The case against the American Revolution

In middle school, we were assigned a pro-con debate about the American Revolution; I happened to be on the pro side, but as I read through the arguments, I became increasingly disturbed and eventually decided that the pro-Revolution arguments were weak or fallacious.

The Revolution was a bloodbath with ~100,000 casualties or fatalities followed by 62,000 Loyalist refugees fleeing the country for fear of retaliation and their expropriation; this is a butcher’s bill that did not seem justified in the least by anything in Britain or America’s subsequent history (what, were the British going to randomly massacre Americans for fun?), even now with a population of >300 million, and much less back when the population was 1/100th the size. Independence was granted to similar English colonies at the smaller price of “waiting a while”: Canada was essentially autonomous by 1867 (less than a century later) and Australia was first settled in 1788 with autonomous colonies not long behind and the current Commonwealth formed by 1901. (Nor did Canada or Australia suffer worse at England’s hands during the waiting period than, say, America in that time suffered at its own hands.) In the long run, independence may have been good for the USA, but this would be due to sheer accident: the British were holding the frontier at the Appalachians (see Royal Proclamation of 1763), and Napoleon likely would not have been willing engage in the Louisiana Purchase with English colonies inasmuch as he was at war with England. (Assuming we see this as a good thing: Bryan Caplan describes that as removing “the last real check on American aggression against the Indians”.)

Neither of these is a very strong argument; the British could easily have revoked the Proclamation in face of the colonial resistance (and in practice did), and Napoleon could not hold onto New France for very long against the British fleets. The argument from ‘freedom’ is a buzzword or unsupported by the facts - Canada and Australia are hardly hellhole bastions of totalitarianism, and are ranked by Freedom House as being as free as the USA. (Steve Sailer asks “Yet how much real difference did the very different political paths of America and Canada make in the long run?”)

And there are important arguments for the opposite, that America would have been better off under British rule - Britain ended slavery very early on and likely would have ended slavery in the colonies as well. (Some have argued that with continued control of the southern colonies, Britain would have not been able to do this; but the usual arguments for the Revolution center on the tyranny of Britain - so was the dog wagging the tail or the tail the dog?) The South crucially depended on England’s tacit support (seeing the South as a counterweight to the dangerous North?), so the American Civil War would either never have started or have been suppressed very quickly. The Civil War would also have lacked its intellectual justification of states’ rights if the states had remained Crown colonies. The Civil War was so bloody and destructive that avoiding it is worth a great deal indeed. And then there comes WWI and WWII. It is not hard to see how America remaining a colony would have been better for both Europe and America.

One of many things this guy has changed his mind about.