From Independence to Independence
(The following is drawn from David Hackett Fischer’s excellent “British Folkways in America.”)
The American Revolution was not a singular struggle but a series of four separate Wars of Independence waged in very different ways by the major cultures of British America.
The first (1775-1776) was a massive popular insurrection in New England. An army of British regulars was defeated by a Yankee militia much like the Puritan bands from which they were descended and urged on by their Calvinist clergy. This war, as stated by John and Samuel Adams was not fought to secure any rights of man in any universal sense, but against what was called “the contagion of venality and dissipation” which was spreading from London to America. New Englanders felt that they had always managed their own affairs and when England tried to stop them – especially their smuggling of goods and slave trade without the Crown’s percentage paid – the war came.
The second war for independence (1776-1781) was more protracted and fought mainly in the middle colonies and coastal south. It was a gentleman’s war of British regulars and professional mercenaries commanded by English gentry, against an increasingly professional American army led by a member of the Virginia gentry. They were fighting for what Jefferson called “the ancient liberties of his Saxon ancestors.”
The third war of independence reached its climax in the years 1779-1781. It was a rising of British borderers in the southern backcountry against American Loyalists and British regulars who invaded the region. The result was a savage struggle which resembled many earlier conflicts in North Britain with much family feuding and terrible atrocities committed on both sides. Prisoners were slaughtered, homes were burned, women were raped, and even small children were put to the sword.
The fourth war of independence continued in the years from 1781 to 1783, a non-violent economic and diplomatic struggle, in which the elites of the Delaware Valley played a leading part. The economic war against England was led by Robert Morris of Philadelphia; the genius of American diplomacy was Benjamin Franklin.
The end of the war resulted in the creation of three “regional republics” of British America – voting blocs of “eastern” colonies of New Englanders; a Southern bloc centered in tidewater Virginia; and a midland bloc of mainly Delaware Valley delegations. The Constitution of 1787 was an attempt to write the rules of engagement among these three regional republics – an agreement which began dissolving in Andrew Jackson’s first term. The nullification issue of 1832 tested the strength of a State’s true sovereignty.
By 1850 the Southern bloc had enough and began reconsidering the value of its political alliance with the others. In 1854 the new Republican party arose from the ashes of the Whig party and absorbed anti-Catholic Know Nothings, Transcendentalists and radical abolitionists. In 1860, this strictly sectional party fielded its second presidential candidate and won a plurality victory in November 1860. Within a month this party would drive South Carolina to independence; other States would soon follow.
In an act of desperation and fearful of his party losing its recently-gained power, this first Republican president violated Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution he was sworn to defend – “Treason against the United States shall consist only of levying War against them; or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” “Them” is the States, individually or collectively.
(Primary Source: Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. David Hackett Fischer, Oxford University Press, 1989, pp. 827-828)