Was the American Revolution a just war?

I’ve been reserching aspects of the Just war theory. Using its “rules” I am unable to categorize the American Revolution as a just war. I’d like to hear others’ opinions.

[quote=Cedric Drudge]I’ve been reserching aspects of the Just war theory. Using its “rules” I am unable to categorize the American Revolution as a just war. I’d like to hear others’ opinions.
[/quote]

Why not?

Nope, it probably wasn’t.

It wasn’t a defensive war, for one thing. And the grievences were not really proportional to the loss of life. And all means to redress them over time had not been exhausted, for clearly Great Britain later became more and more parliamentary and constitutional.

We were just a bunch of rebellious teenagers fighting the mother country.

[quote=batteddy]It wasn’t a defensive war, for one thing.
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Just war doctrine does not require a war be defensive.

– Mark L. Chance.

I guess it would depend on who fired the first shot. Which is unknown.

The Colonists were protesting for their rights. They did stuff like dumping tea into a harbor - at first.

It was the British who sent troops to Massachusetts that first started to show “force” as the means of settling the disputes.

And the grievences were not really proportional to the loss of life.

That’s not necessarily true. The loss of life wasn’t that horrific. Not to mention it is difficult to say how far the grievances would have gone.

Let me point out that the American Revolution was a conservative revolution. It began, not as an attempt to overthrow an existing government, but as a defense of the existing rights of Englishmen in America.

Only when it became clear that the Crown’s answer was to militarily subjugate the colonies did they declare independence. And if you read the Declaration of Independence, the colonists make a very good case for having justice on their side.

Here’s a link to the Declaration of Independence - which lists the grievances.

archives.gov/national-archives-experience/charters/declaration_transcript.html

Many of the grievances listed in the Declaration do not sound like anything to go to war over. But it’s more of the way they were written - rather objectively and they do not tell the full story.

For example. King George wanted to raise money to pay for the French and Indian war. Tax the colonists, since they were the ones who benefitted from that. Sure doesn’t sound like a reason to take up arms yet.

But, take into account that not only were the colonists being taxed without their say-so, but the colonists could ONLY trade with England. This was a double-whammy because it made it more difficult to pay those taxes when your economy was hog-tied.

Still not time to go to war.

But this obviously was not a fair situation. So the colonists tried to send emmissaries to England to get one thing or another lifted. But King George would then play political games - about the equivalent of a child sticking his fingers in his ears and yelling, “I’m not listening! Nyah nyah nyah!”

Still not time for war.

OK so if you won’t listen, we’ll just dump the tea overboard. How do you like that! Then come the regular armies. This was a horrible insult. The King sent armies against his own people!

Now things are starting to warm up. . .

You can see how this escalates. The list of grievances is rather a proof that the colonists did exhaust all their forms of redress - including rioting.

The fact that Britain wised up later on is no proof that there were other means of redress. It could be argued that Britain became more and more parliamentary precisely because she lost the colonies. She learned some valuable lessons.

Keep in mind too that the British Isles were not a peaceful place to live during the same time period. There were violent riots in London. King George was a despot all around.

[quote=Black Jaque]Many of the grievances listed in the Declaration do not sound like anything to go to war over. But it’s more of the way they were written - rather objectively and they do not tell the full story.
[/quote]

You’re kidding, right?

[quote=Black Jaque]For example. King George wanted to raise money to pay for the French and Indian war. Tax the colonists, since they were the ones who benefitted from that. Sure doesn’t sound like a reason to take up arms yet.
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King George got Canada and India out of that war – in Europe it’s often called “The Great War for Empire.” What Britain got out of that war was worth a thousand times more than the war cost!

Imagine if a President of the United States declared all the states west of the Mississippi had no right to send representatives to Congress. Imagine if he assumed an absolute veto over any laws passed by their legislatures. Imagine if he dissolved their legislatures.

And if those states simply refused to go along with his wishes, he sent in the army. Imagine that he put troops into the houses of “troublemakers” and forced them to board and feed these troops – who were not above making free with the females in the family.

Would they have a right to defend themselves?

Great Britain already had a large hunk of Canada prior to the Seven Years War. Likewise, Great Britain already exerted significant control over India. Granted, the Seven Year War did almost entirely force the French out of those two areas, but that’s not quite the point.

The English Crown’s war debts from the Seven Years War were considerable. The French also still had Indian allies in the Ohio River Valley and east of the Mississippi that could (and later did) cause further trouble for the British.

The American colonists did benefit considerably from the French-Indian War, but then the British Crown basically attempted to sweep those benefits away with the Proclamation of 1763. While this proclamation was sensible from a frontier security point-of-view, that hardly appeased American colonists who had spilt their own blood for the right to move west of the Appalachian Mountains.

Likewise, the taxes that were levied on American colonists after 1763 were rather modest, especially in comparison to the much higher taxes paid by British subjects in the mother country. The sticking point wasn’t the amount of the taxes, but the methods by which those taxes were first levied and then later collected.

“No taxation without representation” (not, “No taxation”) was the rallying cry of the American Revolution. The last two words of that cry are of paramount importance.

King George III, never the most stable monarch, had too many imperious allies in Parliament who refused to take the colonists’ demands seriously. The rest is, as they say, history.

– Mark L. Chance.

[quote=vern humphrey]Imagine if a President of the United States declared all the states west of the Mississippi had no right to send representatives to Congress. Imagine if he assumed an absolute veto over any laws passed by their legislatures. Imagine if he dissolved their legislatures.
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None of this comes even close to justifying a war.

And if those states simply refused to go along with his wishes, he sent in the army. Imagine that he put troops into the houses of “troublemakers” and forced them to board and feed these troops – who were not above making free with the females in the family.

Unjust and immoral, but not a justification for war. The loss of life due to war would far exceed the injustice of the wicked president.

[quote=mlchance]Great Britain already had a large hunk of Canada prior to the Seven Years War. Likewise, Great Britain already exerted significant control over India. Granted, the Seven Year War did almost entirely force the French out of those two areas, but that’s not quite the point.
[/quote]

The pont is, England fought the war for her own benefit, not for ours, and made a whopping profit.

[quote=mlchance]The American colonists did benefit considerably from the French-Indian War, but then the British Crown basically attempted to sweep those benefits away with the Proclamation of 1763. While this proclamation was sensible from a frontier security point-of-view, that hardly appeased American colonists who had spilt their own blood for the right to move west of the Appalachian Mountains.

Likewise, the taxes that were levied on American colonists after 1763 were rather modest, especially in comparison to the much higher taxes paid by British subjects in the mother country. The sticking point wasn’t the amount of the taxes, but the methods by which those taxes were first levied and then later collected.

“No taxation without representation” (not, “No taxation”) was the rallying cry of the American Revolution. The last two words of that cry are of paramount importance.

King George III, never the most stable monarch, had too many imperious allies in Parliament who refused to take the colonists’ demands seriously. The rest is, as they say, history.

– Mark L. Chance.
[/quote]

All correct – but we should not overlook the various methods of “enforcement” the British tried – which basically destroyed self-government within the colonies.

We didn’t go to war with England. We merely defended our liberties. The issue of peace or war was entirely with the crown.

[quote=Benedictus]None of this comes even close to justifying a war.

Unjust and immoral, but not a justification for war. The loss of life due to war would far exceed the injustice of the wicked president.
[/quote]

Actually, of course, it would. Oppressed people tend to die a lot earlier, and a lot more miserably than free people.

In the end, freedom is life, and slavery is death.

Lets look at the tenants of just war, and how they add up.

  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

Whereas taxation may be certain, it is far from grave. The colonists were also quite affective in getting many of the tax acts repealed, so I can’t say it was exactly lasting.

  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

Arguably, this condition existed.

  • there must be serious prospects of success;

Being that the colonists one, this one is pretty obvious.

  • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

Raising to arms is definately more grave then strong taxation. Putting economics above life is the problem we face today in abortion.

The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.

As much as I respect our founding fathers for having the guts to stand up and raise a ruccus when one was needed, they didn’t constitute a valid authority to determine war.

I also must recognize these conditions for just war apply for today’s society. The culture and capabilities of the time may have required different standards for just war.

Josh

[quote=vern humphrey]The pont is, England fought the war for her own benefit, not for ours, and made a whopping profit.
[/quote]

That’s not true. French officials in the Ohio River Valley were instructed to keep English settlers out of the area, even if it meant killing them. The British Crown was defending the frontier against French and Indian attacks directed against her own subjects.

[quote=vern humphrey]All correct – but we should not overlook the various methods of “enforcement” the British tried – which basically destroyed self-government within the colonies.

We didn’t go to war with England. We merely defended our liberties. The issue of peace or war was entirely with the crown.
[/quote]

That’s also not true. There were people in the colonies who wanted very much to go to war with Britain. Thomas Paine and Samuel Adams, for example. It isn’t the case that the American colonists were the blameless victims of British tyranny, even if it is true that many American colonists were victimized by British tyranny.

The much-mythologized Sons of Liberty, for example, were in many respects little better than a gang of drunken thugs. They brutalized Tories, engaged in wholesale acts of vandalism, provoked British soldiers to acts of violence (i.e., the so-called Boston Massacre), ran smuggling rings, et cetera.

There were mistakes made on both sides. Both sides had their provocateurs and their peace-makers. Eventually, the former held sway over the course of events.

While the counterfactual game can’t ever prove anything (but can make for some interesting fiction), it is sensible to note that Canada gained her independence from Great Britain without a lengthy, costly war. The American colonists, with more patience and more willingness to suffer through the turbulent years of George III, could have very well done the same thing.

Of course, none of this particularly matters. Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that the American Revolution was an unjust war. So what? That was over 200 years ago. There’s no solution to it now.

:smiley:

– Mark L. Chance.

[quote=threej_lc]Whereas taxation may be certain, it is far from grave. The colonists were also quite affective in getting many of the tax acts repealed, so I can’t say it was exactly lasting.
[/quote]

Read the Declaration of Independence again – it wasn’t taxation, it was the destruction of self-government.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:
For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

All of this is true – the war came to us. We did not invade England, England invaded us.

[quote=threej_lc]As much as I respect our founding fathers for having the guts to stand up and raise a ruccus when one was needed, they didn’t constitute a valid authority to determine war.
[/quote]

Yes, they did. They were the duly elected representatives of the peoples of their respective colonies empowered by the people to make such decisions.

[quote=threej_lc]I also must recognize these conditions for just war apply for today’s society. The culture and capabilities of the time may have required different standards for just war.

[/quote]

The standards for a just war are the same today as they were 200 years (and even 1600 years ago when Augustine of Hippo first started to systematize those standards).

– Mark L. Chance.

ML and Vern: Good replies! Thx for giving me something to think about.

Josh

[quote=mlchance]That’s not true. French officials in the Ohio River Valley were instructed to keep English settlers out of the area, even if it meant killing them. The British Crown was defending the frontier against French and Indian attacks directed against her own subjects.

That’s also not true. There were people in the colonies who wanted very much to go to war with Britain. Thomas Paine and Samuel Adams, for example. It isn’t the case that the American colonists were the blameless victims of British tyranny, even if it is true that many American colonists were victimized by British tyranny.

The much-mythologized Sons of Liberty, for example, were in many respects little better than a gang of drunken thugs. They brutalized Tories, engaged in wholesale acts of vandalism, provoked British soldiers to acts of violence (i.e., the so-called Boston Massacre), ran smuggling rings, et cetera.

There were mistakes made on both sides. Both sides had their provocateurs and their peace-makers. Eventually, the former held sway over the course of events.

While the counterfactual game can’t ever prove anything (but can make for some interesting fiction), it is sensible to note that Canada gained her independence from Great Britain without a lengthy, costly war. The American colonists, with more patience and more willingness to suffer through the turbulent years of George III, could have very well done the same thing.

Of course, none of this particularly matters. Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that the American Revolution was an unjust war. So what? That was over 200 years ago. There’s no solution to it now.

:smiley:

– Mark L. Chance.
[/quote]

The point is, England’s response was to put an end to self-government in the colonies, and she backed that up with armed force. Had England been more reasonable, it would never have gone that far.

[quote=mlchance]Great Britain already had a large hunk of Canada prior to the Seven Years War. Likewise, Great Britain already exerted significant control over India. Granted, the Seven Year War did almost entirely force the French out of those two areas, but that’s not quite the point.

The English Crown’s war debts from the Seven Years War were considerable. The French also still had Indian allies in the Ohio River Valley and east of the Mississippi that could (and later did) cause further trouble for the British.

The American colonists did benefit considerably from the French-Indian War, but then the British Crown basically attempted to sweep those benefits away with the Proclamation of 1763. While this proclamation was sensible from a frontier security point-of-view, that hardly appeased American colonists who had spilt their own blood for the right to move west of the Appalachian Mountains.

Likewise, the taxes that were levied on American colonists after 1763 were rather modest, especially in comparison to the much higher taxes paid by British subjects in the mother country. The sticking point wasn’t the amount of the taxes, but the methods by which those taxes were first levied and then later collected.

“No taxation without representation” (not, “No taxation”) was the rallying cry of the American Revolution. The last two words of that cry are of paramount importance.

King George III, never the most stable monarch, had too many imperious allies in Parliament who refused to take the colonists’ demands seriously. The rest is, as they say, history.

– Mark L. Chance.
[/quote]

Yes. The colonists cried No taxation without representation!

And they they cried, don’t you dare give us representation!

Hehe. They thought ‘virtual representation’ was bogus (and it certainly was) and they definitely didn’t want literal, actual representation in the parliament. As it has been put, so wide a sea made the idea of the government being in Great Britain a silly idea.

Just one of those little ironies.

I forget who said it, but the American Revolution happened because we were better Englishmen than they were. :stuck_out_tongue:

[quote=vern humphrey]The point is, England’s response was to put an end to self-government in the colonies, and she backed that up with armed force. Had England been more reasonable, it would never have gone that far.
[/quote]

You’ve entered the territory of counterfactuals, which, as I’ve noted, can demonstrate nothing. I can just as easily point out that radical elements (such as the Sons of Liberty) would have forced the colonies into armed conflict no matter how reasonable England had been.

:smiley:

– Mark L. Chance.

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