My Christmas read this year was 1776 by David McCullough. It’s a thrilling read about the year that turned the tides of history, setting the foundations for a new American nation and marking the beginning of the end of British rule there. Lauri found it in a British charity shop, mere minutes after I had remarked how much I had wanted to find a McCullough tome (either 1776 or John Adams) secondhand but held out few hopes of getting my hands on one in the land of King George.
I enjoyed the book tremendously – I haven’t studied early American history since my senior year of high school, and was happy to find that I recognized most of the places mentioned in the siege of Boston because my sisters now live there. I was intrigued to read about the attitudes of the Loyalists (many of whom lived in Boston and New York) who wanted no trouble with the king and saw Washington’s army as a bunch of rabble-rousers. I was also inspired by soldiers, often going cold and shoeless, trekking miles through the night with no knowledge of where they were headed. Both King George and George Washington are treated with a fairness by McCullough who takes a more nuanced approach to their personalities than historical caricatures allow. I especially love McCullough’s extensive use of personal diaries in this book, particularly from teenage boys who were fighting with the rebels describing battle scenes.
Upon finishing, I couldn’t help but wonder (and I know this question has often been asked) if the war was really necessary to gain independence. Australia, for instance, gained independence in 1931 when the British empire transitioned into the British Commonwealth. It now enjoys special links to the UK, not least the occasional £10 flight deals from London. Even India was able to gain independence in 1947 without a war, although the partition between India and Pakistan that resulted from it displaced 12.5 million and led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. All this to say, if America hadn’t had the Revolutionary War, we would have ended up in the Commonwealth with the likes of Canada, South Africa, Australia and India.
But really…can we imagine that? So much of American politics and history comes out of that revolutionary period, those “times that tried men’s souls.” And that little thing called the Declaration of Independence, and then the subsequent writing of the Constitution. It doth stirreth my heart. So while a nice, cozy position in the UK commonwealth wouldn’t have been such a bad place to end up, it would’ve made for pretty boring history.