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January 14, 2006

Hunger, Premature Death and the American Revolution

Friedrich von Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards—

Back in junior high school, when they were teaching you about the American Revolution, did you ever get the feeling that the Americans of the late 18th century must have been incredibly touchy people? They had a set of grievances, to be sure, with their British political overlords, but the grievances didn’t seem (to me, anyway) sufficient to incite large numbers of people to outright rebellion. Lots and lots of people throughout history—in fact, most people throughout history—have had a much longer list of grievances than the American colonists did, and the vast majority of 'em in most times and places just went about their business without feeling obligated to organize insurrections. It was unpatriotic to say so out loud, but I always suspected that at least some of my teachers circa 1968 privately thought that the American revolutionaries were a bunch of fractious adolescent punks, like, well, me and my fellow students.

Just to check if things are still being presented in the same light, I picked up my daughter’s history textbook the other day. At least based on what I read in “The American Journey: Building a Nation—California Edition” (McGraw-Hill, 2000, by Joyce Appleby, Ph.D., Alan Brinkley, Ph.D. and James M. McPherson, Ph.D.) I found eight chief provocations for American Revolution:

1. The British prohibition of 1763 on colonists moving west of the Appalachian Mountains
2. The stationing of 10,000 British troops in colonies and on frontiers
3. Stricter enforcement Britain’s mercantilist trade laws, including new legal measures, including writs of assistance, to search for contraband goods
4. Special courts established for smugglers which abolished trial by jury
5. The Stamp Act, which taxed all printed materials in the colonies
6. Assertion of a Parliamentary right to tax colonists directly, without consulting colonial legislatures
7. New tariffs on imported goods—glass, tea, paper, lead
8. Friction between colonists and British troops in Boston

I dimly remembered most of this stuff. The revolutionaries still come off looking a bit like wild men who went to war over a far lower level of governmental interference in their affairs than contemporary Americans experience daily.

However, I read a very interesting book recently that puts the American grievances into a rather more understandable context. The book is Robert William Fogel’s “The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100.” (You can buy it here.) Fogel is a Nobel prize-winning economist and socio-economic historian whose work incorporates biometric data (like people’s heights, weights, lifespans, etc.) to supplement the more narrow financial metrics of traditional economics. This too-slim book covers a number of fascinating topics including contemporary health care and welfare-state finance, but the part I want to highlight here is material from the first chapter.

According to Fogel’s table 1.1., “Life Expectancy At Birth in Seven Nations, 1725-2100,” Americans had an interpolated life expectancy in 1775 of 53.5 years. Citizens of “England or UK” had an interpolated life expectancy in 1775 of 36.5 years. That’s a seventeen year advantage for the American colonists. According to the same table, by the way, the English didn’t reach the life expectancy of the American colonists of 1775 until sometime in the first half of the 20th century (like maybe the 1920s).

Fogel also provides a discussion of how well people ate in various countries. He begins by discussing both calories and the amount of protein available in diets, chiefly to highlight how poor (by modern standards) were the diets of even the ‘advanced’ nations of Europe in the 18th century:

…the energy value of the typical diet in France at the start of the eighteenth century was as low as that of Rwanda in 1965, the most malnourished nation for that year in the tables of the World Bank. England’s supply of food per capita exceeded that of France by several hundred calories but was still exceedingly low by current standards. Indeed, as late as 1850, the English availability of calories hardly matched the current Indian level. The supply of food available to ordinary French and English families between 1700 and 1850 was not only meager in amount but also relatively poor in quality.

He continues by looking at the amount of calories available for work:

One implication of these low-level diets needs to be stressed: Even prime-age [British] males had only a meager amount of energy available for work…Dietary energy available for work is a residual. It is the amount of energy metabolized (chemically transformed for use by the body) during a day, less baseline maintenance. Table 1.3 shows that in rich countries today, around 1,800 to 2,600 calories of energy are available for work to an adult male aged 20-39…During the eighteenth century, France produced less than one-fifth of the current U.S. amount of energy available for work. Once again, eighteenth-century England was more prolific, providing more than a quarter of current levels…Only the United States provided energy for work equal to or greater than current levels during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

I should stress that by “energy for work” Fogel means energy for any purpose beyond simply staying alive and digesting food. In short, he might well have termed this “energy for life.”

Finally, Fogel treats another biometric variable: height. His data suggest that men maturing in the third quarter of the 18th century in Great Britain had an average height of 165.9 cm. During this period the average American adult male height increased from 172 to 173.5 centimeters. The difference—6.75 cm. or 2.66 inches—would have been clearly visible to contemporaries.

Given that most Americans of the Revolutionary War period were of British extraction and could hardly have been ignorant of conditions there, it must have been as plain as the nose on their faces that people lived far longer, ate far better and grew up more sturdily in the Colonies than in the Mother Country. So when the British government started tightening the screws on the colonies in the wake of the French and Indian wars, the mental calculation of the colonists must have been pretty simple: “Let me get this straight: you British aristocrats, in your infinite wisdom, want to make us Americans more like the average British working man? In short, you want us to live as poorly as you do? I think not, if I have anything to say about it. Martha, what did you do with my rifle?”

In short, it appears that rather than being the work of ultra-touchy libertarians, the American Revolution was one of the most substantively motivated conflicts in history. The colonists had a good thing going, and didn’t intend to give it up lightly. Who wouldn’t go to war, even today, if the disputed prize was a 17-year difference in life expectancy?

And how long do you think it will take to get little facts like these inserted in history textbooks?



posted by Friedrich at January 14, 2006


This certainly fits with a recent description of George Washington as over six feet tall, a strapping and vigorous man. Lewis & Clark were like that, too. Among American Indians the Blackfeet impressed early explorers are huge -- probably because they lived on buffalo and had about as much protein as they care to eat.

One thinks of the tiny suits of armor in Europe...

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on January 14, 2006 06:50 PM

I don't have a book reference for you at the moment, but I do remember reading that the crown had announced its intention to create an American aristocracy, with a Lord of New York or an Earl of Philadelphia. The type of oppressive system the colonists had managed to escape.

Also, in "Washington's Crossing" by David Hackett Fisher, he mentions that during the Revolutionary War, many of the German mercenaries recruited to fight by the Brits actually stayed in the colonies because of the higher standard of living. They'd either go back to get their families or send for them. Unfortunately, the book didn't have any hard numbers as to how many moved to the US.

Posted by: lindenen on January 14, 2006 06:56 PM

Fogel's theory is intriguing, but given the conditions of the time I rather doubt that many colonists were aware of how much better off they were in comparison to the British. We're talking about a time when there was a high illiteracy rate, no communications between Britain and America beyond that provided by people making a long sea voyage, and a predominately rural population comprised mainly of people who never traveled far from their birthplaces. In short, the colonists' advantages in terms of diet and health may look obvious when we examine contemporary records, but were anything but obvious at the time.

Posted by: Peter on January 14, 2006 07:25 PM

So it wasn't just about a tax on tea? Damn, I was misled.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 14, 2006 07:58 PM

The American colonists were responding to changes in the way Britain sought to govern them. After the Glorious Revolution of 1688 Parliament was supreme. Most of the colonies had been founded before that time. The colonies were governed by people who believed in an older model which focused on limitations on government power; they were descendents of people who had fled from over-reaching government power. They clung to a notion of limited government, with the King in particular being subject to limits on his power. The post-1688 British government, which prevails to this day in most ways, is in essence a parliamentary dictatorship. The British parliament, and now only the House of Commons, faces virtually no express limitations on its powers. The men who constituted the British House of Commons in the 1700s were a hard-nosed class who were interested in exploiting the territories under their control for economic advantage. They saw the American colonies as operating outside of their control, and they wanted to rectify that, to make them work for the benefit of Britain's elite. The American colonists saw accurately where all this was going. In the years before the revolution, they wanted to have their loyalty be to the King, but not the new all-powerful parliament, with their own legislatures being in effect the local equivalent of the British parliament. The British governing class rejected the legal arguments for this, which were compelling. They were having none of it. They wanted control. Eventually, the Americans saw, they would have to strike out on their own, or become subject in every important respect to control from Britain, for the advantage of Britain, and lose all their rights as equal British subjects. They chose to fight instead. Had they not done so, or lost, we can get a good idea of what ongoing British rule would have looked like by looking at the fate of Ireland and India and the Caribbean islands during this era. A class of English landlords and businessmen, with a small body of British troops and a larger body of locally-raised police and troops, keep order by harsh means, denied legal and political rights to their subjects, and extracted the economic wealth of the places under their control with a high degree of ruthlessness.

It was not about a few pennies on a packet of tea. The British were clever. They wanted the Americans to admit the principle that they could be directly taxed, by starting small. But once the principal is admitted, you have given away absolutely everything. The Founders were mostly lawyers, many of them London-trained. They knew exactly what was going on -- their freedom, their charters, their own governments, their civil and political rights, all would be lost if they admitted that Parliament could tax their tea. They were legalistic men living in a legalistic age, but they were also men who sincerely believed in freedom and its value. Paradoxically this was particularly true of slave-owners, who knew firsthand what it was not to live in freedom, since they exercised mastery over human beings themselves, and preferred death to that condition for themselves. This is hard for we people of the year 2006 to get our heads around, but the past was a very different place.

My bottom line conclusion: The Americans were right to fight.

Good books on this subject include M. Stanton Evans, The Theme is Freedom (on the self-understanding of the American revolutionaries); Charles H. McIlwain, The American Revolution: A Constitutional Interpretation (an older book which takes seriously the Constitutional and legal arguments made by both sides in the run-up to the war); David Hackett Fischer, Paul Revere's Ride (which has an excellent short discussion of the British ruling class and its worldview at the outbreak of the Revolution).

I've got the Fogel book at home. Some day I'll get to it.

Posted by: Lexington Green on January 14, 2006 09:24 PM


I don't think the illiteracy rate was as high as you make out. According to a Wikipedia article on the "The Power of Sympathy" (considered to be the first American novel published in 1789):

In the late 18th century to the early 19th century, America saw a rise in literacy as well as an emergence of a new popular print culture. In 1790, “approximately 85 percent of adult men in New England and 60 percent of those in Pennsylvania and the Chesapeake could read and write,” (Murrin). The literacy rate for women was also on the rise, though much lower than the male literacy rate at “about 45 percent in New England” (Murrin).

Moreover, literate or not, knowledge of the conditions of average life in Great Britain was certainly transmitted to American colonists by immigration. For example, according to James Webb's "Born Fighting", between 1720 and 1775 a half-million Scotch-Irish settled in the American colonies from Vermont to Pennsylvania, Virginia and the Carolinas. Most of this population or their children were still alive at the time of the Revolution, and would be well aware that their life-style was far better in their adopted home than in the old country.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on January 14, 2006 09:37 PM

Heavens, I'm learning more via these discussions than I ever did in college.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 14, 2006 09:48 PM

Isn't that why we blog?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on January 14, 2006 09:51 PM

Lex: Another good one is Bernard Bailyn's Ideological Origins Of The American Revolution. He studies all the tracts and pamphlets from the 18th century and isolates their common assumptions, definitions of terms, etc. He says the big distiction was between power and liberty; power tending to expand and encroach, liberty always on the defensive against it. Obviously, not much has changed.

Also, the Library of America series (God bless 'em!) has a collection of primary sources called The American Revolution, edited by John Rhodehamel, and another two-volume collection called The Debate On The Constitution, edited by Bailyn. They collect all the important speeches, pamphlets, editorials, and articles of the day, both pro and con, federalist and anti-federalist. Good eats!

Posted by: Brian on January 14, 2006 10:16 PM

"Because they could".

The answer to that dog joke always should be considered when asking why anyone does something. The American colonists were much less put on than many groups in the British Isles or other colonies, but they were in a much better position to do something about it.

Based on what you report, the various British taxes looked like they amounted to a serious burden on the colonies, effectively appropriating a lot of the profits while also cramping future development. The colonial future was just plain bigger without the British.

Posted by: John Emerson on January 14, 2006 10:18 PM

It seems like if you wanted to compare the future prospects of America under English rule, you should look to Canada, not Europe. Canada doesn't seem to have done so poorly on an absolute scale in the 1800s. Of course, in comparison to America, almost every country did poorly in the 1800s.

Considering the lack of changes made by the Americans after the Revolution, you'd have to think that England could have held on to the colonies if they had made a concerted effort to do so.

It seems to me that the innovation missing from most pre-American forms of democracy is a way to deal with expansion beyond the original polity that the democracy evolved in. The Roman Republic was a fantastic success, but it had a lot of trouble governing a global empire as if it were just a single big city. For one thing, it assumed that all Roman citizens were members of 13(?) tribes. Even after it conquered most of the world, new Roman citizens would be shoehorned into the same old tribes -- worse, they would be shoehorned into one or two tribes with limited power, and most political power was held by the old, undiluted tribes.

England had a better system than Rome, but it had a similar problem in that its system of government worked much better as a system for governing England than for governing a large empire with many coequal entities.

If England had been willing to work out some kind of Federalist compromise that treated the colonies on a genuinely equal footing with England itself, I could see the Revolution being totally averted.

Of course, since that effectively makes England the 51st state of the United States of Britain, and England never seemed to develop such an arrangement with the rest of the Empire even with the United States as a working model of Federalism, that's probably too big a counterfactual to hope for.

Posted by: Zach on January 15, 2006 01:10 AM

We the English need to re discover our belief in freedom and liberty. The intergration into a federal european union is taking the life blood out of us. We need you Americans to remind us, and point the way. Lets not forget the Founding Fathers came from these islands and took with them British ideals. OT great Blog

Posted by: Ron on January 15, 2006 03:44 AM

It seems like if you wanted to compare the future prospects of America under English rule, you should look to Canada, not Europe. Canada doesn't seem to have done so poorly on an absolute scale in the 1800s.

Perhaps this is because London had the sad benefit of its American experience.

Posted by: Rory B. Bellows on January 15, 2006 03:51 AM

"Lots and lots of people throughout history—in fact, most people throughout history—have had a much longer list of grievances than the American colonists did, and the vast majority of 'em in most times and places just went about their business without feeling obligated to organize insurrections."

But the oppressed are usually the uneducated improverished masses exploited by the ruling elite. When the oppressed are large land owners, mercantilists, and also well educated it is a different situation. The revolution was simply a good business decision.

Posted by: sticks and stones on January 15, 2006 11:30 AM

Does Fogel include the life expectancy of slaves in that 53.5 years?

Also, It seems that Fogel's report explains why the French are obsessed with food.

Posted by: sidewaysinanotter on January 15, 2006 11:38 AM

The life expectancy of Indians is still not much more than fifty-four years.

And Canada, of course, was not a country for a long time -- just a Hudson's Bay franchise.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on January 15, 2006 12:53 PM

I invite you to read "Lexington of the Seas" to find further confirmation of your thesis.

Posted by: MachiasPrivateer on January 15, 2006 01:07 PM

Putting on my professional demographer hat for a sec, let me point out that those 18th Century life expectancy numbers are awfully iffy. Data for solid statistics of that sort did not exist then, so fragmentary data such as from church records have to be used. Nevertheless, I have no reason to doubt that the American population was healthier than the English population and that life expectancies were higher to an unknowable degree.

The colories argument rings true as well, though again data might be thin. From what I've read about the Great War, Europeans were impressed with the size of American and Australian troops. This suggests nutritional differences held 140 years later.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on January 15, 2006 01:23 PM

I have a couple of family lines that go back to the 1630s & I have done extensive research on them. It is astounding how many between 1630-1800 lived into their 70s, 80s, and even 90s. There was fairly high child mortality and a substantial number of women died from complications of childbirth (fewer than I would have thought, though), but overall, the longevity is remarkable. Two lines are traceable for a number of generations in England; not one of the English ancestors made it out of his 50s.

Posted by: ThaProf on January 15, 2006 01:44 PM

John Emerson said "Because they could."
This is what I was taught in school, that without the need of the protection from the French after 1765, the colonists were free to rebel. I'm not sure how coherent that theory is, since although 1765 removed the border with French colony, 1776 created new borders. I would stress not the removal of the French, but the knowledge of war gained by the colonists (both for rebelion, and to protect their borders afterwards).

Posted by: L on January 15, 2006 02:42 PM

I think it should also be noted that people who have the vigor to colonize a new place, one where they are starting from scratch, are in general much hardier than those they leave behind in the old country. This, along with the better available food staples, would go a long way in accounting for a larger stature and longer lives. They then pass on those hardier genes to their offspring and the cycle continues.

I've always been sure that the reason many people today don't understand the colonists and their rebellion, has to do more with nearly total incomprehension of living conditions back in the time of the revolution. Teachers compare what they are teaching about our ancestors with the world today... when there really is no comparison at all. After all - a tiny tax like that would never be noticed in today's world - back then it was the difference between being able to eat or not for a vast majority of the population.

Posted by: Teresa on January 15, 2006 02:44 PM

How much of these 18th-century differences are simply a reflection of (presanitary) urbanization? Weren't the French more urban than the English at this time, and both much more so than the Americans?

However, there is a more compelling argument in the opposite direction: Americans were healthier not because conditions in North America were better, but because they were much worse. Elmer Pendell made a case that New Englanders' extraordinary inventive prowess of the 19th century (more technical than cultural, I might add!) can be traced to the brutal culling which took place in the 17th, a replay of the Renaissance flourescence which followed closely upon the Black Death.

This argument seems a little overstated in regard to intelligence in New England, as some of that can be attributed to the highly selected original emigration from the literate classes. However, in regard to physical health and bodily dimensions, it might work for all the (white) colonists in the 18th century.

Posted by: Reg Cćsar on January 15, 2006 02:55 PM

Hmm... intending to write "florescence" (a blooming), but confusing it with "fluorescence" (a radioactive light), I ended up writing "flourescence"-- a baking of bread? Oh, well, the Yankees certainly made their share of bread in the 1800s. How Freudian of me.

Posted by: Reg Cćsar on January 15, 2006 03:01 PM

'In 1790, “approximately 85 percent of adult men in New England and 60 percent of those in Pennsylvania and the Chesapeake could read and write...”'

Er, Friedrich... a large number of them could read and write in Latin, and often Greek. They weren't stupid; we are.

Posted by: Reg Cćsar on January 15, 2006 03:09 PM


Fogel is pretty up-front about his sources; every table is extensively annotated. He also spells out the general development of the biometric data studies he is relying on:

During the three decades frollowing World War II, research in nutritional sciences conjoined with new findings in physiology to demonstrate a previously unknown synergy between nutrition and infection and to stimulate a series of studies, still ongoing, of numerous and complex routes through which nutrition affects virtually every vital organ system. The effort to develop time series of mortality rates also took an enormous leap forward after World War II. Spurred by the development of high-speed computers, historical demographers in France and England developed new time series on mortality from baptismal and burial records that made it possible to trace changing mortality from 1541 in the case of England and from 1740 in the case of France. Two other critical sources of data became available during the 1970s and 1980s. One was food-supply estimates developed in France as a by-product of the effort to reconstruct the patter of French economic growth from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Once constructed, the agricultural accounts could be converted into estimates of the output of calories and other nutrients available for human consumption through a technique called "National Food Balance Sheets." Such estimates are currectly available for France more or less by decade from 1785 down to the present. In Great Britain the task of reconstructing the growth of the food supply was more arduous, but estimates of the supply of food are now availble by half century from 1700 to 1850 and by decade for much of the twentieth century. The other recent set of time series pertains to physique or body builds--height, weight, and other anthropometric (bodily) measures. The systematic recording of information on height was initially an aspect of the development of modern armies, which began to measure the height of recruits as early as the beginning of the eighteenth century in Sweden and Norway and the middle of the eighteenth century in Great Britain and its colonies such as those in North America. The measurement of weight did not become widespread in armies until the late 1860s, after the development of platform scales. However, there are scattered samples of weights that go back to the beginning of the nineteenth century."

Although he doesn't discuss it here, another very straightforward biometric measurement that has been used to study nutrition-related issues historically is simply measuring the heights via skeletons in graveyards (generally, by measuring the length of thighbones and multiplying by four.) Average height of populations is a very accurate gauge of childhood nutrition. This produces some very interesting data which I'm going to be discussing--hopefully--in the near future in connection with the Roman Empire.

So, none of this is as good as the biometric data we have from the 20th century on, but it all seems to correlate quite closely even if it is a tad "impressionistic."

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on January 15, 2006 04:48 PM


An additional note: I suspect what you're reacting to is what strikes you as overprecision in the numbers being quoted. I grant you all these values are no-doubt subject to considerable uncertainties. But the reason I used the exact numbers was to show that advantages spelled out by the American colonial numbers was so great that it would have been intuitively obvious to anybody walking around at the time. We're talking about life expectancy running roughly 50% higher in the colonies, height running almost 3" taller, and daily food intake being roughly twice as high. Even if these numbers are off by a lot, it's clear where the average person would think they were better off. (And it wasn't England).

Sidewaysinanotter: The height and life expectancy figures relate to native born white Americans. I have no data on black Americans of that era. I would only remark that as they weren't making political decisions during the Revolutionary War era, their quality of life wasn't particularly at issue in whether or not to split with the mother country.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on January 15, 2006 05:03 PM

London did benefit from the American experience, a rare instance of an empire learning from a terrible mistake.

The later white British colonies (Canada, Australia, New Zealand) were successfully granted self-government for just this reason. Something similar would have happened in South Africa but for the large Boer (Afrikaner) presence. The 19th-century English liberals even brought off self-government -- almost! -- in Ireland, the real disgrace of the British Empire. The lingering effects of the 17th-century religious-civil wars derailed that. And after World War One, the same principle was extended, with less consistency and less success, to the non-white colonies, especially India.

FvB's point is that, as limited as representative government was in Britain in the 18th century, it was exceeded in the world only in Britain's own American colonies, which were more advanced than the mother country in many ways. That's because the London government had left the American colonists on a long leash for 150+ years and only attempted to bring them to heal after the Seven Years' (French-Indian) War. Demanding so much contribution to imperial upkeep without a commensurate allowance for colonial input and consent set the stage for the Revolution. At that moment, the colonists were not so much reaching for something they'd never had, but protecting something that was under threat. And the French-Indian War promoted American national consciousness as nothing had earlier, something the London government was completely blind to.

Posted by: A curious reader on January 15, 2006 06:06 PM

I just finished an extensively researched book by historian Graham Nash about the "other Revolutions" during that period besides the Founding Fathers. Indian, Black, and Female bids to make themselves part of the New Manmade Destiny afforded by a popular democracy revolution. He surmises that everyone got into the spirit of a popular democracy and what was in it for themselves. Mr. Nash states Tom Paine and his "Common Sense" phamplets electrified the masses into believing themselves capable of ruling themselves. He pointed out how Paine sold 100,000 copies of his book in one year, equivalent to 21 million in one year today. For comparison, the Da Vinci Code, just sold its 20 millionth copy after 4 years!!

Posted by: Mark Singsank on January 15, 2006 06:09 PM

Friedrich: If I had to come up with data, I too would have to do the best, most honest job I could with not-so-hot primary information. I guess it's a few of those old grad student reactions that bubble to the surface when the subject matter lands in my turf. As I mentioned, I have no reason to doubt the conclusions made by Fogel (who I admire as a gusty guy, given some of the topics he's tackled). I just want to warn readers that the statistics he comes up with need to be treated as rough indicators. And I want to toss out some possible flaws.

The part of the quotation you included in a comment above strikes me as making too much of computers and too little of the basic church record data. Parishes were not "closed populations" so we cannot be sure how many cases were missed due to out-migration, for instance. Remember computers can seen as garbage-in, garbage-out devices.

The weight data were, as I suspected, from military records. But it's likely that non-conscript armies such as England's were skewed to the "dregs" side of society, which might mean shorter stature, less weight, etc. The message here is that some data have the potential to be inherently distorted.

But, to repeat, I have no reason to doubt the gist of the picture Fogel paints.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on January 15, 2006 08:48 PM

It's pretty obvious that the list of grievances the colonists came up with was not much more than a rationalization for the fact that by the mid 18th century they saw themselves as a politically mature, quasi-seperate people, and wanted to realize that condition as an independent state.

Posted by: ricpic on January 17, 2006 11:41 AM

I think Friedrich makes a good point---yes, yes, Adams and Jefferson had travelled and were really smart and all...but how did they get this little nation to take on mighty Britain? The better standard of living might have made people LESS willing to rock the boat through a potential treasonous act. Interesting question. It's almost like a bunch of very articulate, smart egomaniacs managed rouse a rabble. And then France showed up, for reasons all its own.

Posted by: annette on January 17, 2006 01:54 PM

Edmund Burke wrote that the colonists were ungrateful for all the mother country had done for them, especially compared to the Spanish colonies, and that the taxation was justified because of the cost in blood and treasure of defending the colonists from the French, the Spanish and the Indians.

Posted by: Robert Speirs on January 17, 2006 03:21 PM

Um, Robert, wasn't Edmund Burke on the side of the American Revolution, to the point where people thought he was being paid by the colonies (and probably was?).

England was well rid of us, and we of them; but they have remained friends and allies since the War of 1812.

Posted by: miriam on January 17, 2006 09:31 PM

You can forget the tea tax: the Boston Tea partry was a stunt by smugglers who were going to lose their livelihoods because the tax on legit tea imports had been hugely reduced. Most of the other "explanations" suffer from explaining too much. If true, everyone would have rebelled whereas most people just waited and watched to see who would win. Once the French had triumphed at Yorktown, the British government accepted that the war was not going to be won, the loyalists were politically cleansed by the patriots and the stealing of Indian land could resume.

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