No, the American Revolution was not a mistake

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tags: American Revolution



Jeff Stein is the founder of the Ithaca Voice and a contributor to Salon.

The American Revolution "was a mistake," Dylan Matthews argued last week. He lists three reasons that, in his telling, millions of American Indians and black Americans would've been better off had the Founding Fathers never declared independence:

Slavery would've been abolished earlier, American Indians would've faced rampant persecution but not the outright ethnic cleansing Andrew Jackson and other American leaders perpetrated, and America would have a parliamentary system of government that makes policymaking easier and lessens the risk of democratic collapse.


It's a thought-provoking argument — and an understandable reaction to centuries of brutal racial oppression and, more recently, generations of historians who've sought to excuse slaveholding Founding Fathers.

But Matthews's alternate history is not really correct. Had the American Colonies remained part of the British Empire, slavery would have almost certainly persisted just as long as it did. Slavery might've actually gone on a bit longer, particularly for Northern slaves who were emancipated long before the Civil War.

As for the treatment of American Indians, it's a bit tougher to say. But if you look north to Canada, which followed the example Matthews says the US should have and remained loyal to the crown, there's little reason to think that native communities would have fared substantially better had the revolution never occurred. (On his final point, I'll leave it to legislative procedure enthusiasts to debate whether the US would be better off with a British-style parliament.)

But it's not just that Matthews's counterfactual is wrong. It's that he misses one of the most important facts about the American Revolution: that it was the greatest force for emancipation in the US until the Civil War. ...




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