Parochial Vicar, St. Martha, Murrieta
The fourth of July weekend rolls around again, that day on which we recall our nation’s birth and the revolution which won our freedom. That said, it’s a day we celebrate in our family with Mass in the morning and then picnics with friends. But when one, such as myself, is married to a wonderful British woman, one learns to downplay the themes of the inevitable defeat British forces by the brave patriots in the interests of marital harmony. Twenty nine years after her immigration to our great nation, on the Fourth of July, she still carries a British passport, a loyal subject of the Crown. I once asked the esteemed wife how they studied the American Revolution when she was a girl in school.
“We got about twenty minutes on it in modern history,” she replied without looking up from her sudoku puzzle.
“Well that hardly seems right,” I said. “After all regardless of which side one takes, the United States has had a considerable impact on the modern world. Don’t we deserve a little more than twenty minutes? In my high school I had to spend ages on bloody thing.” She looked at me with a sad sweet smile.
“England became a nation around 700 AD. Do you have any idea the number of colonial revolts we have had to face in the past thirteen centuries?” She then just shrugged and went back to the puzzle. “We win some and we lose some. Would you mind putting the kettle on for more tea?” Unlike my ancestors who pitched the stuff in Boston Harbor, I obediently went to the kitchen to brew some more of the British elixir of life.
In our own history we know a great deal about the people who fought and won the war and the signers of the Declaration of Independence. We read of Washington and his Continental army, Ben Franklin and the fifty six men who risked their loves to sign the declaration including, two future presidents. Their ages were from twenty six to seventy, the great majority were devout Protestants including one ordained minister, with a couple of Deists, a Quaker and a Catholic thrown in to the mix. Contrary to popular mythology, only four of the fifty six ever owned slaves and several were quite outspoken for greater rights for women. Many suffered great personal loss from the British during the war as a result of their signing the Declaration.
But what about the losers of the Revolutionary War? They have a story too, and a great many died for their country also, even if it was a very different vision of what the American country might be. Tens of thousands of loyalists fled to Canada and Britain, nations they never knew before. Others fled to parts of the expanding British Empire in India, Australia and beyond. And a great many British and American loyalists rest in unmarked American graves, far from the green hills of England. Let’s look at the ringleaders of the defeated, whose names we studied in school and look at whatever happened to them.
King George III, the villain of the Declaration of Independence, ruled Great Britain from 1760. He was the son of Frederick, Prince of Wales and grandson of George II. George III was not an evil man but he was not particularly intelligent either. His two predecessors in the Hanover dynasty had been born and raised in Germany and did not even speak English, and had become the rulers of Britain because Parliament insisted on Protestant monarchs in the place of the hated Catholic James II and his colorful heirs. The first two Georges left English politics to their ministers of state, but George III was born and raised in England, and he was concerned to return power to the monarch. This was not the best policy to take in keeping the Americans quiet. He also appointed ministers of state based on their personal loyalty to him, rather than choosing the best men for the job, which likewise did not benefit British rule in America. At various times in his life he suffered from porphyria, which caused bouts of mental illness.
George III was very interested in new breeds of livestock for the common people, drainage of swamps for better agriculture, and he encouraged the age of inventions in the Industrial Revolution which began in the textile industry in northern England. Unlike most monarchs, he was loyal to his wife and loved his family. Because of the dangers of France in the later Napoleonic Wars, he became a symbol of British resistance to Bonaparte and is remembered fondly in England today. He died a prisoner, locked up in the palace for his madness, while his worthless and degenerate son misruled the kingdom in his name.
Sir Thomas Gage (1728-1787) who ruled who ruled America when the revolt broke out, was born from an ancient British family which traced its roots back to the Norman Conquest of 1066. He entered the Army in 1840 and served in the French and Indian Wars, as did George Washington. After the defeat of France he served as Governor of Montreal, and was promoted to be Major General and commander in chief of all Brtish forces in America, ruling from New York. Under his administration rebel revolts at Lexington, Concord, and Bunker hill strongly suggested to the Crown that he was unable to put the rebellion down and he was relieved of command. He died in several financial hardship.
William Howe (1729-1814) replaced General Thomas Gage in 1775 as supreme commander of British forces in 1775, A Brilliant general, he defeated Washington at Long Island, Brandywine and retook the city of Philadelphia. However, his victories seemed to pale in the wake of British General John Burgoyne’s defeat by the Americans at Saratoga. In Parliament he was blamed for not doing more to support Burgoyne and was removed from command in 1778, in spite of his proven record of crushing the Americans. This may not have been wise for the British interests. Howe returned to England, married and entered politics and served in Parliament for many years. He was made a nobleman, and died as Viscount Howe.
Lord Charles Cornwallis (1738-1805) was born in London and educated at Eton and entered the Royal army at the age of 18. By 1775 he was a general and was sent to help suppress the rebellion in America, as second in command to General Henry Clinton. Cornwallis fought the revolutionaries in the Carolinas, but confident of victory allowed his numbers and supplies to run low. Ignoring Clinton’s suggestion that he repair to New York, he was defeated by Revolutionary forces and French aid at Yorktown. Blaming his defeat on the enemy French, he was not punished for his defeat and went on to command British forces in India and later was made Governor General of India, and later governor General of Ireland. He died in 1805 and was given great honors.
Benedict Arnold (1741-1801) was born in the colonies and eventually entered the revolutionary militia. He won a number of victories for the American forces including the capture of Fort Ticonderoga. He served bravely in American attacks in Quebec, where he was wounded twice. Washington made him military commander of revolutionary forces in Philadelphia. But patriots in Philadelphia denounced him as being too soft on captured loyalists, and brought charges against him accusing Arnold of financial corruption. His resentment grew when other rebel generals who had done less that he were given higher military commands. Arnold resigned his command in anger and secretly contacted the British to sell them information about American positions and to betray the fort at West Point. When Washington was told the news of Benedict Arnold’s treason, he is supposed to have remarked, “now we can trust no one.” For his betrayal of the Americans he was given an annual pension of 360 pounds a year and a lump sum on six thousand.
When Lord Cornwallis surrendered, Arnold and his moved to England where he hoped to find a new military command and perhaps a position at court for his renewed loyalty to the Crown. He was briefly welcomed by the King but shunned by society and given no position at all, not for his participation in the Revolution, but because he was a traitor to the Americans. Even the monarchists had no time for a man capable of the betrayal of his friends and modern British people think him an idiot. After failing in business Arnold died, unloved in London in 1801, the same year that his former colleague in the cause, the patriot Thomas Jefferson took office as the third President of the United States.