I’m reading some Europeans writing about our Revolutionary War. Their interesting perspectives give me some new insights. Washington was quite angry about how things shook out for tobacco planters in the 1760s. The system seemed rigged with British merchants raising prices for the tools he needed, Brit bankers raising interest, regulations that were squelching the tobacco market, and of course, taxes—Stamp Act. He had also incurred enormous debt trying to make his planting biz work. And a land company he had bought shares in to develop Kentucky was nixed by British government policy to restrict colonists to east of the Appalachians. The reason is that in the aftermath of the French and Indian War, the British government had huge debt which gave place to a debt crisis. They had no funds to keep law enforcement in America, so they tried to separate the natives from the colonists by boundary. And they needed to raise money to administer the colonists, hence the Stamp Act. Washington was caught in the vise of European problems.
But does that make you into a revolutionary? Hardly. In the aftermath of the Stamp Act, the Brits repealed and replaced with another new tax on staples, the Townsend Acts which really made all the colonists mad. That was repealed by colonial rioting and the Tea Act passed. Of course that resulted in the Boston Tea Party in 1773. Then came the “Intolerable Acts” which brought in marshall law to subdue Boston. Washington decided to forget tobacco and began to use his head to diversify his farming, start breweries, mills, blacksmithing and half a dozen other enterprises that made him a suddenly rich man.
Rich men don’t revolt, lest the ensuing chaos cause loss of property. And so the angry Americans split into two groups, the elites who wanted a negotiated independence or reconciliation, and the poor who hoped for chaos and spoils. But Washington and many of our founders were of a third mind, that this revolt was about a popular government. Where did they get this? The Europeans speculate that it came from Rene Descartes who promoted the individual through reasoning as opposed to “received wisdom” from church and state that people formerly relied on. And the Whigs of England who espoused parliamentary rule and wanted a constitutional monarchy. Two problems with these views. First, Descartes’ logic would argue for a cognitive elite, not popular rule. Second, the Whigs weren’t so radical. They just wanted a strong Parliament in England and still expected a King. Somewhere these Americans had come up with Revolution. Where?
Washington, born 1732 was 8-10 years old when a religious revival, the Great Awakening, took place. The Europeans never mention faith in any of their histories of America. But nearly all our founders were kids, like Washington when the Great Awakening took place. As the evangelist, George Whitfield traveled up the coast, newspapers recorded the happening. Everywhere people reacted the same—huge numbers came to faith or renewed their dedication, well-known scoundrels suddenly changed their ways, church attendance tripled all over the colonies in 20 months, even diests and agnostics began to question what was going on. Newspapers, noting the similarity began to write about “the united states” as opposed to the 13 differing states. We are One People. And in the aftermath of this revival, the Americans began to read John Locke, the radical whose “Two Treatises on Government” had always been considered too wild and crazy by Europeans. For Locke took his Christianity to mean that if God guides you, who am I to stand in the way you conduct your business? I might be standing in the way of God! That defines Locke’s “Liberty” and explains his religious tolerance. The Declaration of Independence quotes Locke twice and his principles all over the place. In this document, the “no taxation without representation” is only one of the 22 causes of abuse by the crown. The others are all the rights taken away from the English Bill of Rights of 1689 and rights to property, faith choice, and evangelism to the Indians—Locke!
Only by understanding the faith dimension can we understand the revolt and why it so inflamed Americans. This is why Wasington, who owned 20,000 acres and dozens of businesses, would risk it all. Why Patrick Henry stood up in the back of the gallery and yelled, “Is security so sweet or peace so dear that it must be bought with chains and even slavery? I know not what course others may take but give me Liberty or give me death!” And it can only explain the result. One by one the rich Virginia planters of the House of Burgesses stood to give Henry a standing ovation. That two free Afro-Americans rowed Washington over the Delaware. That the backwoods rednecks of Carolina, who lived by subsistence, would rise up against the British army at King’s Mountain. That women climbed trees at Saratoga and became snipers. England and Europe thought the war was about taxes. Americans understood Liberty was far deeper, your very life.