Dr. Gary North has asked the question in the title, just a few days ago. His column on the topic is linked to below:
Dr. North has written on the topic before. I don’t know if his current column is a reprint, a revised version of something published previously, or a completely new treatment of the topic.
Dr. North, a leading Christian economist and historian, is asking an important question. (I have borrowed his title; thanks.) Most of us have assumed that the American Revolution was definitely a good thing. But was it?
Dr. North points out that British taxation on the colonies varied from about 1% to 2.5%. Horrific, right? Well, no, all of us would be thrilled if the national government took so little from us. Dr. North guides us to Alvin Rabushka’s 2008 book Taxation in Colonial America, for statistical back-up. It sounds like a valuable book; I have not read it.
Read Dr. North’s article for yourself. I won’t try to summarize his points, other than the one already made about taxation. Using his article as a springboard, I want to suggest other reasons why we might want to revise our opinion of the American Revolution.
One of the most important points is that leaders are often in a hurry to go to war. Which ends up causing a lot of dead bodies (of ordinary people), and a lot of crippled bodies (of ordinary people), as well as physical destruction. And the wars are usually avoidable. The Bible tells us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (Romans 12:18) Once a war starts, bad things tend to happen. They happened in the American Revolution.
For example, 6,800 Americans died in battle, and another 8 to 12 thousand died as prisoners of war. Call it 15,000 total, to be cautious in our estimate. That sounds like a relative pittance–not a huge price to pay to be enabled to be a free country. But the population of the colonies in 1776 was approximately 2,500,000. That means that if the U.S. went to war right now, having about 325,000,000 people, and lost war dead in the proportion suffered in the American revolution, we would lose about 1,950,000 people. That does not count those “only” wounded or crippled. So the colonies’ war dead may seem to be a small figure, but only if we are unable to understand proportionality.
Of course the British lost dead and wounded too. Maybe it would have been better that their bodies remain living and whole. Just a thought.
And, having won the war, what had we gained? We had life all figured out, right? Well, within 85 years we ended the experiment in republican government. The Civil War put completely paid to the American republic. From 1861 on we were an empire. We paid another 620,000 dead (maybe more) in order to end the republic and to become an empire. Might it not have been better to remain part of the British Empire in 1776? At least we could have avoided the 620,000 dead of 1861-1865. I won’t mention the crippled. Okay, I guess I just did. I won’t mention the physical destruction of the South. Oops, sorry.
The Civil War ended slavery in the U.S. Well, if we had stayed in the British Empire, we could have ended slavery without violence, as did Great Britain–and they did it before we did.
How horrible would it be to still be part of the British Empire? Well, Australia and Canada are still part of the British Commonwealth, but they carry on their affairs as independent countries, and have done so for a very long time. They have their problems as individual nations, but their problems have nothing, zero, to do with being a part of the Commonwealth. We too could have readily become an independent country, without violence and without destruction.
Our leaders are very good at getting us into wars that we should not be in. Think about men like Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, or George W. Bush. All got us into wars we should not have been in. They cost us countless dead and crippled. They warped world history in a bad way. They are moral monsters. We let them lead us into disaster.
The lesson we need to take home is simple but not easy: only a biblical form of Christianity will keep us out of evil wars, keep us from attacking our neighbors, keep us from causing unnecessary deaths of our own people and of foreigners. As Buffy Sainte-Marie told us, we are the Universal Soldier, “and we really are to blame.” The Universal Soldiers’ “orders come from far away no more.” Well, they came from far away only because we let them. Our orders really do come from “him and you and me.” There is no doubt that Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Johnson, and Bush are monsters, but it was the Bible-believing Christian mainstream which had nothing better to offer.
The central key to our problems is our brand of Christianity–an antinomian (anti-God’s law) type of Christianity which is unable or unwilling to make practical application of Christian truths to real life. There is a solution: love God and obey Him from the heart, using His word the Bible to guide our thinking and actions. Again: simple but not easy.
Let’s try to answer Dr. North’s question. Was the American Revolution a mistake? It has taken me most of a lifetime to get here (I can be a bit slow), but I think the answer is that yes, it was a mistake.
Worse than that, it was a bad moral decision. Our Christianity was not very biblical. We let our leaders lead us in unbiblical paths. They are still leading us in such paths, and we are still shrugging and letting them do it. Maybe it is time for Plan B.
For a great deal more on the general topic of war, and for a more in-depth discussion of the American Revolution, please see my 2013 378-page paperback Will War Survive Until 2084? $22.00 with free shipping from me, or $2.99 as an ebook.
The barbarians are very strong right now in the U.S. and in England. That happened, somehow, whether we won or lost the Revolutionary War. We can defeat the barbarians, but to do so we will need to start thinking honestly, biblically, about what is good and evil.