Good post on Nutrition and Life Expectancy in Colonial American vs. Engand, on the very good 2Blowhards blog, talking about Robert Fogel’s book The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100. (Fogel is a ChicagoBoy). Friedrich von Blowhard’s post provoked a good discussion in the comments. I made the following contribution:
The American colonists were responding to changes in the way Britain sought to govern them. After the Glorious Revolution of 1688 Parliament was supreme. Most of the colonies had been founded before that time. The colonies were governed by people who believed in an older model which focused on limitations on government power; they were descendents of people who had fled from over-reaching government power. They clung to a notion of limited government, with the King in particular being subject to limits on his power. The post-1688 British government, which prevails to this day in most ways, is in essence a parliamentary dictatorship. The British parliament, and now only the House of Commons, faces virtually no express limitations on its powers. The men who constituted the British House of Commons in the 1700s were a hard-nosed class who were interested in exploiting the territories under their control for economic advantage. They saw the American colonies as operating outside of their control, and they wanted to rectify that, to make them work for the benefit of Britain’s elite. The American colonists saw accurately where all this was going. In the years before the revolution, they wanted to have their loyalty be to the King, but not the new all-powerful parliament, with their own legislatures being in effect the local equivalent of the British parliament. The British governing class rejected the legal arguments for this, which were compelling. They were having none of it. They wanted control.
Eventually, the Americans saw, they would have to strike out on their own, or become subject in every important respect to control from Britain, for the advantage of Britain, and lose all their rights as equal British subjects. They chose to fight instead. Had they not done so, or lost, we can get a good idea of what ongoing British rule would have looked like by looking at the fate of Ireland and India and the Caribbean islands during this era. A class of English landlords and businessmen, with a small body of British troops and a larger body of locally-raised police and troops, keep order by harsh means, denied legal and political rights to their subjects, and extracted the economic wealth of the places under their control with a high degree of ruthlessness.
It was not about a few pennies on a packet of tea. The British were clever. They wanted the Americans to admit the principle that they could be directly taxed, by starting small. But once the principal is admitted, you have given away absolutely everything. The Founders were mostly lawyers, many of them London-trained. They knew exactly what was going on — their freedom, their charters, their own governments, their civil and political rights, all would be lost if they admitted that Parliament could tax their tea. They were legalistic men living in a legalistic age, but they were also men who sincerely believed in freedom and its value. Paradoxically this was particularly true of slave-owners, who knew firsthand what it was not to live in freedom, since they exercised mastery over human beings themselves, and preferred death to that condition for themselves. This is hard for we people of the year 2006 to get our heads around, but the past was a very different place.
My bottom line conclusion: The Americans were right to fight.
Good books on this subject include M. Stanton Evans, The Theme is Freedom (on the self-understanding of the American revolutionaries); Charles H. McIlwain, The American Revolution: A Constitutional Interpretation (an older book which takes seriously the Constitutional and legal arguments made by both sides in the run-up to the war); David Hackett Fischer, Paul Revere’s Ride (which has an excellent short discussion of the British ruling class and its worldview at the outbreak of the Revolution).
I’ve got the Fogel book at home. Some day I’ll get to it.
Cross-posted on Albion’s Seedlings
(Incidentally, Michael Blowhard had a lengthy and very moving post about Townes van Zandt which I strongly commend to your attention.)