While millions of Americans were appreciating and celebrating independence on the 4th of July, Vox was publishing a piece that said independence was a bad thing. The Vox article pointed to three things that would be better without independence: the treatment of blacks, the treatment of Native Americans, and a different form of government.
The article had numerous problems. The most obvious one is that the “gains” made by being in Britain are all topics of particular concern to modern leftists. It seems somebody who bases his concerns in history should do better than to do so using shallow presentism I’d expect from ignorant freshman in my history class.
The article ignores the economic and philosophic concerns of Americans at the time. While many of the Founding Fathers cared deeply about the freedom of slaves, they also had their own concerns as well. Overall, they felt their rights as Englishmen were being violated. If they were going to be taxed they thought they should have the representation in parliament as well. It is rather ironic that the 21st century writer seems to care more about the minority of slaves than the majority of Americans who were being denied their rights. The rights of those white Americans produced the moral theoretical foundation that eventually extended those rights to all Americans.
The colonists complained of King George sending swarms of officials to harass them with rules and regulations. This is a modern problem that resonates a great deal with many conservative Americans because of the overregulation of leftists. Again, there is duplicity in the writer ignoring the legitimate major concerns of Americans at the time, and ignoring concerns of modern Americans, to instead provide counterfactuals that only concern the narrow dogmatic concerns of the modern Democratic Party.
There are specific problems as well, such as everything quoted in the slavery section comes from far-left books. The author ignores the debates over slavery, and internal development of the South. For example, the biggest issue at the Constitutional Convention was slavery and the South had its own plans for emancipation. One could argue it wasn’t the primacy of the white southern man that prevented abolitionist efforts, but the almost terroristic actions of radical abolitionists which caused a backlash that shut down debate over ending slavery. If the revolution was so strongly in favor of slavery, I tend to think we might find more than a “Ph.D. student at Columbia” and a smattering of quotes from tendentious secondary sources.
The author’s attack on the form of government says that it’s absurd that Wyoming has as many votes in the senate as California. While I personally support the breakup of California into separate states, the compromise between big and small states was the key that formed the country. It allows national concerns to take precedence over the concerns of a handful of large states. It forces politicians to visit what is now called flyover country, though the residents who participated in 17th century Bacon’s Rebellion also appreciated the need for rural voters to have their voices heard by urban elites.
Finally, this story has ancient parallels going back to the first historians that praised freedom. Some historians argue that Athens and the Greek city states would have been better off if they were conquered by Persia. The Persian commentary at the court and later-historians like Polybius argued that the Greek states were hopelessly fractured (Herodotus vii.9; Polybius i.2). And the Greeks could pursue their cultural and philosophical interests in peace if only they had a strong authoritarian hand to guide them and help them put away their internecine fighting and dangerous democratic tendencies. This is a pleasant fantasy that extends into modern times and justifies the actions of dictators. But the collapse of freedom in the Ionian colonies (in modern-day Turkey) suggests that the Persian dictatorship would have snuffed-out democracy in ancient Greece and perhaps we would have never known that form of government.
As Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all of the others.” It is a pleasing fantasy to suggest that the colonies would have been better off remaining colonies. But the Vox author’s points suggest that he only cared about a history that pleases modern leftist dogma. And that the author didn’t consider important points such as the nature of British rule without the lessons learned during the American Revolution, the contemporary concerns of Americans at the time, and the importance of forcing a government to consider all of its citizens instead of letting a few urban centers dictate policy for the whole country. As the ancient Greek writer Herodotus wrote, if you know the benefits of freedom you would fight for it not only with a spear, but with an ax in the other hand as well (vii.135). Its too bad the writer at Vox doesn’t realize that simple premise.