American Revolution – anything like Thucydides?

Pat and I were recently discussing Thucydides and his famous comments on the terrors of revolutions.

I asked whether the loyalists suffered during the American Revolution in the ways that Thucydides described happened to many during the civil wars that raged among the Greeks.

We took a quick look online and could not find evidence for terrors wreaked upon loyalists. Rather, we found sources that claimed that loyalists were treated rather well – as long as they didn’t say or do too much.

However, this past weekend, the Wall Street Journal ran an article – Did Fear or Principle Motivate Opponents Of U.S. Revolution? – that described some of the troubles loyalists ran into.

“Violence against loyalists wasn’t uncommon. Some were tarred and feathered. Hundreds were jailed.”

Various counts differ – loyalits made up anywhere from 20% to 33% of the American population at the time of the Revolution. Many fled, most lost property.

The loyalists seemed to share Thucydides politics – they prefered a relatively benign but powerful ruler to the “madness of the multitude.”

“Almost all of the loyalists were, in one way or another, more afraid of America than they were of Britain,” said William H. Nelson in the 1961 “The American Tory.” Or as the Reverend Mather Byles put it in the 18th century, “They call me a brainless Tory, but tell me… which is better — to be ruled by one tyrant 3,000 miles away or by 3,000 tyrants one mile away?”

I’m betting that William H. Nelson and Reverend Mather Byles read and agreed with Thucydides.


05. July 2006 by Arrian
Categories: Commentary, Thucydides | Tags: | 1 comment

One Comment

  1. <p>
    Hardcore patriots were fighting and supporting, but at a certain point, when Gates’ army in the South was crushed and Greene was sent to command the Southern armies, he was sent to command only about 1,000 troops, a few thousand militia, he had no money to pay them, nothing to feed them and no way to clothe them. Congress had made it the states’ responsibility to supply their own troops (very bad decision) and Greene had to approach governors from each state and beg for provisions.<br>
    Thomas Jefferson, governor of Virginia, had allowed his troops to exist in such a terrible state that Greene actually sent him a scolding letter. And this is Thomas Jefferson, signer of the Declaration, future President of the United States. In many accounts, the problem is not a lack of resources; it is a failure on the part of the leaders to find a way to keep revenues and the dollar stronger so that citizens would SELL to the army.<br>
    And at the point when Greene was sent South, with a defeated and wasted army and no provisions, the Revolution would have failed if he couldn’t find a way to succeed. He had a number of commanders who were talented, he used tactics that were against all military reasoning, and he prepared wall for the army’s movement through the countryside so he could always outrun the enemy. Fascinating.<br>
    If Cornwallis (British) kept taking southern states back and moving north through Virginia, Washington’s army would have been caught in the Middle between Cornwallis’ army in the south and Howe’s army and the north and we would have been defeated. At this point, the French had sent Navy, but they were kept in the North because being able to either attack, or at least make a stand at the Hudson River was critical.<br>Kelly<br></p>