Welcometo the Tennessee SAR Website. The Tennessee SAR, Sons of the AmericanRevolution, currently has 21 Chapters and over 1,200 members. OurSociety supports and works closely with the Children of the AmericanRevolution and The Daughters of the American Revolution promotingAmerican Heritage.
The TNSAR invites all Eagle Scouts (under 19 yearsof age) interested in the American Revolution to participate in theArthur M. & Berdena King Eagle Scout Award.…
TNSAR invites all Americanhistory teachers, whose approvedcurriculum teaches students about the Revolutionary War era from 1750to 1800, to apply for the Dr. Tom & Betty Lawrence AmericanHistoryTeacher Award. …
Academic histories of the Revolution, though, have been peeping over the parapets, joining scholarly scruples to contemporary polemic. One new take insists that we misunderstand the Revolution if we make what was an intramural and fratricidal battle of ideas in the English-speaking Empire look like a modern colonial rebellion. Another insists that the Revolution was a piece of great-power politics, fought in unimaginably brutal terms, and no more connected to ideas or principles than any other piece of great-power politics: America was essentially a Third World country that became the battlefield for two First World powers. Stirred into the larger pot of recent revisionism, these arguments leave us with a big question: was it really worth it, and are we better off for its having happened? In plain American, is Donald Trump a bug or a feature of the American heritage?
This account cuts against the American specificity of the Revolution—the sense that it was a rebellion against a king and a distant country. No one at the time, du Rivage suggests, saw what was happening as pitting a distinct “American” nation against an alien British one. Participants largely saw the conflict in terms of two parties fighting for dominance in the English-speaking world. The scandalous high-water mark of du Rivage’s iconography occurs in January of 1775, when Pitt (now ennobled as the Earl of Chatham) brought Franklin, then living in London, into the House of Lords to witness his speech on behalf of the American radicals, in effect sealing the unity of the single party across the ocean. This scene—though nowhere captured in the familiar imagery of Franklin flying his kite and inventing bifocals—was, in its day, as significant as that of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Hoock is almost too delighted with his discoveries; like the fat boy in “Pickwick,” he wants to make your flesh creep. Certainly, no reader will ever be able to imagine the Revolution again as the pop-gun pageantry that those Philadelphia school talks instilled in us kids. He details tortures inflicted on both sides—the phrase “tarred and feathered” persists as something vaguely folkloric but is revealed as unimaginably cruel. The prison ships in which captured soldiers were placed were themselves sites of horror: thousands of American captives were left to languish, starve, and often die, in British sloops kept just offshore. The reader grimaces at Hoock’s description of a British bayonet massacre, a kind of mini My Lai, of helpless patriots in rural New Jersey:
The Revolution remains the last bulwark of national myth. Academics write on the growth of the Founding Father biographical genre in our time; the rule for any new writer should be that if you want a Pulitzer and a best-seller you must find a Founding Father and fetishize him. While no longer reverential, these accounts are always heroic in the core sense of showing us men, and now, occasionally, women, who transcend their flaws with spirit (though these flaws may include little things like holding other human beings as property, dividing their families, and selling off their children). The phenomenon of “,” the hip-hop musical that is, contrary to one’s expectations, wholly faithful to a heroic view of American independence, reinforces the sanctity of the American Revolution in American life.
The narrow lesson here is that war is war, and that the moment the dogs of war are unleashed—anywhere, for any purpose—atrocity follows. In an epilogue, Hoock makes the wise point that, given what wars of national liberation are actually like, Americans should perhaps be disabused of our enthusiasm for nation-building and democracy exportation. Yet what specific point about our political legacy does Hoock want to make? Even just wars are appalling; knowing how high the casualty rate was on Omaha Beach and in the Normandy campaign after D Day does not reduce our sense that the Second World War was a necessary conflict. The horrors of the Civil War were still more horrific than those of the Revolution, and yet few are sorry that it was fought; in any case, that war has never been subject to the same amnesia, in part because, given the presence of photography and wire-service telegraphy, it was hard to hide those horrors in neat packets of patriotism.
And what if it was a mistake from the start? The Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution, the creation of the United States of America—what if all this was a terrible idea, and what if the injustices and madness of American life since then have occurred not in spite of the virtues of the Founding Fathers but because of them? The Revolution, this argument might run, was a needless and brutal bit of slaveholders’ panic mixed with Enlightenment argle-bargle, producing a country that was always marked for violence and disruption and demagogy. Look north to Canada, or south to Australia, and you will see different possibilities of peaceful evolution away from Britain, toward sane and whole, more equitable and less sanguinary countries. No revolution, and slavery might have ended, as it did elsewhere in the British Empire, more peacefully and sooner. No “peculiar institution,” no hideous Civil War and appalling aftermath. Instead, an orderly development of the interior—less violent, and less inclined to celebrate the desperado over the peaceful peasant. We could have ended with a social-democratic commonwealth that stretched from north to south, a near-continent-wide Canada.
Hoock’s book does raise another, unexpected question: why is it that, until now, the Civil War cast such a long, bitter shadow, while the Revolution was mostly reimagined as a tale of glory? One reason, too easily overlooked, is that, while many of those who made the Civil War were killed during it, including the Union Commander-in-Chief, none of the makers of the Revolution died fighting in it. The Founding Fathers had rolled the dice and put their heads on the line, but theirs was the experience of eluding the bullet, and, as Churchill said, there is nothing so exhilarating as being shot at without result. Of how many revolutions can it be said that nearly all its makers died in their beds? In the American Revolution, the people who suffered most were not the people who benefitted most, and the lucky ones wrote most of the story. Like everything in history, amnesia has its own causality.
That historical account would be as self-serving and tendentious, in its own way, as our current glorious one. Against the skeptical view of the achievement of the American Revolution, one can easily posit a view more radical than even the ideology of radical Whigs quite suggests. Three decades ago, Gordon Wood, in “,” asked us to see the Revolution in the broadest historical scale, and to realize that, whatever its failings and brutalities and hypocrisies, it represented a decisive break with doctrines of inherited power and monarchical rule, and a move toward democracy that had scarcely been so dramatically accomplished since very ancient times. Jonathan Israel’s forthcoming book “The Expanding Blaze” promises to make a similar case: that the revolution was the great radical act of its day, responsible, directly and indirectly, for the onset of the modern age. Abolitionism rose from the promise of the Revolution more than the Revolution sustained slavery.