The War of 1812 was, in many respects, something of a disaster. Throughout the United States there was a general resentment and frustration over issues of trade that had been improperly settled after the Revolution, and many areas were openly looking for an excuse to go to war with the British again. There was a distinct geographical split seen both in Congress and public opinion. The southern and western sections were largely in favour, seeing it as an excuse to expand westward and gain international respect. Continue reading
WWI was the outgrowth and ultimate expression of European nationalism and imperialism1. Once the spark had been lit, competing empires in a patchwork of alliances made sure that the majority of the globe would be on the battlelines, as colonial forces worldwide sought to interrupt their opponents’ colonial activities. It was not the first war to exist in multiple theatres– England and Spain had clashed over control of colonial possessions in the 16th century, and one of the factors leading to the American Revolution was resentment at having been forced to host the North American theatre of the Seven Years’ War2. It was not even the first war to ignore the “rules of warfare” that had been established in the 15th century as a veneer of civility to compensate for the terrifying carnage caused by gunpowder– the Continental Army during the Revolution flouted convention at every turn, frequently the reason they were able to prevail at all against the much larger and better equipped British and Loyalist forces.3 The First World War was called the Great War because it combined multiple theatres on a scope never before seen, and used weapons and tactics that seemingly had no precedent, shocking the human conscience and signalling the end of the European imperialism that had led to it.
Many groups came to the New World, for many different reasons. They found different climates in different areas, which created different social structures. The fertile soil and warm climate in the south created a need for large numbers of unskilled labourers, which led to the development of race-based slavery, a situation which has lasting effects on the United States even today. The cooler climate and rocky soil in the north created a society that depended more on industry, commerce, and wage labour. This division between societies would become more and more jarring in the aftermath of the American Revolution, and eventually lead to the Civil War. Continue reading
(Note: This was written before I had a good grasp of how to document my sources, and thus is not up to proper academic standards. It does, however, give a good grasp of the settlement patterns and demographic issues of the early colonial period in what would become the United States.)
The European motives for colonization in the New World had a great deal to do with Europe, and little to do with the New World. Settlers sought economic opportunity and religious freedom, which were in short supply in Europe. Their inevitable collision with the people already living in the New World would set the stage for the next five centuries of human history. Continue reading
Your angry friend visited the New York Historical Society today, something he had been meaning to do for a while now. My reason for choosing now, while I should still be recovering from my final week at Renfaire and preparing for What Comes Next, is because one of the four surviving copies of the 1217 version of the Magna Carta is on display. I had to see it in person.
As an item, the Magna Carta is not particularly impressive. It is a very old sheet of parchment densely hand-written in brown ink, a bit larger than standard printer paper. The Articuli super Cartas displayed next to it (containing instructions for local officials on how the document was to be enforced) is even less impressive– about the size of an index card. Both are written in medieval Latin, and between this and the hand-writing I was therefore unable to read any of it.
As a document, however, the Magna Carta’s importance is monumental. It was to form the basis of the concept of constitutional monarchy in Europe, and was the first attempt at the chipping away of the divine right of kingship. The idea of all people being entitled to fair treatment that was to form the basis of English law and give rise to the English claim of being the first free country had its origin in the Magna Carta, a document signed by a king at the behest of his subjects, in order to limit his powers and guarantee their rights. Five centuries later, another group of Englishmen were to air their grievances with another king, in a document we now refer to as the Declaration of Independence.
Ideologically, the American Revolution was inherently English. Most of the Founding Fathers were of English descent, steeped in English law and customs. Thomas Paine, whose pamphlet Common Sense was to spark the country into organized military opposition, was a recently arrived English immigrant to the colonies. In this way, the American patriots were more English than the Loyalists, who were willing to waive their Magna Carta-given rights as Englishmen in order to show their loyalty to the king and his Parliament.
July 2, 1776
The majority of men who make far-reaching decisions do not realize it at the time. Their decisions are made quickly in the moment, weighing the little information they have against the much they do not, and what suffering there is tends to come about after the decision has borne ill-effect. Some men, however, are in position to see the further-reaching results both good and ill of their decisions before making them, and thus they must struggle to decide, carefully weighing good against ill and deliberating if the good that must occur is worth the ill that must accomplish it. In this manner, I and my colleagues in the Continental Congress seem to be both blessed and cursed, with full realization that our decisions in these times will have dramatic and lasting impact upon our lives and the lives of all within the colonies, and perhaps elsewhere as well. With the weight of such knowledge, our decision becomes even more difficult, since it may be beyond the scope of our own lifetimes that the true nature of our decision becomes apparent. What we pass on to future generations is only our best intentions, and the decisions that come out of them. Having read the document being described as a Declaration of Independence, I have decided that I will indeed sign my name to it. I have thought long and deliberated much on the subject, and I have come to see the good of a new country’s foundation as being worth the ill of war and separation from the British Empire. Continue reading