1775

Free 1775 by Kevin Phillips

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Authors: Kevin Phillips
1776. By contrast, the “long 1775” that came before represents the loyalties, constituencies, and foundations built over many months—almost-forgotten battles in places from Pennsylvania to North Carolina and Georgia, far-flung American raids and invasions, new provincial navies and neglected ship actions. It likewise includes intensive—and surprisingly successful—colonial negotiations with Iroquois, Shawnee, Cherokee, and other Native American tribes along the frontier. This early Revolution also includes a pervasive global munitions-gathering contest spurred by a royal prohibition in 1774. Deny munitions to the thirteen colonies, British officials argued, and there would be no rebellion. Perhaps, but British efforts failed.
    This emphasis on arms, mass demonstrations, explosive trade goods, and even mob psychologies puts my pages somewhat at odds with John Adams’s famous contention of a more cerebral transformation—the war, he said, was first won in hearts and minds before muskets were lifted. The rotund Massachusetts lawyer, never even a militia officer, conducted his skirmishes and ambushes—and for the most part quite successfully—only in courtrooms, meetinghouses, and legislatures. He misjudged the continuum, the seamlessness, between war and politics that Clausewitz and many others have perceived and explained.
    To be sure, a vital transformation in American thinking—the colonists’ ballooning New World pride and incipient nationalism, their gradual shift of loyalty away from a once-cherished British monarchy to a new American Congress—did take shape before the serious fighting. Awareness was growing of bonds between different colonies and sections, as well as the immensity of a shared North American opportunity. The scarcely veiled royal disdain apparent by mid-1775 helped to erode old fidelities. Nevertheless, Lexington-Concord, Bunker Hill, and a dozen less-known battles and confrontations were essential catalysts. No chronicler should ignore, but many do, the war mentality that took hold in early 1775. Some of its consequences were perverse, notably the hubris that kept Patriots from learning needed military lessons, and led to massive disillusionment, especially in the middle colonies, when defeats came rapidly in the second half of 1776. However, without that early optimism, the Revolution might not have taken place—at least in the form it did.
    For New Englanders, April 1775 was not the beginning; nor was it even close to the beginning. Their Revolution was taking shape in 1774, as wehave seen. An argument can be made that war became all but inevitable in the autumn of 1774 after the First Continental Congress.
    “I once had considerable Expectations from Congress,” said New York Anglican minister Charles Inglis, “but since they adopted the fiery Resolves of Suffolk in Massachusetts almost all hope of good from them vanished.” 32 Pennsylvania historian Sydney Fisher, in his 1908 four-volume history
The Struggle for American Independence,
distilled middle-colony frustration: “It is quite obvious that the [Suffolk] resolutions were in effect a declaration of independence by the patriots of Massachusetts, although the word independence was not used. If Congress approved of them, approved of a government set up by the patriots in hostility to the British government, it was certainly committing the rest of the colonies to an open rebellion and war unless England was willing to back down completely,” as with the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts. 33
    Rebellion, then, was much in motion before Lexington and Concord. In South Carolina, Patriots took gunpowder and weapons from arsenals and magazines in Charleston and nearby Hobcaw one night in April 1775, weeks
before
any news had come from Massachusetts. The Commons House of Assembly had fired the night watchmen at both magazines in February. 34 General William Moultrie later recalled that as spring came, “the militia were forming

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