Ask about the American Revolution, or American Independence and you will hear about “the stamp act” and “no taxation without representation”. You will likely also hear about the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the French, Spanish and Dutch all secretly providing supplies, ammunition and weapons. US citizens will speak with pride about the spirit of the militiamen who triumphed against the better armed and better trained British Military.
General Washington’s Christmas crossing of the Delaware River, sneak attacks, and fierce battles are a part of our collective narrative. The “Revolutionary war” gets all the credit for wining independence for the colonists and has been used as one more justification for military operations ever since.
Missing from this narrative, however, is a big piece of the story. Missing from this narrative is the effective use of nonviolence in moving toward freedom. Sure, many of us learned of the “Boston Tea Party” – where revolutionaries, dressed as Mohawk Indians boarded ships in the Boston Harbor dumping tea into the water. But, this usually gets noted as a random act and not as part of a well planned and wall coordinated campaign of nonviolence that included a boycott of tea.
A boycott of tea that turned Americans into coffee-drinkers, and with the Boston Tea Party an act of civil disobedience that included over 60 individuals boarding 3 ships in a busy harbor and dumping 342 chest of tea. An act of property destruction as civil disobedience that took place with no incidents of looting, and no vandalism.
But tea was not the only target of the economic boycott, cloth was also widely boycotted. We often hear about Gandhi’s spinning wheel and the movement in India to wear “home-spun” rather than support the British fabric industry, but this tactic was also employed in the colonies where Homespun was the fashion and spinning bees were patriotic gatherings.
I am not trying to repaint the history of the US as one of nonviolence. It is true – for better or worse — we were a nation founded on violence. Sadly that violence has stayed with us into today. Could we have done it without violence? Would our military policy look different today if we had? I don’t pretend to know.
But, I do believe, when we completely leave out the important role of nonviolent tactics in the struggle we loose an important part of out history. And worse still, we loose the lessons that show us nonviolence works.
As John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson, “The revolution was in the minds of the people, and in the union of the colonies, both of which were accomplished before the hostilities commenced.”
Could we have won our independence without a violent war? I guess no one can know for certain, but as I read John Adams words I can’t help but wonder where we would be if “the hostilities has not commenced.”