Declaration of Dissent

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74 Responses

  1. Thomas Jefferson I’m not….my apologies for the clumsy and abstruse phrasing. But I stand by the substance!Report

  2. kylind says:

    Great text, although I had to read it quite slowly to understand it. (English is my second language.)

    I’ve been kind of convinced now (not just by this), that the revolution, at the time, was quite unreasonable, an overreaction to relatively slight grievances, partly fueled by conspiracy theories and in its immediate consequences very destructive.

    Of course, over the long term it’s a different question, although you can easily spin alternate history stories in either direction.Report

    • Gabriel Conroy in reply to kylind says:

      Thanks, Kylind. I do think I could’ve written the text a little more (or a lot more) clearly.

      Not surprisingly, I’m inclined to agree with your comment.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to kylind says:

      The alternate history possibilities are interesting. Some sort of separation seems inevitable. The colonies were not going to give up on westward expansion, no matter what the crown/Parliament thought the native population deserved. Certainly the crown was going to be in favor of seizing what turned out to be the Louisiana Territory in 1803 from Napoleon’s France. At some point, if the crown/Parliament are going to let the Americas be part of the UK, you have to deal with a Parliament that becomes America-centric based on population. The Civil War may be fought in 1833 when the Empire abolished slavery — I’m not enough of a historian to even guess at what else the UK had on its plate, and whether the South could have won at that point.Report

      • greginak in reply to Michael Cain says:

        Certainly ending slavery in 1833 might have been the fracture that ended it all. If that didn’t do it however, the Brits didn’t give up on anything until they were forced by their absolute inability to hold it. They never would let us by the US w/o a war.Report

      • Your counter-factual world is as verifiable as mine, but I suspect that one of the following would have happened ca. 1833:

        1. The UK would not have tried to abolish slavery.
        2. The southern colonies, perhaps with a to us surprisingly large number of “northern” colonies, would have revolted, successfully, in protest of an abolition effort.
        3. Abolition would have happened, but there would have been a longer lasting, maybe perpetual, “apprenticeship period” for the “freed” slaves, similar to the short-lived and eventually truncated “apprenticeship” period in the West Indies. (Apprenticeship refers to the period in which the freed slaves were technically not slaves, but who were required to serve their former masters while they “learned” how to be free. In the West Indies, if I understand correctly, Parliament set a period of years for the “apprenticeship” but abolished apprenticeship earlier than it had planned.)

        I think the upshot for number 3 would have been a permanent sub-class/sub-caste of nominally free peoples without the protections that we today associate with the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments.

        And to be clear, none of the above options look all that appealing. With those possibilities in retrospect, the Revolution can conceivably be called a “good” thing regardless of my own objections to the conflict.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Michael Cain says:

        @michael-cain, if the colonies remain connected to Britain long enough, I see the parts that became the United States becoming a self-governing domain of the British empire during the 19th century like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. What might happen is that the British parliament forms new provinces because of Westward expansion and we get a North American Confederation of Colonies during the first third of the 19th century or at least by the halfway point.Report

      • North in reply to Michael Cain says:

        Looking at it historically it seems very highly likely that had the colonies not revolted they would have achieved independance via the creation of their own dominion a la Canada. It’s also possible that they could have been one gigantic continental dominion. British North America probably shortened to North America later.
        Then again, considering the size and number of colonies/provinces we might have also seen several dominions arise over British North America though we shouldn’t forget that the British during the confederation era were quite interested in consolidating their colonies as much as possible for administrative simplicity.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Michael Cain says:

        There would not be a French Revolution or a Napoleon without the American Revolution. We would have remained a Corsican officer in the French Royal Army.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Michael Cain says:

        I’ve never been anywhere near Corsica!Report

      • British control of US could have created problems with the Louisiana Purchase, couldn’t it?Report

      • @will-truman
        Let’s leave it as “Louisiana would be complicated.” Absent the American Revolution, Britain probably holds East and West Florida rather than ceding them to Spain in 1783. That puts a very different spin on things as “Britain” expands westward from the North American east coast and sees control of the mouth of Mississippi as strategically important. At the beginning of 1800 it was still “Spanish Louisiana,” and with Spain having little interest in expanding their North American presence into that area, it likely ends up in British hands anyway.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Michael Cain says:

        Without a French Revokution, South Africa and Sri Lanka remain Dutch colonies.Report

  3. Tod Kelly says:

    I hope this gets more discussion as we move into the week, because I will be damn curious to see if what I kinda suspect is true: That those that most likely object to this idea will be those most likely to argue that there should not have been a Civil War, and vise versa.Report

    • @tod-kelly

      Do you mean that a CSA apologist is likely to have endorsed the Revolution, too? If so, I actually think that particular way of looking at things is consistent because the apologist supported secession in one case and again in another case.Report

      • I suspect — based mostly on the people I’ve run into who have made the argument to me that we never should have fought the Civil War — that those same people would be horrified at the thought that we would have not declared war on England 90 years prior.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        I think both wars were unnecessary. I suspect I’m an outlier, though, and that your hypothesis is probably correct.Report

      • Do you suspect, then, that such people would prefer that the South hadn’t seceded, or that the South would secede and the North wouldn’t try to keep them in?Report

      • Murali in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        I think I agree with Hanley.Report

      • greginak in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        Whether the CW was necessary is irrelevant; it was in inevitable. One of the tensions between the sections of the country over the previous 20 years was westward expansion. The South was hell bent on making as much of the West as possible pro-slave. They believed if they couldn’t expand slavery it would die out along with their civilization. Even if the North and South somehow amicably split there is no way they don’t end fighting for the West probably multiple times with various Indians and Mexico as players and allies.Report

      • One way to look at “necessity” can be summed up in, for lack of a better term, something like a “law of history” (although I don’t believe history really operates according to “historical laws”). Looked at in that way, the right and wrong of the matter(s) give way to inevitability similar to what @greginak talks about above. Once certain Rubicons have been crossed, it’s difficult to stop events.

        Maybe in the colonies, the Coercive Acts were that point, or maybe the point came later with Lexington and Concord, or Bunker Hill, or the Declaration.

        Concerning the Civil War, if the question was abolishing slavery outright, with no compensation or no guarantee that the freed persons would remain slaves in all but name, I think some conflict then was inevitable. I don’t, however, think the following were inevitable:

        1. That slaveowners in the South would come to identify the persistence and survival of slavery with its expansion. There was of course concern that slaveowners were becoming increasingly a minority in the (white, male) American polity and that free soil threatened to exacerbate this trend, and some slaveowners, particularly those who wished to profit from an internal trade, saw expansion as necessary. I don’t think, though, that free soil’ism necessarily translates into the way slaveowners seem to have treated it by the late 1850s.

        2. That slaveowners necessarily needed to see the election of a Republican as the last straw prompting secession. Of course, there’s no arguing with the facts that most of them seem to have believed Lincoln’s election to be the deathblow to slavery, but I don’t think it was inevitable that his victory ought to be seen that way.

        3. That the North, by resisting the states’ secession, was necessarily going to effect the end of slavery. Until 1863, freedom for slaves wasn’t even officially a northern war aim, whatever had already happened in practice with “contraband of war” orders. I don’t want to deny the huge role slaves and their allies played in bringing about abolition, but I do believe that if the North, somehow, had been able to secure a decisive set of victories, maybe certain members of the CSA would have advocated for an end to the rebellion.

        All of the above, of course, is either hypothetical, or arrayed against known facts, but it’s a longwinded way of saying maybe the Revolution and Civil War weren’t “necessary.”Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        The secessions were inevitable. South Carolina had been threatening to secede since 1820. Southern capital wanted to expand slavery for the the reason that capital always wants to expand: to make more money. To the slaveowners, refusing to allow slavery to expand into the territories was rank discrimination, as if nowadays there were a law that corporations headquartered in the South were not allowed to invest overseas. The North might not have been abolitionist, but it felt no obligation to return escaped slaves, which the South viewed as being complicit in their theft. It took heroic amounts of statesmanship to delay the secessions until the 1860s, by which point the South was so used to getting its way that the election of someone who might say “enough” seemed like an act of war.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:


        Tory! 🙂

        You just want your tea and scones with clotted creamReport

      • Dave in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:


        Do you mean that a CSA apologist is likely to have endorsed the Revolution, too? If so, I actually think that particular way of looking at things is consistent because the apologist supported secession in one case and again in another case.

        I think that if you look at this from the “southern” perspective, this is probably true. You can look at both as being the colonies/states declaring that they transferring any of all sovereign powers “delegated” to a central government back to themselves.

        Where it gets a little messy is that with respect to the Declaration, I don’t think there’s any debate that the colonies broke away from an oppressive central government that claimed sovereignty over the colonies. With southern secession, the question of sovereignty was an open question given the competing views of the nature Constitution during the antebellum era, a debate that was ultimately settled on the battlefield.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:


        I think GC makes a good case that “oppressive” is an overstatement, and the failure of the Articles of Confederation suggests that the revolutionaries’ idea of how little central government was required was unworkable.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:


        It depends on what outcomes are desired. If you want a solid union, you’ll need a central gov’t with some real force to make it happen. If you just want independence from Britain for your own state, with little concern about a union, then the Articles were just fine. There were people who wanted that. Union was the product of argument and bargaining, not the dominant goal when they were drafting the Articles.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        That was what I thought I said. What was desired when the Articles were written was an extremely weak central government. Within ten years, it was clear that plan needed to be rethought.Report

    • KatherineMW in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Well, if by “shouldn’t have been a Civil War” one means, “the southern states shouldn’t have responded to the results of a legitimate election by seceding from the United States and then firing on a US base”, there’s a case to be made.

      On the whole, though, I provide support for your theory. I can see the American Revolution as needless but find it far harder to imagine any situation where peaceful means could have produced the abolition of slavery in the southern US states. The Civil War and WWII are the two wars that, for me, most challenge the ideal of pacifism. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ argument – that the conflict did not “start” with the Civil War, but rather that the Civil War was merely the culmination of centuries of warfare by settlers and Americans against black slaves – is a compelling one. As is his demonstration of how absolutely foundational slavery was to the entire southern economic and social system.Report

      • kylind in reply to KatherineMW says:

        Well, in our alternate history timeline, you could imagine that the South wouldn’t try to secede. After all, it’s not only the North against it, but the rest of the British Empire as well.Report

      • North in reply to KatherineMW says:

        Yes in this counterfactual we should keep in mind what we’re talking about. Had the colonies not left the Empire then when the tensions came to a head about slavery it would have been a number of separate slave holding colonies with only their own militias and relatively little native history of military command proposing to go up against all the rest of British North America and the rest of the British Empire over the question of slavery.
        Now it should be granted that adding the weight of the American South to the existing vested interests within the Empire who wished to retain slavery means that the Empire may have had stronger incentive to permit slavery to continue for a somewhat longer time but ultimately when the Empire decided to end slavery the South undoubtedly would have been in a massively weaker position to rebel militarily speaking than it was in the actual civil war.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to KatherineMW says:

        If the colonies remained within the Empire, we would probably have slavery more widespread in British North America and we wouldn’t have the distinction between free states and slaves states or questions about whether new provinces/colonies should be free or slave like we did in our time line. Granted slavery would be more present in South Carolina than Vermont but I can see it being much more widespread if the colonies remained part of the Empire. If the institution of slavery was more common, the South might not make it the basis for their entire society.
        This means that slavery might end in a series of gradual steps like it did in Brazil.Report

      • @leeesq

        I do think, however, that by the mid 1700s, the South, and parts of Pennsylvania and New York, had already made slavery the basis for their society

        Your observation about Brazil is interesting and might be apt. I’d also say that the ensuing “racial democracy” would be just so much pretext for a persistent racism, like we also see in Brazil today.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to KatherineMW says:

        @gabriel-conroy, White Brazilians are a lot more racist than they would like to admit but they do a better job at hiding that racism and pretending they live in a racially egalitarian society. This is a good and bad thing. The bad part is that its really difficult to deal with the deepest effects of racism if you can’t acknowledge the problem. The good part is that you don’t have so many dog whistles or open racism in Brazilian politics or society as far as I can tell and these seems to keep things saner.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to KatherineMW says:

        @gabriel-conroy, by basis of a society I meant something more than the fact the entire economy depended on slavery. In Brazil and Cuba, the entire economy depended on slavery for most of the 19th century to. When slavery began to die in the North, the Southern colonies and later states used slavery to distinguish themselves from the North. What made the South distinct as cultural unit was slavery and everything else was secondary. If slavery at least technically existed in every state than the Southern ones would have less to distinguish themselves on.Report

      • @leeesq

        Thanks, that clarification makes sense.Report

  4. KatherineMW says:

    Well done! Impressive effort to match the style of the original Declaration, despite the text becoming clumsy in some sections.

    Of course, I’m biased, as this view of the American Revolution – as an overreaction to some fairly mild impositions and some actions (such as the tolerance for Catholics and the retention of French civil law provided by the Québec Act) which were in fact progressive for the time, and didn’t at any rate affect the the residents of the Thirteen Colonies in any detrimental way – largely matches what I, as a Canadian, learned in high school history class.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to KatherineMW says:

      I’m going to dissent. The British Parliament was intervening in the governing arrangement of the North American colonies. Each colony possessed its own legislature and was generally self-governing even the Governor was appointed by the Crown. The British Parliament was overriding the laws passed by the assemblies in the 13 colonies without their consent. It was perfectly in their right to rebel.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to LeeEsq says:

        The Federal government is intervening in the governance of states, far beyond the extent to which the Constitution authorizes it to do so. Time for rebellion?Report

      • Gabriel Conroy in reply to LeeEsq says:


        Unsurprisingly, I dissent to your dissent, even though I don’t have a lot of substantial disagreements to the facts as you state them. There were indeed some very important colonial initiatives that, we today might stipulate, the Crown shouldn’t have overturned. For example, its disallowal of Pennsylvania’s 1712 law to ban the importation of slaves. (That law wasn’t a great triumph of equal rights, but it could have been an early salvo against slavery.) But I question the extent to which the Crown actually exercised its prerogative of disallowal. I suspect the colonies had plenty of opportunities for self-governance in areas that the Crown didn’t even care about.

        But I think my main disagreement is with whether it was worth it. True, you said the colonies were within their rights, not that they should have exercised those rights. But should they have? Not with arms, in my opinion. The kind and degree of impositions did not justify killing people–whether we’re talking about British soldiers or German missionaries–nor did it justify the expropriations and other things done to some loyalists.

        Finally, to add to @brandon-berg ‘s point and Kylind’s mention of conspiracy theorists: as Bernard Bailyn pointed out decades ago, the “Country Whig” pamphlet literature that informed those who agitated against the “usurpations of the Crown” and eventually for independence exhibited a sense that a cabal of malefactors had won the king’s confidence and were undermining the liberty’s he was allegedly in place to guarantee. This sense is not too far of a leap from some of the “paranoid styles” we see later in the US, although the targets were different. That resemblance doesn’t invalidate, necessarily, the Revolution any more than the Allies’ racist caricatures of Japanese invalidated their opposition to the Axis in WWII, but it ought to give one pause.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to LeeEsq says:

        @brandon-berg, the difference is that the states are represented in the Federal government through Congress in away that the colonies were not in the British Parliament. There are direct political means to address the concerns of the states in our political system that did not exist in late 18th century British North America. The British Parliament alas could not give representation to the colonies in the way that it gave Scotland representation in the Act of Union. Elections to Parliament weren’t very fair at this time. MPs from British North America would be elected in a more organized and fairer system. The franchise would be wider and there would be no rotten boroughs. This would open a very big can of worms in Great Britain.

        @gabriel-conroy, the paranoid style has its origins in the English Reformation and the fears that many English and Scottish possessed of reimposed Catholicism. The only way to avoid the paranoid style is to keep England, Scotland, and Wales in the Catholic fold.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to LeeEsq says:


        Would you support violent independence movements in Puerto Rico, Guam, and American Samoa?Report

      • James Hanley in reply to LeeEsq says:


        To be more precise, the state representatives, duly elected by the people of the state, are intervening in state affairs.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to LeeEsq says:

        @james-hanley I the territories wanted independence, we shouldn’t have to make them go to war over it.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Will, I agree. I’m just asking if they’d be justified if we don’t follow your wisdom. (I’m also not suggesting anything about their chances.)Report

      • Will Truman in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I would say yes. It gets dicier with states, but one of the risks with keeping something a territory is that they are not “all in” and you run the risk of rebellion.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to LeeEsq says:

        James, I would say that revolution in Puerto Rico, Guam, and other unincorporated territories would be justified if they wanted to go free and the American government would not let them.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Lee, thanks. I hope the question didn’t sound like a gotcha.Report

      • Gabriel Conroy in reply to LeeEsq says:

        The only way to avoid the paranoid style is to keep England, Scotland, and Wales in the Catholic fold.

        That’s what the Papists want us to believe!Report

  5. Mike Schilling says:

    The Tea Party is well-named, since refusing to be taxed to pay for the government services you consume is a longstanding American tradition.Report

  6. Saul Degraw says:



    I generally find arguments that we should not have rebelled from Great Britain to be perplexing because I find most counter-factuals and hypotheticals to be perplexing to downright insulting to the actual people who experienced said events and were the victims of various historical atrocities.

    Here is my general thought:

    1. No American Revolution=No French Revolution because the French crown would not go bankrupt in supporting the American Revolution and there would be no basis for the French to rebel. For better or for worse, the American Revolution did create the idea that people could overthrow governments they saw as tyrannical and oppressive. I largely say this was overall a good.

    2. No French Revolution=No Napoleon=No Napoleonic Wars. Largely a good from the prospective of Europeans probably EXCEPT.

    3. No Napoleonic Wars=No Emancipation of European Jews or a much latter emancipation. Unsurprisingly, I don’t support this.

    The American Revolution is one of the seminal events in history that helped create secular society and the modern world. It gave the notion of civil liberties that could not be trampled on at a whim and event though we have strong disagreements on the extent and scope of those liberties, I think most people share the notion of civil liberty as being good. Without the American Revolution, I suspect Europe would be more monarchist, more religious, and less free. In short the American Revolution was necessary for the creation of the modern secular world.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Britain was liberalizing. I think the notion of civil liberties would have come around anyway. Just not with Jefferson’s stirring but specious language attached, just Locke’s more pedestrian phrasing.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to James Hanley says:

        So you reject Jefferson on aesthetic grounds? 🙂Report

      • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

        No, the aesthetics are great. It’s the logic that is problematic.Report

      • The question is how the evangelical movements in the US would have played with the abolitionists in England. (I think I touched on this briefly with my Wilberforce post a couple years ago). Quakers and other dissident movements would’ve found a lot of support from Anglican moralists in Parliament for humanitarian reforms like abolition.

        The question is whether or not that would color the baptist oriented great awakenings in the US.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      No French revolution also leads to a world where liberalism and its ideas are much less widespread. More European countries would remain absolutist-bureaucratic monarchies with no elected legislatures longer.Report

      • North in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I remain skeptical that the lack of an American Revolution would have led to a lack of the French one. Granted the French wouldn’t have had the debt from supporting the American Civil War but I suspect the French Monarch would have simply spent the money on something else instead. It was ultimately, resentment of the aristocracy, tone deafness of the King and horrible mismanagement of the French State that led to the revolution. With good management the French debt could have been easily handled- France was a large and wealthy country.

        And of course with a French revolution would have come Napoleon and British North America would have taken the Louisiana Purchase territory away from France without having to ask for a single redcoat from England at that point. So absent the American revolution we’d have probably gotten the Mississippi for free. Alaska, though, is different question.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Louis XVI might have loved Marie Antoinette very much but I doubt even he could spend so much money on his wife. France did well economically and political for most of the 18th century. It was the financial crisis caused by backing the American Revolution combined with the ferocious spending habits at Versailles that led to the Revolution. French finances would be in much better shape without the American Revolution.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to LeeEsq says:

        If France didn’t help the pre – US they would have done something else – or the Brit empire would have done something – to cause the French to expend a lot of resources in a proxy and/or direct conflict with the UKians at the turn of the 19th century.

        There is no way the French system survives 19th century industrialization. A deferred french revolution most likely brings full blown Marxism or an equivalent to western Europe a good generation or 2 earlier than when it actually happened in Russia.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Hadn’t France been through like 3 republics and an equal number of emperors, dictators and or kings before most of Europe had anything resembling a parliamentary democracy (and besides anyone who already it on Bastille day like the dutch?)

        If anything the French Revolution entrenched what would be considered now reactionary forces up to and including the time of the unification of Germany and ItalyReport

      • Gabriel Conroy in reply to LeeEsq says:


        I agree. For one thing, the French involvement in the American Revolution was just one in a series of very expensive wars France fought against England throughout the 18th century. If it hadn’t happened in 1777 in America, it would have happened elsewhere, most likely. Maybe the bankruptcy would have come later than sooner, but the roots of the French Revolution were there at least since the Intendant system of Louis XIV.Report

      • Nob Akimoto in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I think to some degree this ignores the reality that Vienna was an attempt to shove liberalism back by a good two decades. Nationalist reforms pushed by bourgeoise ministers were usually curtailed as they became more and more suspect in the eyes of the frightened monrachs.

        Without the French Revolution and the necessary foreign policy moves and burdens Joseph II might survive a little longer as Holy Roman Empire, letting his reforms take root in Austro-Hungarian domains.

        On the other hand, without an American Revolution you might not see Pitt the Younger as prime minister of Britain, with all the reforms he made to state finances and trade policy. While Americans do love to crow about winning up to 1783 the truth of the matter is the British Empire came out of the American Revolution stronger than it went in. The revenues it lost from North America were quietly made up in the West Indies, and then Pitt went forward and destroyed Spanish monopolization of the Pacific with the Nootka Sound crisis (aka “The Spanish Disturbance), while shoving through extensive reforms in governance of India. Along with the financial reforms of the 1780s, the naval reforms forced during the Revolution, and the change in trade patterns, Britain in 1790 was arguably a more powerful state than it had been circa 1775.Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Hadn’t France been through like 3 republics and an equal number of emperors, dictators and or kings before most of Europe had anything resembling a parliamentary democracy (and besides anyone who already it on Bastille day like the dutch?). If anything the French Revolution entrenched what would be considered now reactionary forces up to and including the time of the unification of Germany and Italy.

        Kolohe – France had the First Republic (following the first, and famous, French Revolution); the First Empire (Napoleon); the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy (1815-30), now with a constitution which Louis XVIII somewhat accepted and his successor Charles X tried to reject; the July Monarchy of Louis-Philippe, a cousin of the Bourbons, who fully accepted the constitution and a somewhat more liberal state (1830-48); the Second Republic (1848-50), which had universal male suffrage but was quickly replaced by the Second Empire (1850-70) after the French elected Napoleon’s nephew as President. The Second Empire in turn fell after Louis-Napoleon’s disastrous defeat in the Franco-Prussian war; after the crushing of the socialist Paris Commune, the Third Republic was established and lasted until WWII. The Third Republic had universal suffrage, making it far more democratic than Germany (which had an extremely limited franchise) or any of the eastern European states.

        The problem with saying the French Revolution “entrenched reactionary forces” is that without the French Revolution there wasn’t anything to be reactionary against. The French Revolution successfully changed absolutist monarchy from being the status quo to fighting a rearguard action. Napoleon’s conquests abolished serfdom and ended a largely feudal system in the Holy Roman Empire; instituted a system of civil laws that applied equally to everyone (including providing legal equality to Jews); made state provision of education the norm; and left behind far more centralized and administratively-sophisticated states.

        If the Revolution scared some people off of the idea of democracy, that is massively outweighed by it making democracy – or at a minimum, constitutional monarchy – a viable possibility for European states, and something liberals and leftists could and did fight for, with substantial success, over the course of the 1800s. It arguably made the industrial revolution in Europe possible by abolishing serfdom in many areas Napoleon conquered – notably, countries like Russia which retained serfdom were far slower to industrialize, because they didn’t have people who could freely move to cities to take up manufacturing work.

        Essentially, the French Revolution made modern Europe possible. How the good and the bad of that balances out is a question that’s open to debate.Report

    • @saul-degraw

      See my response to North below (now in moderation, but hopefully to be rescued soon!) about why I agree with him that a French Revolution would likely have happened avec ou sans les entretiens en Amerique. Not that I’m a big fan of the French Revolution. The good that’s attributed to it and its aftermath might very well be truly good (although I have my doubts), but tell that to the people who were killed.

      But I’ll cop to another way of looking at your argument: I’m ignoring the fact (and I think it’s a pretty well-established fact) that the American Revolution enabled almost directly to the abolition of slavery in many of the northern colonies, and perhaps set in motion the eventual abolition throughout the country (although it’s equally plausible that US victory led to a retrenchment of slavery in the South). (I for one have my doubts that the UK could have abolished slavery on the continent in the way it did in the West Indies.) I’ll also admit that in the US, we have a much more robust set of freedoms thanks largely to the Revolution or to decisions made thereafter. There’s no first amendment in the UK.

      So yes, my questioning of the Revolution is a bit blithe. Still, I think people need better reasons to kill other people than the “patriots” had in the 1770s. It’s not enough to say, “let’s go to war and maybe several decades from now, good things most of us hadn’t really thought of will come about.”Report

    • 3. No Napoleonic Wars=No Emancipation of European Jews or a much latter emancipation. Unsurprisingly, I don’t support this.

      I don’t think this is necessarily true. Karl August Hardenberg of Prussia for example had been pushing for Jewish emancipation since the 1790s. He was the one who orchestrated the emancipation of 1812 as law. Given that there was a counter-revolutionary revulsion to emancipation AND abolition that came about as part of the French Revolution the lack of that stigma might have allowed progressive elites to push the reforms through earlier.Report

  7. Patrick says:

    At the moment I’m just at the start of Blood and Thunder (Kit Carson, James K Polk, the Mexican-American War, etc).

    One of the problems with the counterfactual approach to the U.S. Revolution is that most cases presuppose the relationship between the U.S. and Britain is kinda the only one involved. Geopolitics between 1500 and 1860 was a lot more complicated than that, and driven not just by Britain but Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Russia, France, and Germany in the West and India, China, Japan, and Korea in the East.

    Our Revolution was funded largely by France, for largely European-driven political calculus reasons. If the U.S. doesn’t revolt against England, the next step isn’t “What England and the U.S. do”, but “What France does”.

    If France and England get into direct conflict early, there is maybe no Franco-Prussian war because France is already done in. Russian fur trappers in Alaska may make it farther down the coast, and you might see Spain and Russia get into it over California.

    The U.S. Revolution was a symptom of European colonialism. It’s a mistake to think of it as a particular disease, itself.

    (I very much enjoyed the OP)Report

    • Patrick in reply to Patrick says:

      P.S. this is one of those posts where I wish Jason was more involved in the comments nowadays. He’s a much better historian than I am.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Patrick says:

      Though the one thing that the Brits did in North America more than any other competing power is send women ie families to settle vice just adventurers/fortune seekers that only were looking for gold or beavers and not a new life on “free” landReport

      • LeeEsq in reply to Kolohe says:

        That isn’t exactly true. The settlement of Virginia was initially as male heavy as the settlement of any Spanish colony and the French made great efforts into making sure that young French women immigrated to France’s colonies in the New World:

        There wasn’t really a set British policy for immigration to the North American colonies. The real reason why the gender ratio wasn’t as severe in the British colonies as it was in others were that many originated as attempts of dissidents like the Puritans and Quakers to get away from problems in England and set up new societies in the Americas. That tended to favor entire families to emigrate than just single men in search of adventure and profit like most Spanish and French immigrants. In the more profit oriented Southern colonies, there were many more men compared to women at least at first.Report

      • Michael Cain in reply to Kolohe says:

        Would you agree or disagree with the statement that no matter what the Crown and Parliament did about the disposition of the Northwest Territory, the British colonies that became the US were going to expand there, at a pace much faster than either the French or the Spanish? That the Crown simply lacked the resources to impose its will in that matter? And with that a done deal, that the same group were going to cross the Mississippi into the Louisiana Territory no matter what the French or Spanish said about it?Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Kolohe says:

        @michael-cain, I would agree that the British subjects of North America were going to move into the Northwest Territories regardless of the wish of the British Crown and Parliament. The population was booming and people wanted more land. They would than cross into French and Spanish territory just like Americans crossed into Mexican territory in actual history.

        I just wanted to correct Kolohe on his misconceptions on why more women came to the British colonies than other colonies.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Kolohe says:

        One line of my ancestors came to north America in late 18th century as part of the deliberate Brit policy of defrenching and decatholicing Atlantic Canada. (Probably to the annoyance of another line of ancestors that lived in Quebec at that time)Report

    • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Patrick says:


      The U.S. Revolution was a symptom of European colonialism. It’s a mistake to think of it as a particular disease, itself

      I think that’s about right, and if I’m wearing my historian’s and not my “I don’t like the American Revolution” hat, I’d have to admit that it’s one thing to understand what happened and why, and another not to like what happened.Report