Slavery and Southern Support for the American Revolution

Just in time for Independence Day, Vox presents an article purporting to explain “3 Reasons the American Revolution Was a Mistake.” Vox is not alone in torturing narratives to fit a particular worldview. In this case, however, the argument is one shared by far too many historians of the American Revolution, so it’s worth a response.

Henry Laurens

Henry Laurens

Matthews argues the American Revolution was a mistake because 1. “Abolition would have come faster without independence;” 2. Independence was bad for Native Americans;” and 3. “America would have a better system of government if we’d stuck with Britain.”

Taking these in reverse order, number 3 is not really worth arguing. Matthews believes a form of government that could more easily force through progressive policies that he favors would be preferable to a system that makes it much harder for any one branch of government (and any one party controlling that branch) to run roughshod over its political opponents. He’s free to have that opinion. The inability of one branch of government to ram through its prerogative, however, is a feature of the American system of government, not a bug.

Number 2 is generally true as far as it goes, but his argument is also a total mess. It essentially amounts to saying that things would have been an ever-so-slightly better shade of awful for Native Americans without independence. Number 1 is the big problem though, largely because some of the arguments included in it are so pervasive in the historiography.  Continue reading