My Understanding of the American Revolutionary War and
The Beginnings of the New Republic
The American Revolution was inevitably going to occur, but was how the American Indians treated really inevitable or just another sign of the colonists greed? Throughout the American colonists stay in America they consistently had a hunger for land that was not theirs and always wanted more land than they agreed to take in various agreements, contracts and treaties. It seemed that there was no way that American Indians would be able to appease the colonists. The colonists in general were greedy. Regardless of what the subject matter, if the colonists felt they were being done an injustice they retaliated and whined until they got their way.
Before the American Revolution occurred, England and the American colonists were able to live and prosper peacefully without even considering a break for thirteen years prior to the shot heard around the world. The idea of England and the colonists fighting was even explained to the American Indians as a quarrel between father and son. It was a family quarrel and most people from outside the family did not want to get involved in it. As time went by the French and even the American Indians managed to choose sides to fight on however. For the most part the colonists were just transplanted English men and women. The colonists largely just wanted to be recognized in English politics or even just as gentlemen. The American colonies were set up as English outposts and what happened within these outposts modeled what occurred daily in England. In time however the colonists would realize that England thought of the colonists as less than Englishmen. It seemed that the colonists could never quite get “it” right, or do “it” well enough. Whatever “it” was, was exactly what the colonists wanted and it annoyed the colonists that they could never accomplish that task. For the most part those people trying to obtain this goal of English status were those colonists in the upper class in colonial standings. Even though America was seen as a place of opportunity it still held class separation. Everyone was expected to know their place, the colonial gentlemen knew theirs, as did the women and the working class, and the slaves were expected to learn their place among society.
The primary purpose of these films is to inform. They are set up to give us the facts from different parts of the same story. Liberty Part I is focused on what was occurring in the colonies that contributed to the occurrence of the Revolution. Liberty Part II is about what actually happened during the American Revolution. Africans in the Americas focused on what was going in with Africans in the colonies at this time and how their lives were being affected by the Revolution. The Revolution and the Iroquois Confederacy was about the creation of the Iroquois confederacy and how it was pulled apart initially by necessity during the French and Indian war and than by pressure from both the Americans and than the English and eventually each other during the American Revolution. This film discusses how the aforementioned happened and what happened to the confederacy and its members as a result of being separated from their peaceful union of nations. Washington; The Man Who Would Not Be King is focused on how Washington developed from a man who wanted nothing more than to serve as an officer in the British army to one who was able to make decisions that required sacrifice. Jefferson; A View from The Mountain is about Thomas Jefferson, his background and what happened to him during the course of the time period these films address. I do feel that the biggest point that this particular film got across was that Jefferson was undergoing a huge personal struggle about the concept of slavery. All of the subjects of these films tie together to inform us of the true and complete story of what happened in the years preceding the Revolutionary War and those that followed it during the creation of the United States of America, the presidency, and the Constitution. The films let us know about various views of the Revolution and allow us to tie the story together in a manner in which we can understand what was going on in the minds of opposing parties of the war, but still allow us to make our own realizations about what occurred at that time in history.
These films are almost entirely focused on the intellect. Listening to what is being said is sometimes amazing to even hear. I found some of the information on Washington to be particularly interesting because he was able to make so many mistakes and errors that impacted a lot of people yet still continue and become a prominent figure in American society. I believe that this is largely due to the fact that he became a man that was able to learn from his mistakes and grow from the experience. However I understand why the Indians call him “destroyer of towns.” It is better than a variety of the names I could have thought up if I was alive to witness how the Indians sacrificed their own people to try and help him and his soldiers, especially during the winter he and his troops spent at Valley Forge. One fact that I found particularly interesting is that the Oneida’s, the one nation that helped Washington and his men the most was treated the worst after the war. Their entire nation, which had previously lived on 160 acres, was now forced to live on 32 acres, a drastic decrease in land. In Liberty Part I and II it is very clear that the intellect is being focused on because of the vast array of facts being put in front of you. These films gave a very good introduction into those events that led up to the Revolution as well as how the colonists and English had changes of opinion regarding their feelings about the other. These films explain how the colonists really never had any sense of nationalism until the first shots of revolt are fired. The film does explain how the attitudes began to change and how some of the things the English did actually contributed to the Americans ability to separate from their parent country. The colonies were whiny children of an uncaring parent. Africans in the Americas and The Revolution and the Iroquois Confederacy were probably the only films that focused towards the emotions. These two films I believe touch more on what happens personally to the Africans and to the Indians and gets more involved into how it effects them personally. The Revolution and the Iroquois Confederacy explains how the Revolution encouraging the Iroquois people to fight on both sides resulted in brother fighting brother. The Iroquois people had begun to fight their own civil war without a cause to try and help their neighbors. What really grabs your emotions however is the fact that nothing was ever done to help the Indians, especially those that fought on the side of the Americans. Instead of being thanked, they are ignored and exploited by those they had helped. It seems to be that there is even less of a possibility of the American Indians being able to coexist with the white man than there is of the colonists becoming English gentlemen. In the Africans in the Americas film your emotions are touched by the history being told as a personal account of one mans life and the ordeals he must overcome to succeed in his goals due to the situation with which he was dealt. In between accounts of what is going on in his particular life the film maker keeps the viewer informed of what is going on in the rest of the world in relation to what is happening in this case Venture’s life. Washington; the Man Who not Be King and Jefferson; A View from the Mountain were films that focused on the intellect, although I felt that the Jefferson film reached a bit more towards the emotions than the Washington film. These two films gave a lot of information about how Washington and Jefferson’s individual lives fitted into the war and how their views and opinions were changed by it. Jefferson’s views contained a conflicting bias. He had grown up in a family that supported the slave business as a means of survival. He had felt trapped by it, but while living he could not find a way to free his slaves without selling them or ruining his business.
As far as I am concerned, I do not really have any personal biases or opinions on this subject because I really don’t have a whole lot of English, French, American Indian or even African American ancestors, if I do it is so small and so far back that it has not effected the family views that were passed down to me. I understand that if the French had won the French and Indian War I may have been speaking French now. I understand that if the English had won the Revolutionary War I may have been living in a society that bows to a king. I also understand that if at any point in history if the Indians had been treated differently by any of America’s initial visitors that I could have been speaking a dialect of one of the American Indian Nations. There are many things, which could have happened. I choose only to think about that which did occur and has helped to mold the way in which I am part of life and see life everyday. Although I didn’t really hold any biases this question made me think. In my family tree it is traceable that I had some members of my family come to America on the Mayflower thirteen generations before, and they weren’t from any of the major nations involved in the Revolution. I guess what hit me is that at this point in time there are a variety of people in America from different cultures. I am curious to know what was going on with the other cultures and how they viewed the revolution. I find it hard to believe that those colonists, who were not English, but lived in America really cared whether or not there was a break with England. What makes this hard to believe is that if you take a group of people who are not loyal to England, and than take over ownership of that land, but those people are still there, to them what difference did it make who the next owners would be if it wasn’t going to be the country that they had come from.
I did have some prior knowledge of this subject area. I don’t feel that I knew as much about this subject as some of the others we have discussed however I was familiar with different aspects of it. The information that I had prior knowledge of was relatively accurate. It wasn’t always complete but what I had been taught was accurate. I was familiar with Washington’s background and how he had made a vast array of mistakes, including many that resulted in military losses during the French and Indian War and The American Revolution. I did not know about Washington fighting with Braddock and bravely leading the British Army in retreat. I essentially had learned about many of the battles Washington had fought in without really learning about what Washington was able to learn and how he developed into a man and leader. I was unfamiliar with how deeply Washington desired to gain a British commission, and I really didn’t know why he had not been able to achieve this. I had learned about the various reasons that the colonists and Britain felt led to war, but I was relatively unaware of how this affected the American Indians or the slaves and Africans. I knew about the whole idea that slaves were able to purchase their freedom, and sometimes that of their family. What I hadn’t previously understood was how they saved the money to do this and how were they able to keep track of their family. If I remember correctly from when we learned about this subject in high school, I believe that there were some slaves that tried to purchase their families freedom and found out that their family had changed hands and they didn’t know whose hands they were know in. There was a variety of information on the American Indians that I was rather unfamiliar with as well. I did not know much about how the Africans or the American Indians came to participate in either the French and Indian or Revolutionary War. I did have a small base upon which to build regarding the American Indians involvement in the French and Indian War. I recall learning that the War was essentially because of the fur trade. I didn’t realize that their were already Indians from other nations fighting on the side of the French that encouraged the American Indians who were trying to maintain their peaceful ways to go to war in order to defend themselves and their families. This again however was the first time I really learned about how the Africans and the American Indians came to participate in the wars and what had happened to them. Much of the information about the various colonial statesman I had heard before, some of the information I had learned previously was not as thorough or easy to understand as the view that was presented regarding their various opinions of what was occurring and how that would effect the future of the colonies. I think what made this information even easier to understand was the concept of using their background and attitudes at the same time as the explanation. In grade school when you learn about historical leaders, you learn about their background and than what they did. By intertwining the two I was better able to understand why the leaders felt certain ways about certain things much easier. Another aspect that made films such as the Liberty series much easier to follow was the whole idea of using people to dress up and historically recreate various people and incidents that occurred. I believe that when information is presented it is much easier to maintain that information that is presented in an interesting manner. By using the reenactors to act out various battles, or explain a statesman’s views in the first person, it is much easier to grasp that which is being taught.
The material contained within these films is relevant to class discussions and our readings because it helps to tie all the information together. I can read Brinkley’s book and get dry facts about the Revolution and don’t tell the entire story. I can read Zinn’s book and get a view of what happened that Brinkley forgot to include. However by only reading what happened it is still difficult to tie together all that happened in the years surrounding 1776. The films and class discussions help to tie the readings together so that it all makes sense.
I feel that the information contained in these films will always be useful in the teaching and understanding of American history and more specifically the teaching of the American Revolution. There were a number of different views presented on the Revolution and it is important for future students to know the views of the people on all sides of that war. I also feel that there are a lot of foreigners who do not know our version of why the American Revolution occurred. I have a few friends who live on the other side of the world and when speaking with them you forget that some of the things that occurred in history we consider to be good, but they might not feel that way. I feel that by using information such as that which we have viewed in these films where all the sides are presented everyone will understand why the Revolution occurred and why people fought on the sides that they did. It is my personal opinion that by getting accurate information everyone will be able to understand what happened regardless of where you live or are from. I believe that by educating people about the reasons for the various wars that occurred in history we may be able to avoid some future war.
The following are questions that I have either as a result of viewing the film or questions that were brought about by the film:
1) How did colonists not of English, African American, or American Indian decent feel about the break with England?
2) What were the French hoping to gain if anything by helping the Americans near the end of the war?
3) How many of the African Americans that fought on the side of the British died during the course of the war in comparison with how many British died in the course of the war?
4) How many African Americans were actually able to escape slavery through fighting for the British?
5) Throughout the course of the war many people questioned the concept of slavery, however they did not abolish it all over. Did the number of slaves in the United States increase after the war? And if so, why did it when so many people were already questioning the institution?
6) Why did England think so poorly of the colonists? They were made up of those strong and brave enough to make the journey across the ocean and create a life in a place they had never been before.
7) Why was it important to speak French to be an officer in the British Army?
8) When Washington screws up and admits to dashing the French diplomats head, which is an error of translation, it seems that this is something that will follow his career for a number of years and not look good on his military record. How or why do the Americans not remember this when they put him in charge of various American Army units and eventually the entire forces? To me it seems that his previous record and actions should have had some say in his placement.
9) What happened to those colonists that were caught in limbo and did not want to break away from Britain when the war broke out?
10) If the American Indians had not helped to fight the war would they have been treated as they have been, better, or worse?
11) Did the Indians know prior to entering the war on the side of the colonists that one of the reasons for the war was the fact that England would not allow the colonists to settle west of the Appalachian Mountains?