The Dangerous Myths of the American Revolution and Political Violence in 2021
There are many things broken in the American psyche and society that both led us to elect someone like Donald Trump and have a current situation where a third of the nation seems open to a coup to keep him in power. There are many aspects of our history and society that have led to this phenomenon: religious fundamentalism, a broken education system, etc. However, one aspect that has not been as focused on as much is some of the problematic myths we have about our nation-particularly those surrounding the American Revolution.The myth goes something like this: the colonists were being brutally oppressed by the British government. They were not being given equal rights and were being denied the basic human rights that all people deserve. Therefore, they started a violent revolution because this was the only way to actually bring about democracy and guarantee rights for all. The violence was worth it as it led to positive ends.
There are many issues with these narratives. First of all, as many historians and scholars have pointed out, Native Americans and African Americans were not part of that “greater liberty”. What many in the U.S. society do not realize is that the American Revolution negatively affected these groups, which is why many fought on the side of the British. It is also false that this was a battle of democracy vs monarchy. It is important to remember that the British were already on the road to a more democratic system with a Parliament and limited powers for the monarch. The U.S. colonists were also divided on exactly how the new system of government would work. Alexander Hamilton wanted a president for life, which would not be that much different than a king. There were also many aspects built into the U.S. Constitution (like the electoral college and Senate) that limited the power of the people to actually make change.
Finally, it is false that the colonists were facing widespread, unsurmountable oppression. They paid less taxes than many in England while reaping the benefits of British protection. The taxation without representation mantra was true, but it was also an ideological issue more than one that put an oppressive burden on the people. This might be the reason why the majority of the colonists were not in favor of the revolution at the beginning and many only joined when forced to pick sides.
This is not just a historical exercise, it is deeply important as it relates to 2021 with talk of taking down tyranny in the light of conspiracy theories about voter fraud. Some of these far right individuals see themselves as modern day patriots. When this twisted historical myth is at the center of our national consciousness, it opens the door for all types of justification for violence, even when the irony is that these are the forces fighting against democracy.
We can celebrate some of the steps forward that came out of the American Revolution, including a system of government that was slightly more democratic than the one in Great Britain and a strong Bill of Rights which went far beyond the rights of most in that day. However, we should be very cautious when glorifying the War for Independence and seeing all modern day events through that lens. Those who think they are patriots may end up being coup leaders and terrorist and all do so why claiming to be modern Paul Reveres.