THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION




What could possibly be more sacrosanct than our casting off the colonial yoke of Great Britain, a momentous occasion that permitted the world's greatest democratic experiment to move forward?  I'm as big a fan of democracy as anyone else, but the Revolution falls far short of striking a blow for the rule of law.

It's crucial to remember that the Patriots (a minority of American colonists who engaged in hostilities) fought for over a year with no intention of separating from Great Britain.  It was not a war of national liberation until 1776; up until that time, Patriots were battling in order to restore the situation to what it was before 1763: existence within the empire, but with lax British enforcement of long-standing laws.   This is important because France, still seething over its expulsion from North America after losing the Seven Years War to Britain, provided the Patriots with a steady stream of armaments throughout this period.  Although international law was nowhere near as articulated as it is today, supplying arms to insurgents against a recognized government was illegal.  In other words, if a group of nations acted strictly according to the dictates of international law, they would have been perfectly justified in aiding Great Britain against France.  Luckily for the Patriots, however, no one really cared about international law; Spain and Holland eventually joined France in fighting the British.  But for this tag-teaming, the United States never would have been born.
 

What about after the colonies declared independence?  France didn't actually enter the war until after this, so what's the big stink?  The problem is the legal theory that the French used to justify its active intervention: effectiveness.  France claimed that the colonists had achieved an effective level of national existence due to such things as their smashing victory at Saratoga and their Continental Congress.  A law student would call this a "bootstrap" argument the colonists have reached effective national existence, so we can intervene to help them, but they wouldn't have achieved this without our illegal arms shipments in the first place!  Fortunately, France didn't repeat this contortionist reasoning during the American Civil War; if it had, it could have heavily supplied arms to the Confederacy, helped it win even more battles, and then gone on to recognize it and perhaps intervene on its behalf.

If that seems like splitting hairs, let's examine an event in the Revolution that has come back to haunt the United States in its dealings with other countries in more recent times: expropriation.  Under modern international law, a country can take over foreign-owned property if it pays compensation to the owner.  Some countries, such as Guatemala and Cuba, have taken American property without paying proper compensation, thereby causing our government to lambaste them as outlaws.  It just so happens that during the American Revolution, Patriots financed the war effort by seizing the property of Loyalists (the majority of colonial British subjects who chose not to take up arms).  After the war ended, these former Loyalists set up shop in Canada without receiving any recompense.  It's true that compensation was not yet part of customary international law; however, the Treaty of Paris in 1783, which recognized America's independence, stipulated that our national government must recommend to the state legislatures to pay for these deprivations of property.  Needless to say, nothing of the kind ever really happened.  In a fit of sarcasm over the Helms-Burton law, which aimed to penalize countries who profited form using seized American property in Cuba, the Canadian government passed a similar bill penalizing businesses that profited from former Loyalist property in the United States.  Rich indeed.
 

For a host of links concerning the American Revolution, visit capecod.net

If you're interested in reading up on the American Revolution, BookLook maintains a fairly comprehensive listing

For a host of unorthodox views, visit the "Campfire Chat" hosted by Western Canon University.
 


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