Review of "The True History of the American Revolution" by Sydney George Fisher

It looks like this book is still in print (it was originally published in 1902) and for good reason.  It presents the history of the American Revolution from a more even-handed perspective than I am used to reading.  The resulting history is more believable than the classic story and, in many ways, more interesting.

Mr Fisher begins by stressing the importance of the French presence on the North American continent prior to the first stirring of the revolutionary spirit.  The presence of France held colonists to England since the colonists needed English protection.  The French presence also forced England to be lenient with the colonists, as the colonists could have turned to the French if they were dissatisfied with English rule.

In reading the "true" history, one is still struck by some of the colonists strong sense of what it meant to be free that we have lost.  Who among us now would fight against all taxes – or even for lower taxes?  Would the following happen now: "it had been the practice in America ever since 1670 to try all smuggling and revenue cases in the admiralty courts, which acted without a jury, because it was found that no American jury would convict a smuggler?"  I think not.

Still, the "true" history is careful to emphasize that colonists wanted to make as much money as possible by selling goods to the highest bidder (English or otherwise) and paying the least in taxes.  Mr Fisher emphasizes the financial gain that many colonists stood to reap from revolution: "good people in England and many members of Parliament looked upon the whole revolutionary movement as merely an attempt of debt-ridden provincials to escape from their obligations."  Of course inflationary colonial money didn't help, but that's another story.

We are always taught (in the non-"true" version of the history, I suppose) that the colonials wanted representation if they were going to be taxed, but Mr Fisher makes clear that everyone at the time knew that representation was impossible, so basically the colonists were asking to not be taxed.

The most interesting aspect of the "true" history is that Mr Fisher paints the struggle which we commonly view as between England and America as a struggle between Whigs and Tories.  Initially, the English troops were led by General Howe, while the navy was led by his brother, Admiral Howe.  Both were committed Whigs.  Whigs, at the time, were sympathetic to American independence.  Mr Fisher chronicles Tory condemnations of Howe's handling of the war.  It's hard not to agree with Mr Fisher that Howe prosecuted the war less vigorously than would have been prudent.  Howe could likely have defeated Washington's army several times if he had followed up more aggressively.  The positions of Howe's party certainly looked better given the outcomes that actually happened.  Perhaps this was just coincidence though.  Fisher is careful point out that "When, finally, peace was declared and the treaty acknowledging independence signed in 1783, it was done by a Whig ministry.  Tories do no sign treaties granting independence."

I have just given a brief sketch of the Howe controversy between Whigs and Tories.  The book is worth reading for the full version, even if you exclude the rest of the interesting material, which include descriptions of  terrible treatment of loyalists and the origination of lynching.  The question of whether the American loyalists to England were correct all along is also fascinating.  Mr Fisher believes that "if loyalists could come back from the grave, they would probably say that their fears and prophecies had been fulfilled in the most extraordinary manner; sometimes liberally; in most cases substantially.  There is no question that the Revolution was followed by a great deal of bad government, political corruption, section strife, coarseness in manners, hostility to the arts and refinements of life, assassination, lynch law, and other things which horrified Englishmen."


2 Responses to Review of "The True History of the American Revolution" by Sydney George Fisher

  1. […] written by the losing side from America’s major wars (for example, here’s one from the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the German Wars, and the Cold War). Mr Douthat’s list may provide you with […]

  2. […] This is a popular book in our little corner of the web, and I took some time earlier this summer to get through it. Foseti wrote about it back in 2008. […]

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