19. War and Society
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19. War and Society

October 23, 2019

Prof: I now actually
want to move on to the topic of the real lecture today,
and I’ve titled the lecture “War and Society.”
And I mentioned on Tuesday’s
lecture– at the very end of it–I
mentioned that although the Treaty of Paris formally ended
the fighting of the American Revolution,
that there were a lot of things obviously,
clearly undecided at that point. And I mentioned two things
which are very logical things to have mentioned.
I said that,
who knew what kind of a society this new nation was going to
have, and who knew what kind of
government was going to be governing over this new nation.
And in a way the remaining
lectures in this course– And it’s kind of shocking that
there actually aren’t all that many left–
I think they’re all done by Powder House Day as a matter of
fact. But in a way,
the remaining lectures are going to be talking about
society, what kind of society would
emerge from the Revolution, and what kind of government
would govern over that society. So those two questions are
actually the very two questions that are in one way or another
going to be thematically linking together the rest of the
lectures in the course. And in a way,
those two questions relate back to some of what I talked about
at the very beginning of this course.
Hopefully, you remember.
If you don’t,
I guess you can go look at the syllabus, but hopefully you
remember. I mentioned–I read quotes from
John Adams and from Benjamin Rush, both of them trying to
define what they thought the American Revolution was.
Right? Was it the fighting?
Was it before the fighting?
Was it after the fighting?
And in a way,
the next lectures, today and those to come,
are going to address those questions in a variety of ways.
So today we’re going to be
talking about society; what kind of society was
America going to have in this experimental,
brand new nation? Now there are any number of
ways to discuss this question, and the approach that I’m going
to take today is to look at some specific parts of American
society and see how the Revolution affected them,
to see how things looked for them–these parts of the
American population– how things looked for them in
the wake of the Revolution, because in one way or another
these populations all had a vital impact on the fighting of
the Revolution, and in one way or another they
were all dispossessed of power. So today we’re going to look at
how the Revolution affected African Americans,
women, and Native Americans–and in a sense
looking at how these three populations fared in a
Revolution dedicated to defending rights and liberties
is a way of judging how radical the Revolution was.
Now this is certainly what some
historians have argued, and in particular there was a
really interesting debate on this topic that broke out in the
wake of the publication of Gordon Wood’s Radicalism of
the American Revolution, and I’m sure–I don’t think
it’s next week– I think maybe it’s the week
after when you read the final section of Wood.
And I’m sure that in that
discussion section when you get to the final chunk of that book,
this conversation will probably come up based on some of what
I’m talking about today. But when that book first came
out, a number of historians stepped forward and said:
No–basically–no, the Revolution was not all that
radical. And they argued that:
well, okay, Professor Wood, of course you consider it
radical. You don’t really talk about
slavery. You don’t talk very much about
women. And you really don’t talk about
the South very much; you focus largely on the North.
So these historians said:
Well, when you look at the Revolution that way it looks
radical, but what about when you include
slavery, women and the South?
How does the Revolution look
then? Well, this debate ended up
being put into print in one of the leading academic journals of
early America. It’s called The William and
Mary Quarterly and they actually published the whole
debate. So they published three or four
scholars arguing that the Revolution was not radical in
the way that Wood’s book states, and then they let Wood have a
comeback, and so they have his reply to
the historians who just refuted his book.
It’s a really interesting
conversation. And the commentators brought up
the issues that I’ve just named. Right? What about slavery?
What about the role of women in
society? What about the South?
And here is a sample sentence
from Wood’s response. He wrote that it is,
quote, “inconceivable,”
apparently, to his critics,
quote, “that any white males in the past,
unless they were sailors … or very poor,
could ever have been oppressed or have felt oppressed.
They imply that only those who
are oppressed or marginalized in our own time were capable of
being oppressed two centuries ago.
If the Revolution did not
totally abolish slavery and fundamental–
fundamentally change the lot of women,
then it could not possibly have been radical.”
So clearly he’s refuting them,
saying: Well, hey, can’t white males also
have been oppressed and have a radical change?
This debate is really
interesting in part because it gets very heated.
You can really see the passions
of all the historians involved, Professor Wood included.
They’re very engaged in this.
They have a lot at stake.
You can kind of see how
passionate historical debates and arguments can get.
But obviously,
also part of why they’re get all heated is because the
Revolution in many ways is America’s defining event.
So it sort of–it matters for
us to think about what it means, what it meant,
what it meant to different people.
What did the Revolution really
mean? And the debate over Wood’s book
touches on these kinds of questions.
Now one small part of the
problem in grappling with this question is a natural desire I
think that many of us have– and actually people even did
this in the eighteenth century– and that is to compare the
American Revolution and the French Revolution.
People did that at the time.
Sometimes people do that today.
So if you’re thinking about:
well, was the American Revolution
radical, some people say:
Well, compared with France it wasn’t very radical at all,
was it? Look at what they were doing
over there in France. And certainly when you compare
what happened here with some of the more radical,
extreme guillotine-based things that were happening in France,
it might look less radical here. And in comparison with the
really deep-seated changes in French society,
like the ousting of an established aristocracy and the
killing of a king and the initiation of a new social
order– right?–that’s big,
big, big change. In comparison with that,
you might argue that changes in America seem tame in comparison.
Some might argue that the
American Revolution, unlike its French counterpart,
was essentially a political protest against a distant
central government’s interference in the local
affairs of a people who were long accustomed to govern
themselves– basically that the American
Revolution was not a social revolution.
I’m not necessarily defending
this argument– and as you’ll see I’m not
necessarily defending any argument–
but I’m certainly stating here a number of different things
that people have argued. And actually what I’m going to
try to do today– I’m going to discuss these
populations that are at the heart of this debate about the
radicalism of the American Revolution.
I’m going to talk about African
Americans, women, and Native Americans and
how they fared, how the Revolution affected
them and how they experienced the Revolution.
And part of the aim of this is
going to be that learning how these populations fared will
give us some insight into the formation of American society in
revolutionary and post-revolutionary America.
But what I’m going to really
try to do as I talk about this today is,
I’m going to try really hard not to answer that question I
raised about was the Revolution radical or not–
the debate that I mentioned in The William and Mary
Quarterly. I’m actually not going to weigh
in on what these changes mean, and I’m not going to do that
very deliberately, because the section after next
when you discuss this, I really want you to debate it.
I’m not going to tell you my
opinion. It might leak in.
I hope not.
I’ve tried really hard to
banish it. I don’t want you to have my
opinion. I want you to really debate
this when you’re reading the last chunk of Wood’s book,
and thinking back over the course, thinking back over
lectures and readings, think to yourselves–what
do you think about the radicalism of the Revolution.
And so the lecture today and
what I’m talking about today is going to be fodder that will
feed into that conversation. Okay.
So, I want to start by talking
about African Americans. Now certainly the period of
conflict, of actual fighting during the Revolution,
really stirred things up in the realm of slavery in a number of
ways. For one thing,
on the sort of simple, basic level of logistics,
the war just created confusion and disorder,
and because things were disordered in wartime it
provided some opportunities for slaves to escape.
So just the mass confusion of
war enabled some slaves to flee plantations and perhaps to pose
as free men. Equally important,
the Revolution spread its message to black Americans as
well as to white Americans. The message of the Revolution
or maybe the messages, plural, of the Revolution were
not invisible to black Americans–
free black Americans or enslaved black Americans.
Regardless of whether they were
free or enslaved, people could hear these
messages, this rhetoric of liberty and freedom,
and translate it into their own lives.
And you can see both of these
things; you can see the impact of the
confusion of war and you can see the impact of the messages of
the Revolution, in the actions of the
British–or actually, of Virginia’s colonial
governor–but I’m calling him “the British”
because he’s loyal to the King–
in 1775 in Virginia, and then the response of slaves
in Virginia. Now logically enough during the
war, the British–among the things that they’re trying to do
is to–Creating chaos would be happy for them to do.
That would just sort of give
more of a disadvantage to the Americans.
So the British are trying to
think of ways to make things difficult in America,
and certainly that’s the case in Virginia.
And one of the ways in which
they chose to do this concerned the institution of slavery.
So specifically,
on November 7,1775, the colonial governor of
Virginia who, as I just mentioned,
was loyal to the Crown– his name was Lord Dunmore–he
passed a proclamation calling on slaves who belonged to
rebellious planters, and stating that any of these
slaves who were willing to bear arms in the service of the Crown
should flee their masters and come to the British encampment
at Norfolk and fight for the British.
And any slave who fled from a
rebellious master and came to fight with the British,
this proclamation promised that he would earn freedom at the end
of the war in exchange for military service.
And this becomes known as Lord
— logically, Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation,
November 7,1775. Now roughly 800 slaves actually
did reach Norfolk, and it’s probable that there
would have been more, but it was not necessarily an
easy thing, despite the disorder of war,
for people to just flee from plantations,
and there probably was a good deal of vigilance on the part of
plantation holders. So it was not necessarily easy
to run to Norfolk, but roughly 800 slaves did
reach Norfolk. And with those black
volunteers, Dunmore established what he called his Ethiopian
Regiment. And his Ethiopian Regiment wore
uniforms with a badge that declared “liberty to
slaves.” Okay.
So the message is really clear.
However, in a battle fought in
Virginia on– in December of 1775,
Virginian soldiers actually overwhelmed the British and the
Ethiopian Regiment and some white Loyalists,
all of them sort of fighting together there,
and Dunmore was forced to evacuate by sea,
and he took his black volunteers with him.
Now sadly, in a variety of
ways, and I suppose in a way it’s not unexpected,
Dunmore’s proclamation ultimately contained a lot of
empty promises, sort of really amazingly sadly.
Some British soldiers just
couldn’t resist the temptation to sell some of these black
volunteers in the West Indies, which they did.
Some actually went aboard ship
with Dunmore, were headed back to England and
apparently there was a smallpox outbreak aboard some of these
ships, and a number of these
volunteers died at sea of smallpox.
So things didn’t necessarily
end really well for these volunteers.
Now, not necessarily these
volunteers, but looking a little bit more
broadly at what black Americans are doing during and in the wake
of the Revolution, some enslaved and free black
Americans who sided with the British,
instead of running to Norfolk–maybe they were in a
different state or in a different situation–
some of them actually, ultimately, sometimes at the
end of the war, made their way to Canada.
Canada’s back.
Free Canada.
Some made their way to Canada
and in particular Nova Scotia and Quebec among other places.
Historians, generally speaking,
don’t have precise numbers about the number of black
Americans who went to Canada, but probably we’re talking in
the thousands. Now it’s important to note here
that I’ve just been talking about people running to freedom
and free black Americans. I’m not meaning to suggest that
Canada is a slave-free zone, because it wasn’t.
And as a matter of fact,
Loyalists, white Loyalists who went to Canada after the war and
happened to be slave owners, brought their slaves with them.
So it’s not as though Canada
was this sort of happy freedom zone.
For some people,
as I’ll mention in a minute, it was somewhat,
but for many other people, they were slaves in America;
they were slaves in Canada. There were a number of free
black men who immigrated to Canada and once they were there,
they assumed logically that they deserved the same benefits
that white Loyalists were getting from the Crown.
So these are free black men who
sided with the British, they go to Canada,
and the Crown had promised white Loyalists sort of any
number of things, including land grants,
as a reward for being loyal during the Revolution.
These free black men also go to
Canada, assuming they’ve been loyal and they deserve land
grants in Canada. And there actually were some
free black men who did get land grants in Canada.
However, of course this was not
an entirely fair process. So you have white Loyalists
being given grants of hundreds of acres of land;
you have black Loyalists being given sometimes as little as one
acre of land, sometimes as much as fifty
acres of land, nowhere near sort of parity,
nothing equal going on here. And apparently also,
areas in which black Loyalists were given land tended to be
segregated off. So we’re not talking about
equality, we’re not talking about a slave-free zone,
and we’re not talking about sudden equality of status.
Now of course,
slaves did not just serve in the British Army,
or only ally themselves with the British.
Some joined the Continental
Army, as did some free black Americans,
though at the outset, the Continental Army forbade
the enlistment of African Americans.
So at the beginning of the war,
this was not something being discussed.
However, after the war had been
dragging on for a while, certainly longer than people
thought it would, and the Continental Army and
Congress really began to be desperate for manpower,
suddenly this issue was revisited, and at least in the
North, some states began to enlist
black soldiers to fight in the Continental Army.
By the end of the war,
most of the states– some of the obviously Southern
states are holdouts here– but most of the states had
recruited some black soldiers. Roughly 5,000 black soldiers
served in the Continental Army, logically enough most of them
from the North. The majority were slaves
serving with their masters’ consent in separate black units.
Some hoped to be fighting
towards their emancipation, so again on a really personal
level, did feel like they were
fighting for freedom, not just American freedom but
personal freedom. And an example of this–just
this mentality–You can see this in the 289 identifiably black
men in the Connecticut forces. Of that–those 289 black men,
five of them when asked to give their surname,
reported that their surname was Liberty when they signed on.
Eighteen when they signed on
reported that their last name was Freedom or Freeman.
And I have to say,
speaking as Joanne Freeman, my Eastern-European ancestors
had the same impulse at Ellis Island I think:
[laughter] Freeman.
So I understand.
But you can see there,
you can get a sense there, of the mindset of what–behind
what people are doing. So we’ve seen in a variety of
ways here that the war shook up the system of slavery in several
ways. We’ve seen that the message of
the Revolution certainly had an impact on America’s slave
population. The Revolution also changed the
views of some white Americans regarding slavery.
Given the Revolution’s message
of liberty and the ways in which Americans actually did regularly
use the rhetoric of enslavement to describe their relationship
with Britain– right? We are not slaves.
They are treating us like
slaves–some white Americans were moved to take action on the
issue of slavery. Now of course,
some foreign observers were pretty quick to see the irony in
a slave-holding society crying out for liberty and freedom.
And the most famous example of
this– many of you may have heard this
quote already– is from Samuel Johnson,
who said, “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for
liberty from the drivers of negroes?”
He just pins the point right on
its head. But some people were actually
moved to action. For example,
ideas early in the war that we talked about earlier in the
course about boycotting certain items of trade,
like the Continental Association, those ideas
inspired some Americans to seize the opportunity to prohibit
trade in slaves as well. And some of the more radical
colonies like Pennsylvania, Connecticut,
and Rhode Island–I want a rousing cheer for Rhode Island–
some of the more radical colonies actually passed acts
prohibiting the slave trade during the war.
So Pennsylvania in 1773 did
that; Rhode Island and Connecticut in
1774 did that. Between 1777 and 1784,
five states actually ended slavery–
and I’m going to come back to a moment as to what I mean when I
say “ended slavery”– Vermont, Pennsylvania,
Massachusetts, Rhode Island,
and Connecticut, though in many cases they
proposed gradual emancipation– so again this is not instant
end of problem– for example declaring all
children born of an enslaved woman to be free after a certain
date. Quakers were also moved,
or at least some Quakers were also moved to act against
slavery, and certainly by the end of the
war some Quaker slave owners had freed their slaves.
I think a pretty hefty
percentage of Quakers actually freed slaves.
Sometimes black Americans were
spurred to action. So for example,
in states that considered slaves to be not only property
but also people before the law, like Massachusetts,
there were actually some slaves who brought suit against their
masters for freedom. Now these kinds of attempts may
not have often been successful, but they certainly had the
potential to force slave owners to grapple with the idea of
slavery, with its legality,
with its morality. So as far as slavery is
concerned in the North, the Revolution caused some
change, though there was still a general refusal to offer freed
blacks full membership in the political community or to raise
their social status. But in the South,
slavery emerged from the Revolution as a firmly
entrenched sectional institution.
Now of course,
the South was economically dependent on the system of
slavery. In a way, the Revolution only
made this more obvious to southerners.
Military occupation by the
British, British attempts–as in Lord
Dunmore– to use slavery as a tactic to
upset the American cause: those sorts of things seemed to
really threaten the social order of the South,
and many Southerners responded by deciding that the restoration
and regulation of slavery was indispensable for the
rehabilitation of the South after the war.
So the result was the further
entrenchment of slavery throughout the South,
although I think a little less so in Maryland.
So for example in some states
where a large percentage of the slave population had been lost
in various ways, planters began to import slaves
from Africa in earnest in mass quantities.
So for example,
South Carolina lost a large percentage of their slave
population in one way or another during the war.
Before 1800,
they had imported almost 20,000 Africans to South Carolina.
And obviously,
as we’re going to see in future lectures,
given this divide over the issue of slavery,
it became a continual deal-breaker whenever any sort
of national initiative was being discussed,
like the drafting of a new Constitution.
Again and again over the course
of the next few decades, the issue of slavery would be
raised and then dropped, sometimes immediately dropped,
always being sidestepped as just being too dangerous to
handle in a fragile new union. And obviously if you look far
down the road, this kind of behavior was no
solution, because way down the road we end up in a civil war.
Now as I said at the outset,
I’m going to let you discuss for yourselves in a couple of
weeks, thinking back over the
semester, about the implications of the information that I just
gave you, about slavery and whether or
not this constitutes radical change.
What does this mean?
Now I want to turn to the
question of women and how the Revolution affected them.
And I’ve already mentioned in
past lectures how women were politicized with the resistance
effort. Boycotting British goods is an
act of– It’s a political act ,and women
are often the people who are purchasing goods–
that the need to spin and weave homespun cloth,
because British manufactured goods are being boycotted–
again, that’s a really political act.
So some of the daily actions of
women became politicized during the Revolution.
And there were some women who
were even more overtly political: drafting petitions,
participating in mass political events.
In North Carolina in 1774,
as an example of some very politically activated women,
fifty-one women wrote out a resolution declaring their
allegiance to the American cause.
In 1780 in Philadelphia,
thirty-six women apparently created and ran an amazingly
successful campaign to raise money to equip American troops,
and supposedly in a matter of weeks these thirty-six women
raised roughly $300,000. Those are sort of active,
amazingly effective women. So there are some women that
are really explicitly sort of campaigning politically,
but this doesn’t mean that women were wholeheartedly
welcomed into the political community.
Of course, they didn’t have the
franchise, except briefly in New Jersey.
This is a New Jersey moment.
Is anyone here from New Jersey?
Oh, we have many New Jersey
people. New Jersey shines right here,
well, at least for a little while.
We have a shining New Jersey
moment. Believe it or not,
[laughter] for a little window of time in
New Jersey, women had the vote during this
time period, in direct consequence of the
principles of the Revolution. And the way that this worked is
that basically as a new state, New Jersey created its own
constitution, a new constitution,
in 1776. And apparently that
constitution had gender-neutral language in it,
and it referred to inhabitants voting,
inhabitants who could meet a fifty-pound property
requirement, so any inhabitant who had those
fifty pounds could vote. Now obviously,
that did not explicitly mention women,
but in 1790, state legislators in New Jersey
passed an electoral statute explicitly affirming female
suffrage, and used the word
“he” and the word “she”
in discussing this, so they were very
straightforward about it. Now in point in fact,
only small numbers of women voted because except for a small
number of wealthy widows there were not that many women who
could satisfy the property requirement.
Still, beginning roughly in
1797, small numbers of women, probably a few hundred in any
given election, did vote in New Jersey in both
state and national elections. It’s a little happy New Jersey
moment. However, in 1807 some election
fraud and I suppose, lingering and persistent
anxiety about exactly what female suffrage meant,
led the New Jersey legislature, people of all parties in the
New Jersey legislature, to pass a law explicitly
prohibiting women from voting. So literally it’s this little
window, a couple of years, and then suffrage is taken
away. Interestingly,
historians have not found much protest on the part of New
Jersey women, and there was not actually a
lot of response as to what it meant to lose the vote,
but again that might be because we’re talking about such small
numbers. Interestingly,
during roughly that same little window of time,
a few states experimented with black suffrage in their first
state constitutions. So New York,
New Jersey, and Pennsylvania for at least a time in their new
constitutions allowed free black men to vote.
This did not last for a very
long time, and as a matter of fact New
Jersey, when they took the vote away
from women also took it away from free black men.
So there’s a little window when
some states are willing to experiment with this idea and
then that experiment is ended at the beginning of the nineteenth
century. So, window of opportunity,
not a long-standing change. Even so, women post-Revolution
did have something of a more established political role in
the community-at-large, and it’s as wives and mothers,
but it’s not just: ‘go be a wife,
go be a mother, thank you very much,
that’s good for the polity.’ It’s actually a little bit more
complicated than that. Basically, as the republic got
under way, it was assumed that women would
have an important political role to play,
and this has to do with the nature of a republic.
A republic is supposedly
grounded on a populace that understands its liberties and
rights, is vigilant to protect those
liberties and rights, knows what it’s supposed to be
doing as citizens, knows how to act as a good
citizen. A republic is grounded on its
citizens, the activities and the vigilance of its citizens.
So in a republic,
it’s really important for people to understand what it
means to be a small-“r”
republican. So women, as the people who are
literally mothering new little republicans being born all the
time, were seen to have an important
role to play as the people who were literally schooling their
children to be good republican citizens.
And there is a historian named
Linda Kerber and– she is actually in your
Major Problems– There’s an excerpt of what
I’m talking about here that’s in your Major Problems
textbook. This historian named Linda
Kerber came up with a phrase to describe this politicized role
and she used the term “republican
motherhood” to describe it,
and historians really liked that phrase and they took it and
they ran with it, so now you see republican
motherhood all over the place. A lot of people talk about
republican motherhood. A few people said,
‘Well, actually, I think it’s more like
republican wife,’ but one way or another the idea was one that
was popular with historians and they ran with it.
Now I mention republican
motherhood partly because I think it’s a nicely descriptive
phrase that kind of sums up what I just said,
partly because historically it’s significant and
historians– if you read about women in the
Revolution, you’re going to see that phrase
all over the place– but I do want to note here,
having just mentioned it, it’s not like people in early
America were walking around claiming to be republican
mothers. That’s–Actually,
it’s not something from the time.
It’s a modern idea that’s being
imposed back to explain behavior from an earlier time.
So it’s not like people were
sort of using that phrase in the period that we’re talking about.
Now to be a good republican
mother, a woman needed to be well-educated,
obviously so she could educate her children.
So in essence,
if you were going to raise solid republican citizens,
they needed to be good, solid republicans themselves.
So logically enough female
education got something of a boost after the Revolution,
and throughout the country there were a number of women’s
academies and schools formed for advanced learning for women that
had not been there before. There was a lot of attention
being paid to female education. You see it in public
discussions at the time. People are actually talking
about–Men are actually talking about what is the proper
education for a woman, what should be happening,
where should things be going, what should we be doing,
what’s best for the republic. Now I’ve already talked about
how with the issue of slavery, thanks to anxieties raised by
the Revolution and fears about social disorder,
some Southern states responded by focusing even more deeply on
more deeply entrenching the system of slavery.
Not surprisingly,
in the case of women, there were some anxieties
raised by the implications of the Revolution regarding their
status and their actions as well.
It can be a little harder to
see but it is there. And one of the interesting
places where–Gosh. It’s been a number of years.
A number of years ago I
stumbled across newspaper essays, and I thought they were
really fascinating, and they bear light on this.
newspapers–We’ve seen them. They’re short.
They’re a couple of pages.
Sometimes–in the newspaper we
looked at I don’t think there was one–
but sometimes they would have little satirical essays,
usually with some sort of political commentary or maybe
social commentary attached to them.
And what I stumbled across–and
I think both of these examples are from 1789 or 1790,
so the government has just gotten under way–
I found these little satirical essays,
both of which were kind of showing anxieties about women
having political power and making fun of women with
political power. So I found one essay that pokes
fun at women who are so informed politically that they know the
identity of all the people who write with pseudonyms in the
newspapers. And so it was this little sort
of sarcastic essay, sort of: well,
you women, you bad mothers who read the paper and you know who
Publius is, but you don’t know where your
child is. It’s sort of–It was meant to
be funny, but that was the tone: bad mother, good politician,
bad mother, bad, bad, bad for America.
And there was another one that
was using satire to poke fun at the idea of women applying for
the position of Doorkeeper of Congress.
No symbolism there.
And it was an essay that was
well: what does that mean, a woman applying to be the
Doorkeeper of Congress, acting as though that had
happened and then kind of making fun of the implications of what
it would mean if a woman had sort of a political role with an
actual political institution. So both of those things were
really interesting to me because they–
they’re not directly saying, ‘Wow, we’re really anxious
about the implications of the Revolution regarding women,
so we’re going to write really anxious little essays,’ but
that’s basically what they were–
was showing some anxieties, showing awareness of change,
and not necessarily being all that happy about what that
change might mean. Okay.
So we’ve seen some ways in
which the Revolution affected women.
I want to turn,
before I run out of time here, to Native Americans as a final
sort of test case on the bounds of the American Revolution.
Now, Native Americans had a
complicated experience of the American Revolution and it was
complicated in many ways. For one thing,
they were being courted by the British,
and the British have long had a presence in Western frontier
territories, so they had experience dealing
with Native Americans. Obviously, also,
Native Americans were living on land that was constantly,
deeply desired by Americans of various sorts.
And even before the Revolution,
white American settlers didn’t need much of an excuse to wage
an attack on Indians to get land,
so that’s even before the impact of the Revolution.
Not surprisingly,
Native Americans that sided with the British really
complicated their relationship with white Americans.
Americans basically struck back.
So for example in 1776 and
1780, even as the Revolution is still going on,
you had Americans attacking the Cherokee Indians.
In 1779, Americans attacked the
Iroquois. In 1780 and ’82,
they attacked the Shawnee. So even as the Revolution is
going on, Americans are acknowledging
that they’re– they feel threatened by Native
Americans, they understand that there’s a
link somehow between British and Native Americans,
and they’re waging attacks there as well as everywhere
else. The Treaty of Paris did not
help matters. The treaty ceded to the United
States British holdings east of the Mississippi River.
But given that logically enough
there were no Native American representatives at the treaty
negotiations in Paris, Native Americans were stunned
to discover later that their territory had just been signed
away by the British and given to the Americans.
One member of the Iroquois told
a British commander who was posted out on the frontier that,
quote, “If it was really true that the English had basely
betrayed them by pretending to give up their Country to the
Americans Without their Consent”–
I like the fact that it’s “pretending”–
“without their Consent or Consulting them,
it was an act of Cruelty and injustice that Christians
only were capable of doing.”
A really strong statement.
Even so, when American
commissioners went west after the treaty had gone into effect,
they were operating under the idea that in defeating the
British they had also defeated Britain’s Native American
allies; they were the conquerors,
they had been given the land, and they actually assumed when
they headed west and were treating with Native Americans
that they were being generous by giving back to the Native
Americans some of what had been theirs but was no longer theirs.
This was a really nice theory,
but in fact, as Americans would discover
over the course of the 1780s and even into the 1790s,
as much as they could claim that they had conquered Native
Americans, the new United States and
Americans in the new United States had no ability to act
like conquerors, no physical ability to act like
conquerors. They just didn’t have the
military power. And throughout this period as
American settlers moved west, Native Americans went to
battle, defended their land, and often American attempts to
quash these attacks were disastrous for the Americans.
And as an example of what we’re
talking about here, in 1789 the national Army of
the United States, whatever was of it,
had roughly 700 men. The Creek Indians alone had
between 3,500 and 6,000 warriors.
We’re not really powerful as
far as being a sort of national presence demanding or commanding
anything. For the Native Americans,
the disastrous impact of the Revolution inspired many of them
to become more united and not just as individual tribes,
but it actually united different tribal groups together
explicitly based on the idea that they were different from
white people and needed to unite against them.
Tribe and tribe and tribe and
tribe together needed to form unity in a way in which they
hadn’t necessarily done before to unite against white people.
Now this wasn’t true for all
Native Americans, nor did all of them assume that
their only option was war. Some did decide to try to blend
in to communities– black communities,
white communities– and white Americans throughout
this period, some of them at least,
also were busily trying to convince some Native Americans
to just take up agriculture and sort of blend in.
If they could take a little
plot of land and begin farming, some Americans thought that
maybe that would be an alternative to warfare,
that native Americans could kind of become part of American
society. Thomas Jefferson talks about
this some in Notes on the State of Virginia.
And for many white
Americans, this was the only option that they could envision
that might prevent future warfare and–
bloody, nasty future warfare. But as you can tell by a lot of
what I just said there, in the end generally speaking
the Revolution brought nothing but trouble to North America’s
native peoples and that trouble would persist for decades to
come. It’s interesting.
I–I’m going to give a little
shout-out here. I have a senior essay
writer–Senior essays are on my mind, since all I’m doing is
reading drafts of senior essays. But I have a senior essay
writer who is writing his essay on the fact that there’s a
little, tiny window–we’re talking
about a lot of little, tiny windows–a little,
tiny window at the beginning of the new government under the
Constitution, and there was a brief period in
which the national government thought well,
maybe we can actually have sincere diplomacy with the
Native Americans; we can sort of treat them like
a foreign nation and do something that will maybe waylay
problems. It’s not a window that lasts
very long, and when that window is over,
there is more nasty warfare, but that’s what this senior
essay is about, that little window that this
essay argues is often not recognized because people look
to sort of Jackson wiping out Native Americans,
and they just transpose that back across time,
and they don’t really acknowledge that this little bit
of diplomacy here was serious. They sort of assume–Some
historians assume that it was just a delaying measure while
Americans built up troops. So anyway, in one way or
another the Revolution brought nothing but trouble to native
peoples, and that trouble obviously
continued and in a way got worse in years to come.
So we’ve looked at the impact
of the Revolution on African Americans, on women,
on Native Americans. We’ve seen their experiences of
the Revolution. We’ve seen some of the impact
of those experience–experiences and the outcome.
We’ve seen some change,
some of it for the better, some of it long standing,
some of it maybe not so much. We’ve seen also how change
doesn’t happen in a predictable, linear kind of a way.
I think there is an assumption
when you think about the history of almost anything,
but certainly maybe in the history of your own country,
that things are always getting better.
They started out sort of
primitive, but they’re always getting better.
And I think in particular when
you look at the sort of subject we look at today,
what you see is that things sort of do this.
Things are not always getting
better. History is actually actions and
reactions, and sometimes the reaction is not so great.
So, things get better,
they get worse, they kind of stay the same,
maybe they’re a little better, maybe they’re even better,
and then they get worse again. And I think taking the long
view of American history, I think that’s a more realistic
way to think about how things change over time,
than to assume that everything always gets better.
I think these three populations
show that really dramatically. However, I’m not going to tell
you whether I think that means that the Revolution is radical
or not. I think I successfully did not
do that in that lecture; I hope I did.
And I’m going to be really
interested, after you meet and have that
discussion, to hear what you discussed,
what you think, what your thoughts are,
how radical was the American Revolution.
And I will end there and I will
see you next week.

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