Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Whiggish American Orthodoxy

This will make everybody mad. From the Imaginative Conservative:
Conservative publications, particularly The Imaginative Conservative, have recently published a number of articles defending the principles of the American Revolution. I suspect it has something to do with reaffirming the idea that the Founding Fathers were good old-fashioned Whiggish conservatives who sought to refine the unwritten English constitutions and secure their traditional English liberties, with the notion of national sovereignty thrown in. If successful, this would be a compelling case that the American Republic is essentially a conservative body politic.

It is worth noting two potential errors. One, the Left does not really care what the Founding Fathers think; and two, that is bad history.

The first point goes without saying—and, to the Left’s credit, they are right. C.S. Lewis said, “When I have started a sum the wrong way, the sooner I admit this and go back and start again, the faster I shall get on. There is nothing progressive about being pig headed and refusing to admit a mistake.” If the American Revolution was incorrect, our wanting it to be correct won’t change that fact. The Left has yet to be so bold as to say, “To Hell with the Revolution,” but they will. Because it doesn’t serve their purposes. It was, at heart, a Whig’s revolt, and the Left is rapidly departing from the narrow American tradition of Whiggism—that is, the slightly more conservative and slightly more liberal perspectives of Whiggism that have been contending throughout the three party systems and will continue to butt heads until the Left can no longer even pretend at being capitalists anymore. I wish them the best. We’d all be better off in this country if everyone just said what they meant.

That goes for conservatives, too. There’s neither the time nor the space to go into much detail, but it ought to be pointed out that the orthodox Triumphalist rendering of that unfortunate period is characterized by two things more: inadequate reporting and lousy politics.

First off, the events themselves. This information is readily available and time is short, so a quick survey of pre-Revolutionary conditions will have to suffice.

I. The British essentially collected 0% of the taxes that were on the books in the Colonies. For most of Colonial history, London just did not need the money. They needed New England lumber and Southern cotton and slaves to keep their intercontinental trade system afloat.

II. When they did decide to collect modest taxes on goods such as tea and stamps it was only to pay for the debt incurred by defending the American frontier from skirmishes and wars with the French and Native Americans provoked by ambitious settlers and jumpy militias (e.g. then Col. George Washington’s unprovoked attack on French troops at Jumonville Glen).
III. When the Americans complained, the British withdrew most of the taxes and resorted to establishing a monopoly on the tea trade, which threatened the interests of smugglers like John Hancock.
IV. The very few British troops that had turned up in the colonies were there to fight their skirmishes for them, and for no other reason. The colonies were generally left to their own devices so long as they continued to trade with the motherland. (Read more.)

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