Revisting the Revolutionary War
by Marc Schulman
In restudying the period of the Revolutionary war over the last few months as I have worked on our CD Rom a number of ideas came light, that I would like to take this opportunity to share.
I was struck once again by the greatness of our founding fathers. While it is easy with 20 /20 hindsight to criticize their faults, whether on their treatment of Native Americans or African Americans, it impossible to read their speeches, deliberations and letters and not be awed again by what they accomplished. For the first time in history a group of people went to war not over religion, or ethnic identity and not primarily for economic reasons, but over political rights. While many believe that the major reason for the war was economic, in reviewing the facts I am more convinced then ever that the major causes of the war was political. The cry no taxation without representation, was not just a slogan and the emphasis was not on taxation, but on without representation.
The founders were able to verbalize their views in ways seldom achieved in human history. The majesty of their words have not been matched to this day. I was awed as well by their own self-awareness. They knew and understood how historic their actions were.
I was also struck by how often the Continental Army was victorious in battle, and how few real success's the British achieved during the war. The traditional question that is always asked , is how could a small group of colonist ever expect to beat the greatest sea power on earth. Various answers are always given, ranging from French help to the long British supply lines. However, in reviewing the many battles of the war what struck me was how few of the battles the British ever won. Even when they won, Washington consistently managed to escape with the army intact. The British victories were almost always achieved at a very high cost, and with exception of the Battles of NY never gained any long term strategic advantage to the British. On the other hand, the untrained American armies victories were decisive, whether in Saratoga or Yorktown. In both cases resulting in the surrender of large British armies.
My final comment relates to American foreign policy today. It has been the American foreign policy to a greater or lesser extent throughout this century to follow a policy of promoting democracy abroad. Sometimes this policy is criticized as an example of American cultural imperialism, and attempt to foster American values on others. However it is clear that this recurring theme in American policy is based on American uniqueness. Being the first country to go to war based on the theme of no Taxation without representation, has embedded the value of democracy deeper into American tradition than any other nation on earth, and thus this theme is an unavoidable part of American foreign policy. Often it clashes with realpolitics, but it cannot be ignored.