Friday, October 4, 2013

Was the American Revolution Inevitable?

Was John Hancock Overrated?
The Journal of the American Revolution asked this question to several early American historians, including Gordon Wood, Robert Allison, Ben Carp, Ray Raphael, Elizabeth Covart, Thomas Fleming, J.L Bell, John Ferling, Jimmy Dick, and Michael Adelberg. They had to answer in 150 words or less. Of this group, Allison said "yes," Wood said "no," Carp said "no," Raphael said "no," Fleming said "no," Bell said "as far as we know," Dick said "no," Adelberg said "yes," Ferling said "yes," and Covart said "no."  Read their full responses here.

I also participated in the survey.  Here is my answer:

Would the British-American colonies eventually receive their independence?  Yes, it is likely, especially if we look at Canada as a model.  But these kinds of questions probably fall outside the realm of historical investigation.  Having said that, I don’t think anyone in colonial America would have perceived independence as inevitable until sometime between 1775 and July 1776.  The history of the British-American colonies is a story of growing Anglicization and British provincialism.  It is not a story about the seeds of independence, planted in the soil of Jamestown and Plymouth, growing into a full-blown revolutionary moment that finally blossomed in 1776.   If we take the long view, the American Revolution was one of the great surprises of the early modern Western world.  Most informed observers would have said that it was “inevitable” that the colonists would continue to enjoy the political and economic benefits (among others) of being part of the British Empire.

You can also read how many of the aforementioned historians offered 150-word answers to other questions about the American Revolution by going to the home page of the Journal of the American Revolution.  Here is a taste:

Could America have thrived without slavery? 

Who is the most overrated revolutionary?  Fleming said John Hancock, describing him as "an airhead."

Who is the most underrated revolutionary?  Robert Allison went with Nathanael Greene