It was a difficult time for the American Revolution.
It was vilified by the New York Times 1619 project as a struggle to preserve slavery. Juneteenth, a worthy event in its own right, is seen by some as a candidate to replace July 4, marking a supposedly more acceptable and less imperfect Independence Day. Statues of Revolutionary leaders have been vandalized and demolished.
It is insane, ungrateful and destructive. Ours is the greatest revolution the world has ever known. She succeeded where so many have failed, dealt a severe blow to monarchy and aristocracy, inspired Republican movements around the world, and won independence from a country whose power and ideals have influenced the course of history for the better.
We should not underestimate the violence and, at times, the brutality of a multidimensional struggle that has spanned years and that has killed more Americans per capita than any other conflict outside of the Civil War.
But there was nothing like the Vendée, the bloodbath where royalist resistance to the French Revolution in a western region of the country was quelled in a spasm of all-consuming savagery in 1794, not to mention the terrors that characterized the revolutions. 20th century communists.
Revolutionary military leader George Washington had no ambition to rule alone and quelled a potential military coup by reluctant soldiers in Newburgh in 1783.
The Revolution did not devour his. Its leaders died in their beds. At the end of long lives, sworn political enemies John Adams and Thomas Jefferson began a respectful correspondence and both died on July 4, 1826, still honored 50 years after the Revolution.
When the country’s politics split after the war, no one was guillotined or exiled for their beliefs. Instead, the deep disagreements between the two sides played out in battles in the newspapers and at the ballot box.
The Revolution did not seek to erase everything that had preceded it. There was no year zero. The idealism of the Revolution (Thomas Paine: “We have the power to restart the world”) was accompanied by a realism about human nature (James Madison: “There is a certain degree of depravity in humanity” ).
He established a Republican system that lasted. Where other revolutions gave way to serial regime change, whether in Mexico or France, the Revolution led to the adoption of a constitution of remarkable resistance.
It was an achievement of world historical significance. In his book ‘The Expanding Blaze’, Jonathan Israel writes: ‘The Revolution began the demolition of the modern hierarchical world of kings, aristocracy, serfdom, slavery and mercantilist colonial empires, beginning its slow and complex redesign in the basic format of modernity. “
Have the Revolutionary ideals of republicanism and equal rights been incompletely realized, and have the men who married them often been blinded and hypocritical? Yes of course. But the Revolution coincided with an in-depth debate on the status of slavery that opened up new perspectives. As historian Peter Kolchin writes, the aftermath of the Revolution saw “the abolition of slavery in the North, a sharp increase in the number of free blacks in the upper South and the end of the African slave trade. “.
This is also an important legacy of the Revolution, although overlooked by critics for whom our failings erase everything else.
Frederick Douglass thunderously condemned the United States for celebrating its freedom while tolerating – or affirmatively defending – the barbaric practice of movable slavery in his famous 1852 speech, “What is the slave is July 4th? Yet he appreciated the greatness of the founding generation and their manual labor.
“It doesn’t often happen for a nation to raise, at one point, such a number of really great men,” he said. “Their sense of the statesman went beyond the passing moment and extended in force into the distant future. They took hold of eternal principles and set a glorious example in their defense. Mark them!
Rich Lowry is a union columnist. He’s on Twitter @RichLowry.