Vox: On Second Thought, The American Revolution Was A Mistake

Matt Vespa
Posted: Jul 04, 2015 8:45 PM
Vox: On Second Thought, The American Revolution Was A Mistake

This is just trolling, right? I mean, do you feel that that leaving the British Empire was a mistake? Well, Dylan Matthews of Vox appears to be lamenting our independence since we would have abolished slavery sooner, the Native Americans would have experienced a slightly less horrific genocide, and we would have adopted the UK’s system of government, which is totally better than America’s (according to liberals) because it allows the governing party to bulldoze over its opponents to push through their agenda:

American independence in 1776 was a monumental mistake. We should be mourning the fact that we left the United Kingdom, not cheering it.

Of course, evaluating the wisdom of the American Revolution means dealing with counterfactuals. As any historian would tell you, this is messy business. We obviously can't be entirely sure how America would have fared if it had stayed in the British Empire longer, perhaps gaining independence a century or so later, along with Canada.

But I'm reasonably confident a world where the revolution never happened would be better than the one we live in now, for three main reasons: 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.

The main reason the revolution was a mistake is that the British Empire, in all likelihood, would have abolished slavery earlier than the US did, and with less bloodshed.

This alone is enough to make the case against the revolution. Decades less slavery is a massive humanitarian gain that almost certainly dominates whatever gains came to the colonists from independence.

The main benefit of the revolution to colonists was that it gave more political power to America's white male minority.

American Indians would have still, in all likelihood, faced violence and oppression absent American independence, just as First Nations people in Canada did. But American-scale ethnic cleansing wouldn't have occurred.

…parliamentary democracies are a lot, lot better than presidential ones. They're significantly less likely to collapse into dictatorship because they don't lead to irresolvable conflicts between, say, the president and the legislature. They lead to much less gridlock.

In the US, activists wanting to put a price on carbon emissions spent years trying to put together a coalition to make it happen, mobilizing sympathetic businesses and philanthropists and attempting to make bipartisan coalition — and they still failed to pass cap and trade, after millions of dollars and man hours. In the UK, the Conservative government decided it wanted a carbon tax. So there was a carbon tax. Just like that. Passing big, necessary legislation — in this case, legislation that's literally necessary to save the planet — is a whole lot easier with parliaments than presidential systems.

So, there you have it; it’s a gross amalgamation of revisionist history and pipe dreams. No one denies American history had its messy moments, but that goes with almost any nation. The point is for future generations to learn from those mistakes, hence why racism is anathema in American society, why we’ll probably never lock up an entire ethnic minority during times of war, and why we’ll never reimpose an awful system of racial segregation. Slavery was ended after 600,000 American lives were lost during the Civil War, but doing the right thing sometimes has a hefty price tag. At the same time, the post-Civil War era marked the point where Americans began see one another as citizens of a united country, instead of the regionalist attitudes exhibited in the antebellum era. 

Over at Hot Air, Ed aptly points out that the Weimer Republic in Germany was a parliamentary system that collapsed into a dictatorship … led by Adolf Hitler, the British and the French consistently pitted the native tribes against one another in the frontier lands of America, and that strategy of playing tribes off each other would have probably entered another vicious cycle in the Napoleonic Wars. Oh, and Pontiac’s Rebellion–a three-year war against the British by a confederation of tribes along the Great Lakes–began due to perceived mistreatment by the Crown.

Lastly, on the issue of government, I like gridlock. Gridlock is our safety blanket in American society, and to not understand that is to avoid the essence of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The overarching theme was safety, not efficiency. As George Will says pervasively when this issue is brought up, that’s why we have three branches of government, two branches of the legislature, veto, veto override, supermajorities, judicial review, and the filibuster. All of these mechanisms are meant to slow the speed of government.

Also, forget the carbon tax scenario, what about the War on Terror? The majority of Americans think the interrogation measures that were used on terrorism suspects after 9/11 was justified, with a majority also saying that such techniques amounted to torture. In the UK system, if a bill passed permitting such methods, it–theoretically–would have been legal* once it was passed. There would be little progressives could do to stop such a law if an Americanized Conservative (or right-leaning party) Party had a commanding majority in this new parliamentary system. 

The UK doesn’t have a written Constitution; it’s whatever parliament passes. At the same time, this is why liberals probably like the UK model since it permits them to govern under a living constitution (truly). It’s a horrifying aspect.

At the same time, our Constitution does not prohibit legislatures from passing laws permitting abortion on demand or banning the death penalty, so, in a sense; liberals have been fighting their battles in the wrong arenas. Yet, they will probably have a problem building a consensus for the former initiative. Nevertheless, it shows you that consensus-building is key in advancing our society in a more democratic manner.

So, I’m not unhappy–or sad–that our Founding Father announced our complete break from Great Britain 239 years ago today. I’m not proud of our treatment of Native Americans or the institution of slavery, but those issues were dealt with, sometimes with a heavy body count and other times with results that were less than stellar. We’re not perfect, but neither is the UK. And that certainly applies to their system of government. The best we can do is learn from our shortfalls within our history and hope that future generations get it right.

*This scenario removes the existence of the UN Convention Against Torture