Remember “The Cause” | Eastern North Carolina Now

Tom Campbell
    Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, George Washington and Alexander Hamilton never called it a Revolution. They referred to the war with England as "The Cause," according to Pulitzer Prize winning author Joseph Ellis.

    Ellis claims the war for Independence was preordained. The spark that ignited it came from The French and Indian War (also called The Seven Years War). France was increasingly encroaching on territory in this new world that the English felt was theirs. It was a bloody and expensive war, forcing Britain to borrow heavily to finance it. And since this war was conducted on colonial soil many believed the colonies should pay for it. At that same moment there was a power struggle in England. Parliament was wresting power from the crown; the colonies became pawns in the battle. Mad King George was blamed for the odorous taxes imposed on the colonies, but it was really Parliament that enacted them, to demonstrate their new authorities.

    The population of the colonies was doubling about every 20 years and it was only a matter of time before it would outnumber Great Britain and create strife between them. There was a widening culture clash between the two. England was historically a top-down governing structure and America was evolving into more of a bottom-up model.

    Adams, Jefferson, Washington and most colonists, loved their Mother country but increasingly believed their Mother didn't love them back. The British Parliament were the revolutionaries, they believed, taxing and legislating them without their input or consent. Though there were numbers who remained loyal to England, a growing majority came to the conclusion their only redress was war.

    Ellis cites these factors in his book called, The Cause: The American Revolution and its discontents. And despite our notions that it was a David vs. Goliath victory Ellis says the outcome from fighting a war on a foreign land when the populous was overwhelmingly against you was more a demonstration of British arrogance.

    Kathleen DuVal, a UNC Chapel Hill historian, says that our history narrative maintains the war was fought exclusively withing the 13 colonies; more recently it is understood to have been a World War. The French came to the aid of the colonies more in opposition to England than their love of Americans. Spain and Netherlands were also in skirmishes with England, diverting their manpower and resources.

    Following Yorktown, the victors still didn't identify themselves as "Americans" but as Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, Marylanders and Carolinians. What was to come next?

    We were blessed to have common people with uncommon minds. Here were the questions facing them. Could the 13 colonies remain united in some new confederation or were they to become 13 individual nation-states? How were they to protect themselves from future attacks from outsiders or even from other colonies? What was the best way to assure cooperation among the 13 in such areas as commerce, transportation, safety and justice? Did they want a strong central government or a decentralized one? And how were these common endeavors going to be funded? At some level we are still asking ourselves these questions.

    We didn't get the right answers in our first attempt to form a government, but for more than 200 years the United States has been through floods and droughts, booms and busts, great leaders and lousy, good laws and bad, interspersed with partisan and regional battles. We've gotten through them mostly in pretty good ways and stayed together, primarily because, at our core we believed we were stronger united than separate, however we have never fully recovered from The Civil War - racial, sexual and class discrimination continues to plague us.

    As we celebrate the Declaration that was the rallying cry for those early colonists it is fair to do some soul searching. Do we still hold to those beliefs our founders pronounced self-evident? Why are there are growing numbers trying to tear us apart? What are their true motives? We went through this once before and it was horrible. What will our nation be like today if we rupture?

    We have always romanticized the Revolution's end at Yorktown with Cornwallis surrendering. Don Glickstein, a Seattle-based historian and journalist who covered the subject in depth in his 2015 book, "After Yorktown," points out it was actually a victory of Allies. "French soldiers at Yorktown outnumbered Americans" and the French fleet prevented the British from escape. That in no way is an attempt to minimize the courage, sacrifice and efforts of our patriots in the war, only a reminder that we got where we are with the help of others. In turn, the United States has been that help to other nations in time of need. We are not alone on this planet and have a role to help and be helped.

    Before the warm memories of this year's gatherings for hot dogs, watermelon, parades and fireworks begin to fade, take a moment to remember The Cause, and those patriots who gave themselves to build the nation we love. We are charged to be more like those patriots.

      Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina Broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965. He recently retired from writing, producing and moderating the statewide half-hour TV program NC SPIN that aired 22 1/2 years. Contact him at
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