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.