Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tories: Fighting for the King in America's First Civil War

Review by: L. Gregory Graham

A good history book transports the reader back to an era; a great history book causes the reader to reflect on current events through different eyes and different times. Tories does that. Halfway through the book I began to wonder which side our current crop to Tea Party Patriots would have chosen during the Revolutionary War, and by the end of the book, I was wondering which side I would have chosen.

I found the book unsettling, but in a good way. Before cracking the covers, I knew a little more about the Revolution than was taught in high school history, but not much. I had this mental picture of wise forefathers leading a united citizenry against a clearly repressive King George. Patriots shot at Hessians and Redcoats and then returned to their farms where their neighbors esteemed them, and the Scottish settlers on the frontier naturally rallied the Patriots.

Unfortunately, all this is wrong. Our forefathers led a small but noisy faction backed by no more than one third of the populace. Patriots in the middle and southern colonies probably killed more of their loyalist neighbors than they did Redcoats and Hessians, and the Scottish immigrants on the frontiers tended to side with the mother country.

The British were undoubtedly ham fisted in their approach to the colonies, but they were well intentioned, and had good reason to tax the colonies. They had spent a great deal of money protecting the colonists during the French and Indian Wars. So was their taxation without representation? Yes, but it wasn’t taxation without reason.

Probably the most eye-opening subject in the book was the way colonist turned on colonist. Long Island Sound, New York and New Jersey turned into no man’s lands where lawlessness prevailed, where neighbor burned out neighbor, and personal vendetta clothed in partisanship ruled the day. Both sides used confiscation, hangings, rape, theft and arson to compel the other side. Terror became the chief tool of militias on both sides. Our heroes could get pretty depraved.

Mr. Allen displays our forefathers in all their pride, greed and stubbornness. They fight for the wrong reasons, fail to see the larger picture, dissert General Washington by the thousands, and switch sides the minute it appears that one side is winning over the other. In short, out sainted forefathers behaved like assassins and bullies.

Patroits drove a hundred thousand loyalists out of the colonies at the end of the war. Most of them ended up in Canada where the British encouraged them to settle to counteract the huge number of French.

“Today, four to six million Canadians—about one-fifth of the population—claim a Tory ancestor. Most Canadians believe that their nation’s traditional devotion to law and civility traces back to being loyal, as in Loyalist.”

One wonders how our nascent nation managed to survive when they willingly threw out so many good, hard working people.

I take hope in the fact that the passions that festered into looting, pillaging and rape did not tear the newly forming nation apart. If that is the case, then the current round of conservatives and liberals bickering will not damage the union. We are so much stronger than that.

Who should read this book? I would recommend it to anyone trying to understand America. We never were a unified people. One gets the impression that today’s conservatives are yearning to go back to a time when controversy did not exist, when your neighbors looked like you, and thought like you. This book underlines in red the fact that such a mythical time never existed. We have always been a contentious people. Controversy and political passions have been our meat and drink from the beginning.

If you seek the good old days, look around you. It doesn’t get any better than this.

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