9780809058341In his brand new Independence:The Tangled Roots of the American Revolution, Thomas Slaughter clearly demonstrates the truth of his title. In his hindsightful look, this little experiment with a distant colony of its own people was doomed always for England. On the one hand, the inhabitants of what is now the east coast of the USA always thought of themselves as Englishmen with the same rights and privileges as other Englishmen, dating back to the Magna Carta, Habeus Corpus, trial by jury, the ability to tax themselves through their elected representatives. All that. On the other hand, the British generally viewed them as part of a far-flung empire, subject to the same arbitrary rules as other colonists–Indians and Africans, for example–who had no such tradition of representative government or individual rights. Thus, parliament considered it right and reasonable to tax Americans for the money they needed to head out over the Khyber Pass to Afghanistan. And they didn’t have to ask or tell how they were using the money.


Perhaps a good early example of this constant misapprehension was the New England colonists’ expenditure of blood and treasure to capture Louisburg on Cape Breton Island from the French in the late 17th century. Not only were they not allocated the promised spoils, but the English turned artound and gave the fort and town back to the French as part of a treaty settling the French-American War. A treaty in which, of course, said colonists had no voice.

And so it went down through the years to 1776.

Convincing and interesting as Slaughter’s case is, however, I must say the man’s prose is as tangled as the roots he describes. David McCulloch takes heat for cutting academic corners to make his work “entertaining” to the masses, but surely there is a middle ground. At one point, for example, Slaughter, is describes how the British are wreaking revenge on coastal communities up and down the Maine and Massachusetts coastlines. Instead of summarizing the situation, he quotes an official British document that names each of about twenty such communities. Not only a speed bump to this reader, but a Bunker Hill or higher. Slaughter does this sort of soporific exercise over and over. His excellent research and theses suffer greatly from his inability to make them accessible.

Too bad because there is much of depth and interest here were it made a bit morre interesting.


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