I recently came across an entertaining series entitled “Crash Course in American History” by John Green. This youtube series covers history in a style that seems perfectly suited to hold the attention of even the most sugared up ADD 8 year old.
Episode #7 focuses on the American Revolution. Sticking with the style of his series, John entertains by keeping the dialog short and sweet while avoiding the complexities and shades of gray that get in the way of a good story.
However, his highly caffeinated leapfrog style makes it easy for him to make factual statements that point to highly suspect conclusions if not examined closely. For example, lets take a closer look at a statement starting at the 4:23 mark:
And its worth remembering that the British Empire abolished slavery in all of its territory by in 1843–and without a civil war.
If I understand this statement correctly, John is implying that had the British won the Revolutionary War, they would of abolished slavery in England and it’s territories with the simple swipe of a lawmakers pen.
But as any casual observer of history would tell you, the British had a hard enough time passing a basic tea tax on it’s American colonies, much less enforcing a law that fundamentally undercuts the social, political and economic order of a group of very wealthy and powerful citizens 1200 miles away from London.
Even before Eli Witney’s cotton gin solidified the ‘peculiar institution’ into the very essence of southern economic life, the Founders recognized that perserving the fledgling Republic required a painful concession that contradicted the principles of The Revolution.
Jefferson wrote that slavery was like holding
a wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go.
Many hoped in vain for a gradual emancipation, but both Washington and Jefferson both recognized that the Revolutionary generation essentially kicked the can down the road. They correctly feared that a great reckoning would be unavoidable.
A few short generations later, Lincoln faced the reality of letting the wolf free.
Thanks in large part to Lincoln, the Civil War would eventually come to be understood as a step closer to the unrealized ideals of the American Revolution. It would be, according to John Buchanan, “the unfinished business of the Revolution”.
But what if the British won the Revolutionary War? Simple. London would be the one left holding the wolf by the ear.
No simple law would bloodlessly break slaves from their bondage as John implies. The envitable war over slavery would be not an ‘if’ but a ‘when’. All the Revolutionary War decided was whether the following war would be fought by one contentment or two.