George H. Smith

A Contemporary Critique of the Declaration of Independence

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I guess Americans got miffed when King George III refused even to consider their efforts at reconciliation in 1774, and when he declared instead that the New England colonies were in a state of rebellion, told Americans they "must either submit or triumph," and then raised thousands of troops, including feared German mercenaries, to conquer the colonies. I guess the Americans decided to fight instead of surrender. Eighteenth-century Americans were funny that way. Go figure.

Mercanaries are fighting voluntarily, so did the rest of George's army, right? The Americans had to draft their countrymen in order to win the war, is that correct?

These are honest questions. You're the expert, my knowledge on this topic is extremely superficial.

National conscription did not become a feature of armies until the time of the French Revolution. Americans relied on a mix of the Continental Army and militias. There was never a draft for the Continental Army per se that If know of; bounties were offerred to encourage men to join. Local militias traditionally had a compulsory element of some kind. Men between certain ages were expected to serve for up to one year, if necessary. George Washington complained about the many men who would leave in the middle of a campaign, when their enlistments were up; there was no way he could hold them.

As for the British, impressment into the navy was common. As in Europe generally, British army officers were largely aristocratic volunteers, whereas common soliders were drawn from the dregs of society, including criminals, and frequently were not given a choice. The German mercenaries (largely from the principality of Hesse-Kassel, hence the term "Hessians") followed the same pattern. Discipline was brutal (as satirized by Voltaire in Candide), and Hessians were notorious for their plundering of civilians, both friend and foe alike. The fact that Hessian mercenaries did not distinguish between the homes of rebels and loyalists turned many Americans against Britain during the early stages of the war.

German princes hired out regular army units to Britain. The princes were making the money here, not the soldiers. The constant fear of desertion dictated military policy; e.g., British and Hessian commanders would not allow their soldiers to pursue a routed enemy beyond a certain distance, because many of those soldiers would disappear into the American countryside and never return.

Americans won the war primarily for three reasons. First, British incompetence. Second, the brilliant "irregular" military tactics of General Nathaniel Greene (the "fighting Quaker") during the Southern Campaign. Third, because after the Battle of Saratoga, the French, eager to regain territory lost in the Seven Years' War, officially joined the American side and were later followed by Spain and Holland. The American War for Independence became an international war, and the Brits had to use their resources elsewhere. The West Indies, for example, were more important economically to the Brits than were the 13 mainland colonies.

Ghs

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Americans had a lot of vital luck on their side, too, which meant the Brits didn't. The whole war, though, seems to have pivoted, although that couldn't have been overtly apparent at the time, on the battle of Saratoga. The best luck of all, however, was to the Brits for losing that war--look at the next two centuries of history--and the worst luck was to the French. France never really recovered from the revolution and Napoleon. Even today they are second-rate to the Germans. They've been that way ever since Wellington was re-enforced at the Battle of Waterloo. Something got stamped into the national DNA making appearances so much more important than substance. It seems it might be a jejune machismo for their elite--from Spain, from North Africa--so obvious in Mexico--and the ascendancy of the chattering sidewalk cafe class and third-rate intellectuals infecting the world with Marxism.

(For the record, I admit that the last half of the above paragraph is speculative bs.)

--Brant

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Americans had a lot of vital luck on their side, too, which meant the Brits didn't. The whole war, though, seems to have pivoted, although that couldn't have been overtly apparent at the time, on the battle of Saratoga. The best luck of all, however, was to the Brits for losing that war--look at the next two centuries of history--and the worst luck was to the French. France never really recovered from the revolution and Napoleon. Even today they are second-rate to the Germans. They've been that way ever since Wellington was re-enforced at the Battle of Waterloo. Something got stamped into the national DNA making appearances so much more important than substance. It seems it might be a jejune machismo for their elite--from Spain, from North Africa--so obvious in Mexico--and the ascendancy of the chattering sidewalk cafe class and third-rate intellectuals infecting the world with Marxism.

(For the record, I admit that the last half of the above paragraph is speculative bs.)

--Brant

Your speculations are anything but BS. My only serious disagreement is with your tracing the major problems of France to its Revolution of 1789. The problems go back well before the French Revolution. This was a major theme in Tocqueville's great work, The Old Regime and the French Revolution. (I personally regard this as a better book than Tocqueville's better-known Democracy in America. I first learned of it while taking a college course from sociologist Robert Nisbet.)

The French were providing financial support even before they officially entered the war after Saratoga. There was a great irony in this, because this aid was a major factor in bankrupting the French government, and this bankruptcy, in turn, was a major factor in bringing about the French Revolution.

Turgot, the libertarian economist, statesman, and controller-general of France from 1774-1776, was an avid supporter of American independence. He was also an avid opponent of French aid for America, because he foresaw the financial disaster looming ahead. Turgot argued that Americans should be able to win the war on their own and that the French government should stay out of the conflict. Turgot had no problem, however, with French volunteers and voluntary contributions.

Turgot was one of the few real libertarians in history who managed to climp to the top of the political ladder. He made radical proposals and serious efforts to transform the French economy into a free market. He lasted less than two years, as special interests ganged up against him.

Ghs

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Didn't Turgot want to economically empower the lower agricultural classes with private ownership of land? I'm fuzzy on this point, but there was a great opportunity lost there. Sorry I forgot to mention the economic cost of the war to France. My allusion to it was too weak considering how important it was. The fact that France was tremendously powerful in the late 18th C. is underscored by how much war it could support with Napoleon's military genius and it illustrates how much ruin there can be in a country. There is a lot of unrealized ruin in the United States today and it may yet engage in some vigorous and horrific wars compared to what is going on now.

--Brant

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Turgot was one of the few real libertarians in history who managed to climp to the top of the political ladder. He made radical proposals and serious efforts to transform the French economy into a free market. He lasted less than two years, as special interests ganged up against him.

Turgot became known as "Turgot the Great." My old friend and colleague, the historian Ralph Raico, used to talk about Turgot during his IHS and Cato lectures on European history. Ralph, with his wonderfully wry sense of humor, would say that Turgot was the only historical figure he could think of who was called "the Great" without having been a mass murderer. :smile:

Ghs

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I wonder how long Ron Paul might last if he ever was elected President?

--Brant

the only candidate who understands what's going on economically and knows what to do about it

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