All revolutions create myths, and the American Revolution is no different. There are many myths about the American Revolution, some of which you could believe.
Separating American Revolutionary mythology from history is critical because an accurate understanding of US origins is critical to understanding our nation and its government. Unfortunately, many Americans view the myths as history while failing to learn the true lessons of the Revolutionary War.
To help you better understand America’s Revolution, I will try to debunk a few of those myths.
American Revolutionary Mythology, you could believe, include:
The Founding Fathers fought the Revolution to Defend Slavery
Disgustingly, this myth is widespread on the American left. The myth is that the Founders launched the Revolution because the British Crown was about to free their slaves and abolish the slave trade.
This myth is nonsense because Parliament did not pass the Slavery Abolition Act ending slavery in the British Empire until 1833. Moreover, King George III did not sign the Act for Abolition of the Slave Trade until 1807.
Hence, slavery was still legal in the British Empire when the Revolution ended in 1783. His Majesty’s Government had no plans to abolish slavery in 1775.
Moreover, the American Revolutionary leaders made no official stand for or against slavery. Instead, the Founders included abolitionists such as Thomas Jefferson (he later changed his mind), John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin and unrepentant slave owners such as James Madison.
Notably, a defense of slavery was not among the many grievances the Founders made. If the Founders were fighting for slavery, as the Confederacy did, they would have said no. Yet they did not. For example, the Declaration of Independence does not mention slavery.
Instead, the Founders planned to deal with the problem of slavery after the war. Ironically, the Founders put off slavery again in the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and America did not settle slavery until the Civil War.
Strangely, slavery was not under threat until the war began. After the war began, some British officers began freeing and arming slaves to hurt Americans.
This emancipation was not idealistic. The British were seeking additional recruits and trying to deprive Americans of a valuable economic resources. Thousands of African Americans enlisted in the British Army to fight the Americans.
However, thousands of African Americans also served in the Continental Army and earned George Washington’s praise. Thus, there was no simple stand on slavery in the Revolution.
The evidence shows most of the Founders opposed the expansion of slavery. For instance, Abraham Lincoln estimated 21 of the 39 delegates at the Constitutional Convention opposed the expansion of slavery into the new territories acquired in the Revolutionary War.*
Additionally, Congress banned slavery in new territories north of the Ohio River by adopting Thomas Jefferson’s Northwest Ordinance in 1787. If the Founders were defending slavery, why did they ban its spread.
Thus, slavery was not a major issue in the Revolutionary War. Instead, the principal issue the Founders fought for was independence.
The idea of the Founders fighting for slavery is appealing to America-bashing leftists, but it is not history. Although the idea of the Constitution as a slave document is not original.
During the 19th Century, abolitionist publisher William Lloyd Garrison popularized the idea of pro slavery Constitution. For example, Garrison branded the US Constitution a “covenant with death,” and “an agreement with hell.” Garrison refused to acknowledge “the pro-slavery, war sanctioning Constitution of the United States.”
Bizarrely, pro-slavery US Chief Justice Roger Taney agreed with Garrison’s thesis. In his notorious Dred Scott Decision, Taney wrote that the Constitution did not protect blacks and gave whites a right to slavery.
Many historians cite the Dred Scott Decision as a cause of the Civil War. I think modern Americans should be afraid because radicals are reviving Civil War era arguments such as the Constitution as slave document thesis.
The Founding Fathers were White Supremacists who founded a White Nation
Strangely, the leftist nonsense about the Founders fighting for slavery lends credence to the racist delusion is that America was intended to be a white nation. This idea is not new. Some 19th Century figures, including Garrison and Taney, believed the Constitution was a white supremacist document that created a white nation.
Yes, some founders, including Thomas Jefferson, expressed white supremacist ideas. However, others including George Washington believed a multiracial nation was possible. In particular, Washington thought that both African Americans and Native Americans could become good American citizens. For instance, Washington freed his slaves in his will. Specifically, the will freed Washington’s slaves at the death of his widow Martha.
In addition, Washington and other Founders accepted black soldiers in the Continental Army. Washington praised the service of black soldiers. If the founders were racists, why did they give blacks weapons and military training?
Notably, the Founders did not try to remove slaves and freed blacks from America. Instead, the Founding Fathers accepted black people in America. Even if they did not accept blacks as equals. Therefore, the Founding Fathers did not see black people as a threat to white people as modern white nationalists do.
Another founder, President John Adams (F-Massachusetts) was a vigorous supporter of the black resistance to Napoleon I’s attempt to restore slavery in Haiti. However, other Founders, including Jefferson, refused to help the Haitians.
Moreover, modern racism did not exist in the 18th century. To explain, the scientific theories, such as Darwinism, that form the basis of modern racism did not exist in the 18th century. Instead, 18th century racists relied on gut instinct or a heretical reading of the Bible to justify their bigotry.
Thus, there is no historical evidence linking the founders to modern racism. Indeed, race was not a major issue for the Founders. To elaborate, the Founders lacked the 225 years of cultural baggage that shapes modern American attitudes about race.
Claims the Founders were racists or white Supremacists are an attempt to project modern views on 18th century people. Hence, the idea the Founders built a white nation is as historically accurate as the musical Hamilton.
George Washington Won the Revolutionary War with a Volunteer Militia
Perhaps the most pervasive Revolutionary War myth is that idea that George Washington defeated the British Regulars with a volunteer militia of American citizen soldiers.
A quick glance at history shows this idea is nonsense. Washington went to great lengths to organize and train a Regular Army. For example, Washington had the Prussian mercenary Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben create drills, a basic training system, and regulations for the Continental Army. Steuben based his training regime on the methods of the Prussian Army.
Washington and von Steuben imposed ruthless discipline on the Continental Army. For instance, Washington ordered soldiers ruthlessly tortured for disobeying orders.
Moreover, most of Washington’s soldiers were not militiamen but volunteers. Ordinary Americans volunteered for the Continental Army or a belief that they could receive land or pay after the war. Militia played an important role in the war, particularly in the Siege of Boston, but they did not form of the bulk of the Continental Army.
In addition, Washington received extensive help from France’s professional army, then the best in the world. The help included professional French officers such as Lafayette, and an army of over 12,000 French regular soldiers. The French regulars provided critical support for the American victory at the key battle of Yorktown.
Washington himself had a poor opinion of militia. He had seen militia runaway from French regulars during the Seven Years War. Interestingly, Washington was just as skeptical of British Regulars. Washington was skeptical of British Regulars because of their failures in the early part of the French and Indian War.
If the militia was as effective as American mythology claims. Washington would not have not gone to great lengths to create a Regular Army. Yet he did. Unlike many of today’s romantics, Washington understood professional soldiers are often necessary to win wars.
In particular, Washington needed soldiers willing to serve for several years and wait out British public opinion. Militiamen with crops to harvest, businesses to run, and families to feed were incapable of such long-term service.
So where does the myth of militia victory in the Revolution come from? It came from later political propaganda.
To explain, many of the Founders were afraid of standing armies. The fear was that standing armies could lead to military dictatorship. In particular, a dictatorship such as that of British tyrant Oliver Cromwell who got absolute power by commanding the revolutionary army in the English Civil War.
The Founders were so afraid of an American Cromwell they tried to create a federal government without a regular army. However, America’s near defeat in the Northwest Indian War a few years later forced Washington to create a standing army: the Legion of the United States. The Legion of the United States evolved into the US Army.
Unfortunately, the mythology of American amateurs beating British Regulars endures to this day.
The Founding Fathers started America as a Christian Nation
This myth is popular among many evangelical Christians. However, it is easy to debunk.
To explain, neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution mentions the name Jesus Christ. If the Founders wanted to create a Christian nation, they would have mentioned Jesus, yet they do not. Additionally, neither document establishes a national church of the United States.
Indeed, the Founders rarely discussed religion or spirituality, even though some of them were devout Christians. One reason the Founders avoided religion was fear of religious war.
To explain, there many Christian denominations in the 13 colonies. For example, each colony had an established church or freedom religion. For example, Massachusetts was Congregationalist while Virginia was Anglican. In contrast, Pennsylvania had no established church.
The Founders’ fear was fighting between different religious groups. Hence, they avoided religion. Notably, the original Constitution did not even grant Freedom of Religion. Instead, they created the First Amendment to ensure Freedom of Religion.
Later, one Founder Thomas Jefferson became an outspoken advocate of separation of Church and State. However, most of the Founders kept silent about religion for political reasons.
Therefore, the Founders did not create a Christian Nation. Instead, they sensibly let Americans make up their own minds about religion.
So there are many myths about the American Revolution. Fortunately, those myths are easy to debunk.
*Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln Presidentby Haorld Holzer page 107.