Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Guest Blogging: Was American independence a good thing?

Couple of days ago, commenter Don submitted the following comment to my Independence Day entry. For I consider it too thoughtful and elaborate to go unnoticed in the comment section of a week-old entry and because I want to show my appreciation for Don's efforts to keep this blog a two-way thing, I'm making his comment an entry of it's own:

Was American independence a good thing? Taken as a whole the answer is clearly yes, although many people would probably disagree.

Those who disagree might include some American Indians and some people of the EU, particularly French, Germans, Japanese, and perhaps the English, though the Polish, Danish, Dutch might not agree with them. But even among these peoples many would agree that US independence has been a good thing.

No new thing comes into the earth without consequences both positive and negative; the US is no exception to that. The emergence of the US eventually led to a diminuation of European influence and power which had varying negative effects as perceived by some Europeans, a fact that goes some way to explaining the strong strain of anti-Americanism which Europeans have harbored for a long time.

The French feel that the US has put their cultural influence in the shade, and the fact that the US probably saved France from defeat in WWI and liberated it in WWII seems to bear little weight with many French. Absent US intervention there is small doubt that Germany would have won WWI.

The very act of revolution which was the cradle of the American state was an offense to the British Empire - most particularly it's government, which then could best be described as being of, by, and for the aristocrats, gentry, Nabobs from India, and sugar plantation owners of the British Islands and the sugar islands of the Carribean.

Many modern 'scholars' argue that "Taxation Without Representation" had little or nothing to do with the revolution. They could not be more wrong; it had everything to do with it. The events of the 1760's and 1770's were occasioned by a fiscal crisis caused by deficit spending incurred by the UK in winning the Seven Years War of 1756-63, the first global war. This was exacerbated by a corrupt political system, the so-called 'Rotten Borough' system used in selectcing Parliament.

The wisest course in dealing with the fiscal and political crisis would have been political reform resulting in a representative Parliament possessing the political legitimacy to raise taxation on those who could best bear the burden (such as the sugar planters and nabobs from India). That could not be done because these people possessed major factions in the House of Commons and the King's govrnment depended upon them.

The British Crown instead sought to raise taxes on those who had no voice in the Commons - the North American colonies. Once the Crown's right to do so had been established those taxes would have soared and probably would have strangled the economies of the 13 colonies. It was this which drove the delegates of the Constitutional Convention to pledge "life, fortune, and sacred honor" to what was really a very desperate enterprise - taking on the most powerful monarchy on the earth with no assurance they would win. These men knew that if they lost and were captured by British forces they would be hung for treason and their families impoverished - yet they revolted anyway.

As we know they 'won'. Many of the signers lost everything in the ensuing war and very few grew richer except in the long term. Nevertheless the Declaration of Independence of 1776 and the Constitution of 1789 created a new thing on the earth - a government based upon the suffrage of free men which granted no privilege to advanteges of birth nor allowed a state religion. It was not perfect; neither women nor slaves were allowed to vote. But those failings were ultimately made good and the idea itself exploded like a bomb on the world stage; most notably and violently in France.

The world has not been the same since. I would argue that it is the most significant political idea since the Roman Republic.

7 comments:

Rayson said...

Interesting thoughts, indeed. Thanks, Don. One thing I would like to stress is that Europe's history is strongly influenced by the US independance and its consequences. And vice versa. Trying to deny these close bonds would seem rather artifical to me.

May I additionally introduce something unexpected into this discussion: Russia aka the Soviet Union.

When Don mentions a diminishing European influence in the world, we should not forget that without the US it could have been much worse, especially after WWII. Honestly, I don't need an important role of Germany in the world - all what I want is a life in peace and liberty. Although Russia could be seen as a part of Europe I am quite happy that its power has been opposed by a strong America.

I know the impact of American support on Russias defence - sorry: defense ;-) - capabilities in WWII but in my opinion Germany alone never would have won this war, even if Roosevelt had decided to stay outside. Russia's landmass is unconquerable, most notably if the aggressor does everything to make civilians hate him. I even won't change my mind if we bring Japan in. But o.k. that's pure play.

Although the honeymoon of West Europe and America may be over (one day it will be the same with "New Europe"), I still think that most West Europeans have a quite pragmatic look on the United States: Provided that there has to be a super power in the world we could imagine much worse job holders...

So I think American independance was a good thing for Americans, and not a bad one for the rest of the world.

Don said...

It's difficult to discuss what the world would have been like without the US because many of the power balances would be out of whack in different ways.

If you think (as I do) that the 13 colonies were going to become an immense problem for the UK and a big revolution would come sooner or later, then one could see Napoleon (of France) benefitting. If one sees the 13 colonies as a British dominion then the new state would probably be confined to the east coast of North America (that was British policy circa 1770) and what? Possibly an uber Mexico, with Russian possessions in Alaska and Oregon. The UK would be a bigger power under this scenario but the US would count scarcely more than Canada.

I think that means German dominance in continental Europe. Could Germany 'beat' Russia? Well they did once - in 1917. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk left Kaiserine Germany with huge chunks of formerly Russian Poland and Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Lebensraum it wasn't - but it would have left a victorious Kaiserine Germany with the whip hand on that frontier for a long time with Russian and France broken. Germany was a perfectly plausible winner of WWI and superpower if the US had never existed.

Anonymous said...

the comment "Germany would have won WWII without US intervention" is a little cloudy. having studied the Eastern Front at length, things were already going to hell in a handbasket over there by the time of the Normandy Invasion (the first large gathering of Allied Armies in Europe since the defeat of France in June 1940) forcing Germany to fight a very real two front war. remember the Russian attack that ripped open and destroyed Army Group Center in July 1944 which brought the Russians deep into Poland.

by this time in the war the Germans were heavily outnumbered in men, guns, tanks, and aircraft all over the Eastern Front and were pushed back by sheer force of numbers and were losing men and weapons that they couldn't replace.

Don said...

The comment was that Germany would have won the First World War without US intervention. WWII would not have happened, at least not in the same manner.

Rayson said...

The Brest-Litowsk treaty was only possible because of the Russian revolution. And since Napoleon one thing has been confirmed: You may "beat" Russians but you can't beat Russia.

Don said...

And the Russian Revolution was only possible because the Russian Empire was losing the War, eh Rayson?

Had the Third Reich been a more reasonable crowd something might have happened to Stalin. It's vary hard to make common cause with someone when you are extirmenating them every chance you get - a fact of life Hitler seems to have missed along the way....

Rayson said...

@don

You are right, the war accelerated things (among other things Germany took Lenin back to Russia), but it wasn't the reason.

I absolutely agree with your second paragraph.