the Americans arrived at Quebec they were exhausted, hungry and freezing. During a howling snow storm on December 31, 1775 the Americans attacked but Carleton with his motley assortment of British troops and Canadian militia utterly smashed them. Montgomery was killed, Benedict Arnold was badly wounded and hundreds were taken prisoner. It was the first really disastrous defeat for the Americans in the war and ensured that throughout the rest of the conflict Canada would remain firmly in British hands.

The following year General Carleton launched a modest counter-offensive against the Americans, winning the battle of Trois-Rivieres in 1776 and the naval engagement at Valcour Island on Lake Champlain. Some still complained that he displayed a lack of aggression but he was honored with the Order of the Bath for his victories. He was extremely upset when he was passed over for command of the major offensive southward in favor of General John Burgoyne and requested that he be recalled but this was refused. As it happened, General Burgoyne rolled the dice and lost and was forced to surrender after the battle of Saratoga, the victory which encouraged the King of France to recognize the United States and join the war on their side. After General Howe was replaced by Sir Henry Clinton as supreme commander of Crown forces in America the focus of the war shifted to the southern colonies, leaving Carleton with relatively little to do. In 1781, after the disastrous defeat at Yorktown, General Clinton was recalled and Sir Guy Carleton became the last commander-in-chief of the British forces during the war.

By that time, of course, there was little to do but oversee the withdrawal of British troops once London recognized the independence of the American states. Carleton had moved to New York City when he received his promotion and was determined to carry on with the war in the best way he could. Once he learned that London had decided to throw in the towel he tried to resign but was persuaded to stay on to oversee the evacuation of British forces as well as the loyalists who would face persecution and the Blacks who had sided with the Crown who would be enslaved again if left behind. Once that job was done General Carleton did return to Britain where he argued in vain for the creation of a Governor-General of Canada (the post would be created in the future). He was ennobled in 1786 as Lord Dorchester and returned to America again as Governor of Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. He retired to his estate in Hampshire ten years later and died on November 10, 1808. Though a dependable officer he was criticized for his slowness in the counter-offensive after the American attack on Quebec but General Carleton deserves great praise for his actions as governor which doubtless saved Canada from falling to the American republic by keeping the local population on the side of the Crown.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Monarchist Profile: General Thomas Gage

The man who presided over the outbreak of the American War of Independence was Thomas Gage, the son of Viscount Gage, born in East Sussex around late 1719 or early 1720. The family had long been Catholic but Viscount Gage accepted the Church of England in 1715 and as young Thomas grew older he became an increasingly devout Anglican, and increasingly anti-Catholic. He attended the Westminster School alongside such future British military leaders as “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne, who would go on to glorious defeat as a general in the British army in America and Richard “Black Dick” Howe who would one day win great laurels for Britain on the sea as an Admiral in the Royal Navy. He graduated in 1736 and eventually joined the British army as an ensign, assigned to recruiting duties in Yorkshire. He later purchased a commission as lieutenant and earned subsequent promotion to captain, serving in Belgium as an aide to the Earl of Albemarle during King George’s War (the War of Austrian Succession). Afterwards he served in Scotland in the suppression of the second Jacobite uprising and later purchased the rank of major before being promoted to lieutenant colonel while serving in Ireland.

Thomas Gage was known as a good natured, upstanding man with none of the small vices and he made friends easily. Although his friendships extended to all classes, the most beneficial for him were with those in the upper ranks of the British military such as Lord Amherst. He tried unsuccessfully to be elected to the House of Commons before he was sent with his regiment to North America upon the outbreak of the French and Indian War (Seven Years’ War). During that conflict Gage served alongside George Washington at the disastrous battle of Monongahela in which a British column under General Edward Braddock was wiped out in a surprise French and Indian attack. Gage was wounded but took command of the 44th Foot after the regimental commander was killed. General Braddock himself was killed and in the effort to assign blame the aide-de-camp of the late general pointed the finger at Gage which robbed him of the post of permanent commander of the 44th. George Washington also later joined the chorus against Gage but simply because he resented British officers having greater authority than colonial leaders like himself.

Gage helped organize the first British light infantry while serving in America and was recommended for promotion to full colonel. In 1758, in Albany, New York, he married Margaret Kemble, a New Jersey-born young lady of famous beauty. Later Gage led the vanguard in the British army that attacked Fort Carillon, a disaster for the British and probably the most stunning French victory of the war in which less than 4,000 French troops defeated a British army of 16,000, inflicting heavy casualties. Gage was again wounded in the attack and despite the defeat was commended for his bravery and, partly thanks to his brother Viscount Gage, was promoted to brigadier general and placed in command of Albany under Lord Amherst. However, his decision not to move against a particular French fort as ordered angered his superiors and Gage was more or less sidelined for the rest of the conflict. Once the war was over and Canada was in British hands, Gage was made military governor of Montreal. His wife joined him and their first two of their seven children were born there. As an administrator he received mostly good marks though he found it hard to get along with the French lords and Catholic clergy who were at the top of the social hierarchy.

In 1763 Lord Amherst was recalled and General Gage was assigned to take his place in New York as commander of all British forces in North America. He helped bring a peaceful end to Pontiac’s rebellion but showed his vindictive side when he pressed a rather trumped-up charge of treason against the famed British irregular leader Major Robert Rogers (from whose unit the modern U.S. Army Rangers claim descent). As unrest and anti-British sentiment grew in the American colonies, Gage found he had to rely on treaties of friendship with the Indians in order to transfer the few British regiments on hand to the major port cities. His duties became less about securing the frontier and more about enforcing Crown authority on an increasingly rebellious population. In 1773 Gage returned to England with his family but the situation in the colonies continued to deteriorate with the so-called “Boston Massacre” and subsequent acts of Parliament, all unpopular, to bring the colonists to heel. Crown officials were becoming hated and Gage was considered the only man who could save the situation due to his years of experience in America and his close ties with leaders in London and the colonies. In 1774 he returned as royal governor of Massachusetts, the most troublesome colony and a hotbed of revolutionary sentiment.

Once back in America, after an initial warm reception, Gage began to draw criticism from both sides. The colonial “Patriot” groups despised him as the enforcer of unpopular British laws while many in London felt he was not being tough enough and allowed too many groups (most famously the Sons of Liberty) to carry on in spite of being flagrantly treasonous. Gage paid little mind to such groups. He was convinced that democracy was the real problem and that it was the local elected assemblies which were the breeding ground for sedition. He was content to see these dissolved while letting the rebel mobs vent their anger but at the same time he took measures to confiscate weapons and war materials that could potentially be used against Crown forces. Gage desperately wanted to avoid an all-out conflict, his years of service in North America having taught him that if it were to come to that, it would take a massive British army, a great deal of blood and treasure, to subdue the whole continent and that was a price he doubted that his fellow countrymen back in Britain were willing to pay. In that regard, Gage was ultimately proven correct, but it would take some time before the government in London came to the same conclusion.

When Gage was given direct orders to eliminate revolutionary activity, he took action, ordering the arrest of several ringleaders and the confiscation of weapons and ammunition. However, he had his troops move out at night in the hope of keeping a low profile and avoiding confrontation. As we know, thanks to Paul Revere and others, this was not successful and there was a confrontation at Lexington where was famously fired “the shot heard round the world”. After another clash at Concord and a running battle back to Boston the American Revolution was on and Gage and his garrison were under siege by a ragtag rebel army that greatly outnumbered his own. In the midst of this, something of a personal crisis also developed for General Gage and he decided to send his American wife back to England after accusations began to fly that she was secretly giving information to the revolutionaries. General Gage never believed the rumors, pointing out that all that was ever presented was circumstantial evidence, nonetheless, to avoid controversy he sent her to England. Meanwhile, additional troops arrived from England along with major generals William Howe, John Burgoyne and Henry Clinton to reinforce Gage and end the siege of Boston.

An elaborate plan was hatched but the rebels found out about it and moved in first, occupying, among other strategic points, Breed’s Hill. Gage launched an offensive against the position which became known in history as the battle of Bunker Hill. The British forces took heavy casualties and were repulsed more than once. But, their superior discipline and stoic courage won the day and finally, as they advanced again, the colonials broke into a panic and retreated. It had been a costly victory and did not change the overall strategic situation. London was not pleased and the battle was thrown onto the scales along with all the other complaints the national leadership had with Gage. He had won the battle but most, like General Clinton, recognized that Britain simply did not have the manpower to win such costly victories with frontal assaults. Gage was relieved of his command and replaced by General Sir William Howe, a great battlefield tactician but a man lacking in ‘killer instincts’.

General Gage returned to England, despite technically still being the governor of Massachusetts and was later promoted to full general after France entered the war and there were worries of a French invasion. There were many such times when Britain feared France was about to invade their island but, as before, such an attack never materialized. General Gage remained in touch with many of the Crown officials he had served with in America and gave testimony to support compensation claims made by American loyalists. Unfortunately, his health began to deteriorate rather rapidly and he died April 2, 1787. King George III, who was rather fond of Gage, referred to him as his “mild general” and the injustice of his rather low reputation is evident by how he was seen as too timid in Britain but too authoritarian in America. He had a good record of service behind him but was placed in an impossible situation with London pressuring him to be firm while knowing that any such action would only add fuel to the revolutionary fire by antagonizing the colonists.

General Gage, quite obviously, did not dislike the Americans and he correctly realized that they had been given far too much autonomy in their local assemblies for far too long. As a result, they resented any interference from London. Unfortunately, by the time Gage came along this situation had existed for too long to be overturned without provoking a full blown rebellion. Gage also realized, from his rather rough experience in the French and Indian War, that Britain would have to commit massive amounts of soldiers, hire foreign mercenaries and maintain a naval blockade of the entire continent to win an all-out war. In provoking him to action, London was effectively ordering him to start a war he did not have the tools to win. In the end, Boston had to be abandoned before the government realized that Gage had been correct and sent over the largest expeditionary force Britain had ever dispatched up to that time, complete with hired Hessians and a naval blockade. General Gage will certainly not be listed among the great captains of British military history but, he is nonetheless underrated.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Reflecting on the Fourth of July

Here we are again, the day set aside by the United States of America each year to celebrate the Declaration of Independence from the United Kingdom of Great Britain. Looking back these centuries later, one is tempted to wonder if it was all worth it or not. As most know, I am from Texas, practically an entirely different country from the United States, and I celebrate my “Independence Day” on March 2 rather than July 4 so I feel I can take a somewhat more dispassionate view on that unfortunate little temper tantrum known as the Revolutionary War. First of all, in hindsight, I cannot claim to have much angst about the way things turned out, monarchist or not. We cannot know what the world would be like today or how history would have unfolded if the United States had ever ceased to exist. I know many monarchists are extremely hostile to the United States and they would tend to object to the idea that there is any chance at all the world would not be near perfection without the United States but, honestly, no one can say that because none of us can ever know what might have been.

When someone learns that I am a monarchist the question is often put to me whether or not I would be happier living under British rule. Not all monarchists agree on this point but for me the answer is most definitely “no”. Socialized healthcare, no right to bear arms -no thank you. But, of course, that is a very silly question to ask a monarchist, especially one like myself. My home, Texas, was never part of the British Empire and has never fought against Britain at any time. Even if that were not the case, the colonies were not under direct British rule to begin with and if the colonists had lost or never made their bid for independence, it does not mean that British law would rule supreme in America. The American colonies would have continued to largely govern themselves with their own colonial assemblies and an appointed Royal Governor to oversee things. If the U.S. had not won independence, life here would still not be like life in Britain (it never was) nor like any other place in the world. Things would probably not be too drastically different. There would be no Mount Rushmore, no Washington Monument and no Liberty Bell. The Congress would likely consist of a Senate and a House of Commons and instead of a President and a (pretty useless) Vice President we would likely have a Prime Minister and a Governor-General just like Australia, Canada or New Zealand.

Personally, I would like to think that things would have been better if the United States had remained united with the rest of the English-speaking world and a partner in rather than a bystander (and sometime adversary) of British civilization, but, given my place in the world, I cannot complain about how things worked out. Aside from some troublesome ailments I must endure, I am quite comfortable and doing quite well. Unlike some other republics in the world, I can even argue on behalf of monarchy without being tossed in jail or sent to “education camp” to turn big rocks into little rocks. However, loyal and (mostly) law-abiding U.S. citizen though I am, honesty compels me to say that I nonetheless feel the Revolutionary War was unjustified and, were I (as the person I am) alive in that time and place, even knowing how things would turn out, I would be compelled to be a loyalist. Everything the rebel colonists were fighting for, short of independence, could have been achieved within the existing framework of the British Empire and I simply cannot see how any of the complaints of the colonial “Patriots” were sufficient to justify plunging the eastern edge of North America into war for eight years.

Veteran monarchists will be well aware of these facts, but newcomers may not be. The fact of the matter is that the American colonists were not being oppressed or victimized. On the whole, they lived far better than the counterparts in the British Isles. There was more social mobility, more overall prosperity, most people lived better lives, they ate more beef and thus even tended to be taller than most people in Great Britain or Ireland. They also paid next to nothing in taxes compared to British subjects in the home islands. As far as representation being a bone of contention, as most monarchists know, “No Taxation Without Representation” was strictly a slogan and nothing more. When Ben Franklin was sent to London to represent the colonies he was told that he was to never, ever, under any circumstances, accept an agreement which gave the colonies representation in the Parliament at Westminster. Colonial leaders were smart enough to know that the vastly greater population of Britain would mean that even if they had seats in Parliament they would be easily outvoted. So, they would gain nothing with representation and they would lose a very righteous sounding slogan that would get more people on their side.

Some will point to the many acts of Parliament that the colonists had a problem with. Alas, here again, the revolutionary propaganda does not hold up to modern-day scrutiny. For one thing, many of these acts, such as the Stamp Act, were never totally enforced and where, in any event, repealed almost as soon as they were enacted when the colonists began howling about them. The tax on tea is another overblown “outrage”. The fact is that the British East India Company sold tea at a cheaper price than any of her competitors and the colonists would have had to drink more than a gallon of tea each and every day to pay even just one dollar a year in tax. Hardly a crushing burden by any stretch of the imagination. Although not much talked about today, at the time, one of the acts considered most outrageous was the Quebec Act. It is not much talked about today because this was an act which granted freedom of religion to the Catholics of Canada, something which most Americans wrongly believed did not come about until the birth of the United States. The colonists were also none too happy about King George III restricting the colonial population to the colonies on the coast and reserving the territory to the west for the Native American tribes. Considering how tiny the population of the thirteen colonies was at the time, this could hardly be considered outrageous. There was hardly a dire need for “living space” when most of the existing colonies were largely empty wilderness.

None of the other usual patriotic clashes arouse my sympathy either. The Boston “Massacre”? Mob violence on a group of British troops simply doing their duty. Even the noted Patriot John Adams defended the British soldiers for their actions, serving as their lawyer at their trial. The Boston Tea Party? A criminal destruction of private property and nothing more. Even Benjamin Franklin was of the opinion that the perpetrators should have repaid the British East India Company for every bit of tea they tossed into the harbor. No matter how one looks at it (and I have been convinced of the Tory position since I was a young punk in high school) nothing in the list of colonial grievances seems sufficient to me to justify the taking up of arms, the shedding of blood and, most seriously of all, the breaking of the solemn oath of allegiance to the King. To repeat, I have no animus against the United States, I want nothing but success for the USA and the American people. What is done is done and history cannot be changed. But, as I believe John Adams once said, facts are stubborn things, and the facts being what they are, when it comes to the Revolutionary War, my sympathies must remain entirely with the Loyalists.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Monarchist Profile: General Sir Henry Clinton

One of the leading British commanders of the American War for Independence, Sir Henry Clinton was one of the most capable generals of that conflict but also one of the most difficult. He was born on April 16, 1730 to Admiral George Clinton and Anne Carle. There is a little ambiguity about the place of his birth, but according to some at least he was a North American, a Canadian, being born in Newfoundland. His family was a very old one with a long history of royal service behind it when he first entered the armed forces in New York in 1745. His father, at the time, was serving as the Royal Governor of New York. One year later he was a captain serving in the fortress of Louisbourg only recently captured from the French. Later on, this background would serve Clinton well as he had considerable experience with North America when the Revolutionary War broke out. Over the next few years he moved to Great Britain and was commissioned as a captain in the elite Coldstream Guards. He rose fairly rapidly in the British army, serving in some of the most famous formations. By 1758 he was a lieutenant colonel in the First Foot Guards (better known as the Grenadier Guards today). During the Seven Years War (the French and Indian War in America) he served under the Duke of Brunswick in Germany. During his war service he met many of the men he would later serve with and against when revolution came to the American colonies.

Clinton gave good service, made profitable friendships, married a member of the landed gentry and even gained as a patron the Duke of Gloucester, the brother of the new King George III. After serving in Gibraltar for a time Clinton was promoted to major general in 1772 and was elected to a seat in the House of Commons. He also gained further military experience touring installations of the Imperial Russian Army in the Balkans, witnessed some clashes with the formidable Ottoman Empire (even met some Turkish envoys who he described as “very civil”) and had an audience in Vienna with Emperor Joseph II. It was upon his return to England that he learned about the outbreak of rebellion in America and was ordered by King George III to proceed there along with his fellow major generals William Howe and John Burgoyne to bring a quick end to this challenge to the authority of the Crown. Their immediate goal was to relieve the besieged British forces in Boston under General Thomas Gage. The result was the first major clash of the war, the battle of Bunker Hill.

General Clinton always displayed a more sober and realistic appreciation of the fighting qualities of the Americans and was pessimistic about the situation at Bunker Hill and broke his orders to tend to the wounded after the first two failed assaults on Breed’s Hill. The third assault succeeded, winning the battle for the British but at a heavy loss of life which made Clinton describe the victory as nearly ruinous. Gage was replaced by Howe in the aftermath of the battle and Clinton was promoted to the local rank of lieutenant general and was chief deputy to General Howe. In that role he often provided brilliant plans but his character proved problematic and Clinton was, by most accounts, extremely hard to work with and was invariably critical of his superiors. This mitigated his value at times but, nonetheless, Clinton often made invaluable contributions to the war effort. During the Long Island campaign it was General Clinton who suggested the flanking march that proved a master stroke and went a long way in securing a massive victory for the British forces in which George Washington and his entire Continental Army came close to being totally wiped out.

There was no doubt that Clinton was an extremely capable military commander but his own personality often worked against him. This was especially true following the death of his wife when Clinton became noticeably more difficult. He had also earlier been dispatched by General Howe to lead the campaign in the southern colonies but a delay suffered by the Royal Navy and bad weather helped turn the expedition into a dismal failure, a soft spot for General Clinton who did not respond well to criticism (who does?). He returned to New England where he captured Newport, Rhode Island after which he went back to Great Britain in early 1777. When Burgoyne was chosen by the King and Lord Germain to lead the northern offensive coming down from Canada Clinton tried to resign but was refused. He was knighted and returned to New York to resume his post as Howe’s deputy, though neither man was happy about it.

Not surprisingly, General Clinton was totally opposed to the plan for Howe to advance north while Burgoyne marched south, hopefully cutting off New England and crushing the rebellion between them. Clinton predicted that Burgoyne would be isolated in the wilderness of upper New York and could easily be surrounded and destroyed. Of course, this is exactly what transpired with Burgoyne being forced to surrender after the battle of Saratoga, a victory credited with securing French recognition of the fledgling United States. During the Saratoga campaign Clinton had also managed a successful raid into the Hudson Highlands in a vain effort to rescue Burgoyne and his intrepid army. Early the following year though things changed for Clinton. Despite winning numerous victories, General Howe had failed to suppress the rebellion in the colonies in 1777 and he resigned his position. So, in February of 1778 Lt. General Sir Henry Clinton became commander-in-chief of all Crown forces in North America. His constant advice and criticism of his predecessor meant that much was expected of Clinton but with France joining the war as an ally of the rebels the British government had to redeploy limited forces to defend colonies all over the world. As a result, Clinton would be expected to accomplish what Howe had not but with even fewer troops to work with.

General Clinton also faced a Continental Army that had become much more disciplined and well trained than the one he and Howe had chased from pillar to post in New York. Clinton was thus forced to adopt a generally defensive strategy with British forces concentrating on holding key strategic ports, with supply and mobility dependent on the Royal Navy, rather than undertaking any grand offensives to wipe out the Continental Army. Clinton, who had seemed so daring as a subordinate, found himself to be a very cautious commander, which even he realized, referring to himself on one occasion as “a shy bitch”. Still, he executed a brilliant march to New York during which time Washington tried to win a decisive victory over him at the bloody battle of Monmouth. Usually dismissed as a stalemate, it is hard to see how this should not be considered a victory for Clinton even if a less than decisive one. Even though Washington caught the rear of the British army, Clinton fended off his attacks, losing less men than Washington while still managing to complete his movement to New York as planned while the rebel goal of destroying his army had failed. It would be the last major battle in the northern theatre as attention turned toward the southern colonies where Lord Cornwallis was dispatched to restore Crown authority and rather the many loyalists of the region.

Unfortunately, just as Clinton had clashed with Howe, he was often upset with his subordinate Cornwallis. Part of this was due to rank as Cornwallis had been given a “dormant commission” which Clinton took as an affront but which was actually done simply to ensure that if anything happened to him the senior commander in America would be Cornwallis rather than a Hessian mercenary. However, aside from the usual problems of ego, this added another difficulty as it made Clinton hesitant about issuing direct orders to Cornwallis and he instead preferred to make suggestions and as a result his instructions were often vague and easily misunderstood. Clinton, upset with what he saw as being placed in a ‘no-win’ situation tried to resign again but was again refused. He spent most of 1779 holding his ground and sending raiding parties against the rebel forces as well as issuing a proclamation promising emancipation to any slaves who could escape their bondage and enlist in the Crown forces.

In 1780, after British forces captured Savannah, Georgia General Clinton led another attack on Charleston, South Carolina. He more than made up for his earlier defeat there and after a successful siege operation forced the surrender of the city and the entire 5,000-man garrison. It was a stupendous victory for the British and the costliest defeat the American rebels would suffer in the entire war. With such a great success under his belt, Clinton left Cornwallis to command the southern campaign while he returned to New York to direct overall operations on the continent. Lord Cornwallis won a string of victories but tensions between him and Clinton only increased. Cornwallis blamed Clinton for indecisiveness while Clinton accused Cornwallis of insubordination and trying to run his own war. When a French naval victory ultimately bottled up Cornwallis at Yorktown the end was at hand. Clinton organized a rescue operation but was too late to save his subordinate who surrendered in 1782, effectively ending the war. Clinton offered his resignation again and it was finally accepted, turning command over to General Sir Guy Carleton. Unfortunately, despite being blamed for the defeat at Yorktown, Clinton was not allowed a court martial to clear his name.

Upon returning to Britain, General Clinton again served in Parliament, was promoted to full general in 1793 and ended his life as Governor of Gibraltar. As a commander, General Clinton still receives less respect than he is due. True, he was difficult, could be overcautious, tended to blame others and inflate his own successes but though he would win no personality contests, he was an extremely skillful commander. Among the top British generals of the American war he was probably the best strategist and the most effective planner of all of them. He understood that a formal conquest of the continent would be impossible, that permanent garrisons were needed to win and keep the support of the loyalists who were the key to ultimate victory. He also understood the need for close cooperation with the navy, unfortunately he was robbed of the benefit of one of the best British naval commanders of the day, Admiral Richard Howe, by the intervention of France. He was not as colorful as Burgoyne, as likeable as Howe or as daring as Cornwallis but, perhaps because of his North American background, possessed an overall understanding of the strategic situation in the colonies that few others had.
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