Quick Hit: We’ve Forgotten What Exercised Mr. Revere

January 29, 2014

The American War of Independence was fought “by British Americans against a German King for British ideals.” — Lady Astor

Other than the fact that the first American settlements wouldn’t have survived had they not abandoned that picture-perfect “sharing” Thanksgiving for a less dramatic year-round market-based economy, America’s defining historical moment may be Paul Revere’s Ride. Yes, it was actually a ride, but he wasn’t shouting “The British are coming!”

Dan Hannan argues in his new book that it would have made no sense to yell such a thing to a population that at the time would have never thought of itself as anything but British:

“What Paul Revere shouted was, ‘The regulars are out’ (or, according to one source, ‘The redcoats are out’). In America, as elsewhere in the Anglosphere, people had an ingrained distrust of standing armies, seeing them as instruments of internal repression.”

The larger point is that the American Revolution wasn’t about expelling a foreign power — at least not initially. Rather, it was about restoring well-established individual rights of British subjects (the colonists) being usurped by an arrogant King George (a centralized governmental power) and his redcoats (seminal versions of Homeland Security, FBI, IRS, etc.) — the instruments of that usurpation.

And those rights, as both the King and Paul Revere would have known, were not invented self-serving on the spot. They dated back to 1642 and the English Civil War fought over the very same principle, i.e., that historically exceptional relationship between a free people and their limited government that is both the United States and the United Kingdom.

Finally, Hannan reminds us that the 18th-century meaning of the word “revolution” did not imply so much the changing of things but the restoration of things: “When they (the colonists) used the word ‘revolution,’ they meant it in the sense of a full turn of the wheel, a restoration of that which had been placed the wrong way up.”

If there is a difference between that situation and ours, it escapes this writer. — Craig Ladwig

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