POPULAR SUPPORT FOR SEPARATION:
The American Revolution was, in fact, not avidly supported by the majority of the American Population. To cite a commonplace historical ruling, the Separatist faction only consisted of about 33% of those residing in the colonies during the period herein considered. Loyalists made up approximately another 33%, while those committed to neither party made up the remaining 33%.(1)
These figures should point to several things; first, the Separatists needed to control the non-committed population through fear, exercising considerable efforts in attaining that objective. Second, the groups composing each of the factions had differing interests, and therefore would be engaged in different businesses, churches and social classes. An examination of this distribution, as best it can be made, will shed considerable light on the interests of each movement. Third, the victorious faction would have to protect its power in some way after gaining any ground. An investigation into the ways power was achieved, maintained and institutionalized will illuminate the interests of each party more clearly.
The first faction to be considered is necessarily that of the Separatists. This party boasted such personages leading them as John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Patric Henry, Philip Schuyler and sundry others yet to be mentioned. Even a cursory investigation into these persons into the characters, interests, and businesses of these persons should quickly give an overview of the party’s common goals, interests and intentions.
To start with John Hancock, we have an already-unflattering view of the Separatist party.(1) A known smuggler continually engaged in dodging taxes and government Customs agents, John Hancock’s commercial interests were principally mercantile. Hancock was a Supporter of the Non-Importation movement due to the fact his smuggled tea sold at a higher price than that which would be imported by the East India Company. Further, Hancock’s opposition to British rule can be summarized very simply: increased government activity enforcing commercial law cuts into business, and increased taxes reduce profits. A member of the Sons of Liberty, Hancock was a central figure in councils whose decisions included threats on competing shipping companies and their personnel, destroyed the property of same during the Boston Tea Party, resolved to boycott and target for political violence those who continued to import British Manufactures, and sundry other major Ethical and Moral, to let alone Legal transgressions.
Philip Schuyler also illustrates the group which supported the revolution very well. A landed aristocrat from Albany, New York, he had established himself in all aspects of trade, including lumber, agricultural products, shipping, the West Indies trade and a massive landholder. Also active in provincial politics, he looked with disdain on Democratic ideals, and the Separatist cause stood to remove British laws limiting his own gain in landholding and business. Attempting to establish himself as a pseudo-feudal lord in the leases he gave to tenants, his landholding and commercial interests would be greatly forwarded by independence. (2)
George Washington, as Aforementioned was an investor in the Ohio Companies, and stood to loose money thereupon due to the passing of the Quebec Act. Further, as a Wealthy Virginia Plantation Owner, taxes on Glass, Lead, Tin, Paper, Tea and other British Manufactures would have impaired his ability to maintain his plantation, reduced profits and, as proposed by T. H. Breen, Impair his ability to be British through the acquisition of the latest British fashions and goods.(3) As Washington, and most Colonial Gentry were British only by extraction, this imitation of the British Gentry in every way was what made them British, their final Aspiration. Thus, opposition to the British rule comes, arguably, from economic and social standing, and risk to investment caused thereby.
Since the majority of the Separatist Party’s leaders were composed of this set of society, it stands to reason that their interests would dominate the party. Such goals as reduced taxation, a clear path for business and profits, open lands for speculation and loose enforcement of the law would be the primary planks of their platform.
It was observed by many in the time period that those who supported the Separatist cause were generally not in the interests of the populace as a whole. In such works as “At a Meeting of the TRUE Sons of Liberty, in the City of New-York” they are described as being elitist, and not reflecting the general interest of the populace. As stated in the aforementioned satire:
2. RESOLVED, That we have the whole Sense of the City, County, Province, and all the Colonies, concentrated in our own Persons.
3. RESOLVED, Therefore, that a general Congress (saving Appearances) would be unnecessary and useless.
6. RESOLVED, That the fittest Persons to carry on this great, good, necessary and godly Work, are not such as the Freeholders, in their respective Counties and Colonies, have elected to be their Representatives they being supposed to be Men of Conscience and Understanding–but such only as OURSELVES; who have not been used to Speculation and Refinement; but simply fitted, by our Lives and Conversation, for right-forward Doings; which are the only Doings, in these distresful[Sic] Times, that ought to go right forward.
15. RESOLVED, That it is a General Mark of Patriotism, to eat the King’s Bread, and abuse him for giving it.
The question which arises is how one would get the rest of the population to side with this party. The answer is, as aforementioned, producing a state of fear against one’s opponents. Once this environment is established, the populace sides with the revolutionary party, with those who are implicitly protecting them from the “feared other.” The same techniques were of course used by the revolutionary Fascists in the 20th century.
This faction was, in most cases, a minority of the population (1). As explained in a broadside addressed “To the respectable body of Gentlemen…” in New York, “a Number of persons, very inconsiderable in comparison to the Number who constitute the Body of the freeholders and freemen of this city… have presumed to call themselves a Committee from the Body of the Inhabitants of the City, and in that Character have arbitrarily censured and threatened several worthy and respectable Persons amongst our Fellow Citizens.”
To then consider the opposition, or Loyalist party, it consisted principally of Crown Officers, the Mercantile classes engaged in licit enterprises, tradesmen, and, of course, some of the general populace. Added to this is a large number of Liberated slaves during the revolutionary war who sided with the British to gain their freedom, and the illustration of this party is a bit different than that of the Separatists.(1)
This is the party which almost entirely followed along within the law, both in commerce and political action. I have found it challenging to discover evidence of Loyalist mob violence, secret committees or most any form of extralegal activity. Such activities were deemed not only underhanded, but under the station of the loyalist.
The evidence presented by Loyalist Propaganda shows a much more balanced view of the situation, and shows an adherence to rational argument or satire. While the Sons of Liberty are declaimed, it is on the grounds that their meetings are illegal, as are their methods. Further, in regards to their representation of public opinion and the root of issues, they clearly and concisely point to the roots of the problem: The merchants siding for non-importation in their commercial interest, and that minority falsely determining their opinions to be that of the general population by underhanded methods.
There were Loyalist organizations which held a more martial footing. Militias were formed as violence rose in frequency and war loomed on the horizon, and a few of those were Loyalist units. Some of these were supported by the local British military commands, others were essentially independent companies. Raised to defend against Separatist violence, these units eventually became the foundations of several Royal American Regiments such as the Queen’s Rangers.(1)
Despite the presence of these militias, however, there is little to indicate their widespread use in political violence of the same type (and scope) as the Sons of Liberty.
- Allen, Thomas B. Tories: Fighting for the King in America’s First Civil War (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2010) The estimate is vary general, and of course varies over time and location during the period in question. The element of true import, is that the portion of the population actively supporting the Separatist cause was NEVER IN THE MAJORITY. In fact, the end of the Revolution saw between 16-20% of the population of the new United States flee the country. Based on this, there is clear indication of the minority of the Revolutionaries.
- Gerlach, Don R. Philip Schuyler and the American Revolution in New York 1733-1777. (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1964)
- Breen, T.H. “‘Baubles of Briton’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century.” Past and Present, No. 119 (May 1988) PP. 73-104