Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Remember When . . . Independence Was Radical?

English Cannon by the Hudson River, Revolutionary WarPhoto by Michael Francis Studios (Michael Cook)

In what spare moments I've had the last week, I've been reading a book I've had set aside for research for over a year now. One that, when I saw it pop up in my Amazon search at the genesis of an idea, I got so excited about that I bought then and there, though I didn't actually need it yet, given that I wasn't actually writing the book, LOL.

I need to put a smidgeon of work into the idea for my agent though, so out it came. To my immense delight. =) The book is Declaration: The Nine Tumultuous Weeks when America Became Independent by  Willian Hogeland, and it's turning out to be all I hoped. A non-fiction book that tells me stories. That presents the wit of the men of the day in ways that make me laugh.

That redefines my assumptions.

See, even after researching for two separate Revolution-era books, I haven't quite plumbed the depths of how revolutionary this was, this idea that a group of colonies could just break away from its mother country. I can never quite shake the ideas I got in my schooling, that everyone just banded together, put to use their Yankee ingenuity and grit, and ousted the tyrannical government. All Americans for one, and one for all.

A lovely, patriotic picture. Except that "patriot" was an insult at the time. "Lovely" doesn't begin to describe the fear and uncertainty that Americans experienced. And our people were anything but unified into one coherent picture.

The simple fact is that most people didn't want independence. They didn't even understand independence. To them, England was Mother. The king was awful, sure, he was a tyrant. But England...England was home. And just because you don't like a few parts of it, that doesn't mean you disown it altogether, right? It just means you try to fix it. And sure, if it comes after you, you defend yourself. So at Lexington and Concord they had no choice. But to seek war? To seek a break?

Unthinkable. That would be like looking your dearly beloved mother--they one who might not always be fair in your eyes, but who had loved you and nurtured you--in the eye and then stabbing her in the gut.

Not something a good person would do. And the leaders, the upright citizens, the majority of the day prided themselves on being noble and just. On holding high ideals, like the philosophers of old. To defend oneself was right. But to take the offense...that would cross a line good people did not cross.
Painting of Benjamin Franklin, 1778
by Joseph-Siffrein Duplessis

Most of the Continental Congress had strict instructions, as late as May of 1776, to steer clear of anything that even smelled of independence. To vote against anything that would be more than a vague remonstrance of England's unfairness. Founding fathers like Benjamin Franklin didn't come over to the cause until very late in the game--and only then after a decade in England and final humiliation before Parliament that put him in a rage.

It wasn't easy. It wasn't simple. And had King George not sent a fleet of hired mercenaries after us (think a mother hiring a gang to come teach her unruly child to listen when she tells him to clean his room), there quite possibly wouldn't have been enough support to ever make that famous Declaration.

I've thought before about the bravery the Patriots showed by standing against the British on the battle fields. Ragtag farmers facing off against the best military in the world. But I'd never really paused to consider how brave (and quite honestly, reckless and heavy-handed) it was for the Sons of Liberty to challenge the prevailing thought of the day. To use guile, intrigue, and rhetoric to convince an unwilling people to follow them into a war most of them didn't want. It took them decades of work. It took compromise and bullying. But they didn't just redefine an ideal--they rewrote history. They made their cause so strong that hundreds of years later, school children just think That's the way it was.

It wasn't. Not until they made it so.

Do we believe that strongly today? Enough that we're willing to work all our lives for a goal that most deem foolhardy? Are we willing to fight against prevailing sentiments? When the world says, "You're crazy," do we answer, "Maybe, but only until I can change the definition"? It's a dangerous thing to be that determined. Scary dangerous. And about most causes, I would never dare to be so. 

But I pray that when it matters, I could be so brave. So patriotic. So radical in a quest, if the Lord is the one who put it on my heart. I pray I'm cut from the same cloth as those who forged a nation.


  1. Very interesting thought Roseanna!

    When reading books set in the revolutionary period it's hard for me to understand those who would side with the British, but I guess we have a totally different perspective looking backwards!

    1. We really do. But I guess we should think of this way--would you support your state declaring independence from the U.S.? That's about the modern equivalent. Most of us have some issues with the federal government, but enough to go to war with it? To give up on fixing it? I daresay few would ever go that far. These radicals from the Revolutionary Era though did just that.

  2. Wow. Love learning from you. Had never thought of it this way! Thanks!

    1. Now to bring it to life through fiction, LOL.