July 2008

24 July 2008
The American Revolution Challenge

In a previous posting I asked whether the American Revolution deserved the name.  I asked, if its aim, as is so often claimed, was freedom then, when the dust had settled, what freedoms did Americans possess that Britons did not.

I didn’t get many replies.  A couple of commenters pointed out (citing the French and Russian examples) that revolutions don’t have to have anything to do with freedom to be called revolutions.  That’s a fair point but still, in what way was the American Revolution a revolution?  I often hear the claim that it got rid of the monarchy.  But hadn’t Britain already done precisely that?  Sure there was a guy called George III who was called the monarch but what powers did he really have?  It seems to me that after about 1720 (and the creation of the office of Prime Minister) the British monarchy was something of a paper tiger.

Thankfully, a chap called Maldain took up the challenge:

Well, let’s see at the time.  The average Brit didn’t have the right to free and unfettered speech.  Speaking against the crown was considered sedition and punishable by prison or death.  The average Brit didn’t enjoy a truly free press as the crown could and did shut down the press at will.

The average Brit was not allowed to keep and bear arms. 

The average Brit was required when so ordered to quarter troops in their homes.

The average Brit’s home, business and person was eligible to be searched at any time without showing cause.

The average Brit did not have the right to not speak in court.  In fact was required to give evidence against himself.

That’s much more interesting.  But is it true?  Did Britons genuinely not have these freedoms at the time?  For instance, isn’t the right to keep and bear arms enshrined in the (English) Bill of Rights?  The other thing is that Maldain’s list appears to be a listing of the amendments to the US Constitution.  Fair enough, but what the law says and what the law does are two different things.  Did Americans genuinely enjoy these freedoms after they were introduced in 1791?