General History in Outline and Story
X . THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
58 . WASHINGTON AND THE BIRTH OF THE U.S.A.
In the Seven Years' War England had taken Canada from the French (1759). But it was not long before this addition to her Empire was balanced by the loss of her thirteen American colonies, which had been slowly building themselves up from the time of the Stuarts.
The American Revolution was started by trouble about taxes, but the true causes went much deeper. Unlike the colonies of France and Spain, the British colonies had from the first been very free. It is true that their trade and business were controlled by the mother country, but in those days that was looked upon as quite natural, though, sometimes a little hard to put up with. Again, the British Kings were responsible for keeping those under the British flag safe from attack wherever they were, even in America ; and it seemed to them only right for Britons overseas, as in Britain, to make some payment for the upkeep of the necessary forces.
To the colonies, however, the danger from the French seemed to be over after they had been crushed at Quebec. And when the attempt was made to put a tax on them for the purpose of keeping a small regular army ready against any future attack by the French, the old English cry went up, 'no taxes without representatives' -- though the three thousand miles of sea between England and America made the idea of America's having representatives in the British Government seem impossible. It was, however, a new thing for the colonies to be taxed by anyone but themselves, and they made so much trouble that for a time the idea was dropped. But in 1773, when a new though small tax was put on tea, violent protests, street fighting, and war came quickly, one after the other.
One night some men went to the tea-ships, in Boston harbor and the chests of tea were pushed into the Atlantic. That was the first act in one of the greatest revolutions in the history of ordered society. The American position was based on natural law -- the right of free development. But by the ideas which had been in force up to then, England had the right to the control of the colonies to which she had given their start. By the new idea she had no such right, and the colonies were free to keep up the connection with her or not, as seemed best to them.
But they had at first no thought of separating themselves from England, and there was strong feeling against this even as late as 1776. Great numbers of the Americans, however, came from strong-minded Puritan families used to fighting for their rights, and they had all the Englishman's love of being free. A hate of outside control had taken root in the colonies, unconsciously made stronger by the fact that they were able to take care of themselves, and by the behavior of the English, who had had little to do with their development, and had, in fact, very little knowledge of American conditions. "Great Empires and little minds go badly together," as Burke said.
With Jefferson as their head, in 1776 the colonies made their noted 'Declaration of Independence' : "These United States are, and have the right to be, free and independent." and with this statement a new nation came into existence.*
* In the same year the American government made it against the law for any more slaves to be sent into the thirteen United Colonies, though it was not till almost a hundred years later, after the great war between the North and South, that the use of slaves was put a stop to.
The head of the army in the war against England (1776-83) was George Washington, one of the greatest of all Americans. The Americans were untrained in war, but they had a good knowledge of their country, which the British had not. With the war came the hard conditions and bitter experiences which come with all wars. The Americans were in great need of clothing and other necessary things. In the second winter a great number of them were without shoes, and the road taken by the army was marked with blood from their feet. Because there were not enough bed coverings, they frequently had to be up all night, attempting to keep themselves warm round the fires. Every day more men became ill through cold and need of food, and numbers of them came to their death simply because they had nothing to put between them and the ice-hard earth.
Then, in the darkest our of the fight, when for a time the control of the seas had been taken from Britain, but the outcome was still uncertain, France came into the war on the side of America. This was the turning-point. With the help of the French, the British army under Cornwallis was forced to give way at Yorktown (1781), and a peace was signed making the United States an independent nation.
The great Washington was now faced with questions of peace no less hard than those of war, because the different histories and interests of the colonies had made deep divisions between them. How was the new 'republic' to be ruled ? After long discussion the decision was made to let every colony keep its separate government for controlling its private business, but to have, in addition a United States Government, with a President and two Houses of Representatives, to be responsible for the common interests of all -- for example, land and sea forces and the making of war and peace.
Washington became the First President of the United States and the true father of present-day America. He was of good birth ; the family from which he came had been supporters of Charles I in England, and had gone out to Virginia after Cromwell came into power. As a young man he was expert at all sports, healthy and strong, and used to hard work. While he was President he did his best to get everyone working together in the pubic interest, united in love of country and desire for the common good. He himself had no love of power, and was happiest when living quietly at his house in Mount Vernon, looking after his land. He did his work truly and well, with no thought of self, and he will ever be respected for his great qualities and for what he did for his country.
Before his death a bitter political argument took place between two other great Americans, Hamilton and Jefferson. The outcome of this was the organization of the two great political groups, the Democrats and the Republicans, which are still the chief division of American political opinion.
59 . THE NEW DEMOCRACY
In this way the fight for political rights started by the English and the Dutch was taken a step further by the Americans.
In their 'Declaration of Independence' the Americans put forward a full statement of the new belief in 'Democracy,' that is, in the 'Right of the Masses' by natural law. It is the argument of the Declaration that all men are equal by birth ; that God has given them certain rights ; that among these rights to go on living, to be free and to be happy ; that it is for the purpose of keeping these rights safe that governments are formed, and that their power is based on the approval of those who are ruled ; that whenever any form of government gets in the way of the purposes for which it was formed, it is the right of the masses to make changes in it or to put an end to it.
The Frenchman Rousseau had been teaching ideas like these in his Social Contract, printed some years before the American Declaration.
But the old order went on for some time longer in the Old World of Europe. There the Great Kings were still ruling with complete power. The masses were crushed under a weight of taxes, with no schools for education and no part whatever in the government. Everywhere the workers on the land were little better than slaves, still forced to do as they were ordered by their feudal chiefs. Only in France were they somewhat better off and more awake to new ideas.
And it was France which was the first nation in Europe to take up the cry of the American Revolution. While America was fighting to make itself free, Louis XVI of France and his beautiful Queen, Marie Antoinette, were living at Versailles in the way started by Louis XIV, in a round of pleasures and amusements. Money was being wasted in every direction; four thousand persons had positions waiting on the King, and five hundred on the Queen. Louis XVI was only hoping that the cloudburst would not come in his time ; but it had been clear even to Louis XV's carefree circle that trouble was in the air.
The American Revolution had, further, made important the complex question of the government of Empires. What was the right system of ruling an Empire in view of the new ideas, and what part of the income necessary for its upkeep was to come from the different colonies ? The British Empire gave its answer to the first question by taking up the 'Federal' system -- that of a group of countries united under one rule for purposes of their common interests, but in other ways having full self-government, as the Dutch for a small country and the Americans for a great one had done before them.
On the question of payments for the upkeep of Empire nothing very important has so far been done, but in time of war the British dominions have up to now freely given their support to their common flag.
DIVISIONS OF THE BOOK
I . -- THE FIRST STAGE
II . -- THE EARLY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE EAST
III. -- THE GREAT DAYS OF GREECE
IV . -- THE GREAT DAYS OF ROME
V . -- THE MIDDLE AGES
VI . -- THE 'NEW BIRTH' OF EUROPE
VII. -- NEW FORCES IN RELIGION AND THE GROWTH OF A NEW OUTLOOK
VIII -- THE EXPANSION OF EUROPE OVERSEAS
IX . -- THE 'GREAT KINGS' OF EUROPE
X . -- THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION top
XI . -- THE FRENCH REVOLUTION AND NAPOLEON
XII. -- THE BIRTH OF NEW NATIONS
XIII -- THE WORLD OF THE PRESENT DAY