Tory…or Whig?

I’ve been wanting to do a post called “Tory or Whig” in regard to the Man with the Muckrake’s comments about the tories. What really got me going was that I saw a copy of Dick Armey’s Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto in the window of my local library.

The modern right has nothing to do with the Tories as this book demonstrates by trying to link the modern US “conservative” movement to the “Patriots” of the War for American Independence and using Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death”. The irony of this was that Patrick Henry, as was Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and quite a few other “Patriots”, were slaveowners. Isn’t it ironic that the person who wrotes such a memorable phrase as:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Not only owned slaves, but was having sex (and Children) with at least one (Sally Hemmings).

Samuel Johnson pointed out out this contradiction with his comment:

“How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes?”

The love of slavery is the one thing these new yelpers of liberty have in common with their forefathers.

But what I really want to point out is that this contradiction between liberty and slavery demonstrates many historical lessons about the US, one of which is that history is written by the victors. And the Tories have become a historic footnote in what was called the War for American Independence, The American Revolution, and America’s First Civil War. The creation myth has it that the American Colonies drove off a foreign foe, but there was a significant portion of the North American Colonial population who were tories. Historians have estimated that between 15 and 20 percent of the white population of the colonies were Loyalists. There is a famous John Adams quote where he estimated this number to be about 1/3 the population of the Colonies. There are comments where the forces of Independence were but the smallest of majorities, which I leads me to question if the forces of independence were a truly a majority of the people.

The ultimate truth is there isn’t an accurate estimate as to how many people actually were tories since it was a rather large and diverse crew. Some people who were tories supported independence, but prefered to use legal rather than extra-legal methods (active rebellion). Others definitely were pro-British and were outspoken about that fact. In areas under rebel control, the Loyalists were subject to confiscation of property, and outspoken supporters of the king were threatened with public humiliation such as tarring and feathering, or physical attack. It is not known how many Loyalist civilians were harassed by the Patriots, but the treatment was a warning to other Loyalists not to take up arms. How many people wanted an orderly independence but had their voices drowned out by the thugs who labelled themselves patriots? How many people just plain kept their mouths shut out of fear?

I think one thing that comes out if one dissects and investigates the War for American Indpendence is that there was a significant segment of the population that was silenced. The First Continental Congress was not held in what is now called Independence Hall, but down the Street in Carpenter’s Hall! This was due to the fact that the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall) was being used by the moderate Provincial Assembly of Pennsylvania! Those calling for Independence did not truly represent the freely given assent of the governed! This was despite the grievance of:

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

Amusingly enough, Tench Coxe, who was a tory, has been adopted as a spokeman for the gun rights crowd. Coxe was initially a Loyalist during the American Revolution when he left the Pennsylvania militia in 1776 and joined the British Army under General Howe in 1777. He was later arrested, paroled, and joined the patriot cause and supported the new government.

An interesting thought is that the great majority of Loyalists never left the United States, they stayed on and were allowed to be citizens of the new country. Some became nationally prominent leaders, including Samuel Seabury and Tench Coxe. Alexander Hamilton enlisted the help of the ex-Loyalists in New York in 1782-85 to forge an alliance with moderate Whigs to wrest the state from the power of the Clinton faction. Several thousand of those who had left for Florida returned to Georgia. There was a small, but significant trickle of returnees who found life in Nova Scotia too difficult. Some Massachusetts Tories settled in the Maine District.

Additionally. one has to remember that Tory means conservative in the commonly accepted political science definition of the term: that is someone who seeks the maintenance of traditional institutions and opposes rapid change in society. US Conservativism falls more along the reactionary end of the political spectrum: that is someone who opposes modernism and seeks a return to a perfect “golden age”. Also, the fact that the US was founded upon armed rebellion has set a precedent that has proven hard to shake.

The Independence forces were allied with the radical Whigs: who are classic liberals. It is amusing to see the right try to divorce themselves from the fact that the Independence movement would be classic liberalism!

Yet the success, and further radicalization, of Whiggery in America was also tied to the simplicity and compelling nature of the Whig ideas themselves. Whiggery was, in a very important way, a philosophy for non-philosophers. It was a philosophy that semi-literate and anti-intellectual Americans easily understood and enthusiastically embraced. As I like to point out, the Tories had the better arguments, but the “Patriots” had the spin. And the people who followed the spin didn’t think, which is yet another constant in the equation.

The War For American Independence was a consistently libertarian in its purest sense: more so than any set of ideas before or since. To be an American Whig, one needed only to distrust and fear the authority and taxes of outsiders and be willing to use violence to resist that authority. Whig anti-authoritarianism spared no form of power. Whigs were suspicious of all power: religious, economic, military, and governmental. They feared a state church, a standing army, a mercantile economy, and a centralized government. As I like to say, libertarianism is right wing anarchy.

What did they favor? They favored freedom of religion, a militia of citizen soldiers, a free market, and as little government as possible. If there must be government (and most Whigs considered it a “necessary evil”), then it should be small, close to home, and (most Whigs thought) democratically elected. Unfortunately, those ideals have been achieved, yet one can still scream about wanting “liberty” as Armey’s book points out. Or better yet, thwart locally enacted legislation (DC and Chicago gun laws) and claim allegiance to those ideals!

There are other influences upon the Independence movement, but one major one is the willingness to accept violence as a means for change. The other one are these nebulous concepts of liberty, tyranny, rights, and even better:

certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The “Pursuit of happiness” being sheer drivel as one is not guaranteed happiness, merely its pursuit. The spouting of nonsensical phrases to dupe the unwary and unthinking is another common characteristic between the “tea party” and “patriot” movements.

And, thus, the US has sown the seeds of its own destruction since it was created by violence, which was fanned by propaganda filled minds. But the Patriots didn’t remember their history lessons and were reduced to saying things when their rebellion blew up in their faces as part of the “democracy” that followed the War for American Independence such as:

Rebellion against a king may be pardoned, or lightly punished, but the man who dares to rebel against the laws of a republic ought to suffer death–Samuel Adams

George Washington:

I am mortified beyond expression when I view the clouds that have spread over the brightest morn that ever dawned in any country… What a triumph for the advocates of despotism, to find that we are incapable of governing ourselves and that systems founded on the basis of equal liberty are merely ideal and fallacious.

But one doesn’t need to rely on alternative history to have some inkling as to what would have happened had the Tories carried the day since a good portion of Tories went North to what has become Canada. Canada had an independence movement, but it was a gradual process. Beginning in 1867 with the union of three British North American colonies and the formation of the Dominion of Canada. The term dominion was chosen to indicate Canada’s status as a self-governing colony of the British Empire, the first time it was used in reference to a country. When the British North America Act was enacted by the British Parliament, the Province of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia became a federated kingdom in its own right. This began a process of increasing autonomy from the Great Britain, which became official with the Statute of Westminster of 1931 and finalized in the Canada Act of 1982, that severed the vestiges of legal dependence on the British parliament.

I have to imagine British North America as an enlightened Canada had the tories won the War for American Independence. Like it or not, the Canadian paradigm is far more in line with what the “patriots” demanded than what has eventually turned out. I have to admit to thinking that Benedict Arnold was indeed correct when he “betrayed” the patriot cause which he described as “sinister views at the expence of the public interest”.

So, now we see the disaffected once again demanding “liberty” and they will continue to demand something like liberty. This reminds me of Osho’s parable of the Freedom Parrot where there was a beautiful parrot in a golden cage, continually repeating “Freedom! Freedom!”, but the parrot remained in the cage once it had been given its freedom.

How real is liberty when it comes from the mouths of those who believe in slavery? The tea party and the rest of the “Conservative” movement have been working to keep us enslaved in debt and the freedom parrots parrot on. They parrot beautiful, yet meaningless phrases.

%d bloggers like this: