THE LOYALIST RESPONSES TO REBELLION AND WHY THEY MATTER TODAY.
Add to that the other one third who were "undecided', but who must have been interested in the arguments of both sides, and the number of voices NOT included in The Norton is impressive.
However, The Norton doesn't even hint that there WAS any opposition, except from one "tyrant" 3,000 miles away.
Almost everyone agreed, according to The Norton. Franklin said: "either we hang together or... we shall hang separately." Jefferson reminded: "the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of Patriots"; and the recent British import, Thomas Paine, famously said: "These are the times that try mens' souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."
It was a heady, happy time, according to the published version, and King George III was the only one who stood in the way. The King was crazy with bladder problems (porphyria). (1) Victors always get to write the history books anyway, and to edit anthologies, like The Norton.
Norton's selections represent a fraction of the possible Colonial contributors, because only fifty percent of the "possibles" of the time could write much of anything.
However, most of the Loyalists could write and so I have included Loyalist literature in my classes for over fifty years, successfully, I think, including:
The Origins and Progress of the American Revolution by Peter Oliver, Early Stages of the American Revolution by Thomas Hutchinson, Free Thoughts On The Proceedings of the Continental Congress by Samuel Seabury, Plan of a Proposed Union Between Great Britain and America by Galloway, Some Questions Proposed relative to the Present Disputes by Myles Cooper, A View of the Causes and Consequences of the American Revolution by Jonathan Boucher, Novanglus by John Adams, (Before the Revolution, Adams defended British soldiers charged in the "Boston Massacre"), and Plain Truth by James Chalmers.
Most of the colonists in 1776 would not have been shocked to hear any one of the Loyalist arguments. Any Colonial who could overhear or enter a tavern would have been swamped by Loyalist versus Rebel arguments, and turning a blind eye today to contrary opinions of yesteryear amounts to censorship by exclusion, that I am certain, almost, that the editors of The Norton have not intended.
But The Norton still can't manage to recognize that great debate.
The editors devote almost fifty pages to the writings of Thomas Paine, and rightly so. His Common Sense was published in January, 1776, and it was the most widely read publication in the Colonies, and maybe the most widely read ever in American history. I'm sure the Loyalists even read it. No less a witness than John Adams reflected: "Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain."
Common Sense was a first strike against the many lingering voices of caution, of compromise, and more deliberate consideration. Its effect on the opposition was devastating, so much so, that desperate calls went out to Loyalists everywhere for someone to answer the charges within it.
One Loyalist from Maryland, James Chalmers, produced his own pamphlet: Plain Truth, which, curiously, was also Paine's first title for Common Sense. It responded, point by point, to the arguments made by Paine. Paired with Common Sense, Plain Truth is fascinating reading for students of History and Literature.
Here are some of Chalmers arguments ("our/ the author" refers to Paine)
As the author of Common Sense is now in the grand monde; and cannot be acquainted with the language of many people in the provinces; I will communicate the general purport for their discourse - "We say then do not see through the wisdom of the present times. We remember with unfeigned gratitude the many benefits derived through our connections with Great Britain by whom but yesterday we were emancipated from slavery and death. [The Seven Years War] We are not indeed unaware that Great Britain is uniformly reproached with defending us from interested motives. In like manner, however, a very ingrate reproaches his benefactor since all benefactions may be said to flow from no purer fountain."
Much, says our author, has been said of the strength of Britain and the Colonies that, in conjunction, they might bid defiance to the world; but this is mere presumption: the fate of war is uncertain. Excellent reasoning, and truly consistent with our author. We of ourselves are a match for Europe, nay for the world; but, in junction with the most formidable power on earth, why then, the matter is mere presumption... It is indeed humiliating to consider that this author should vamp up a form of government for a considerable part of mankind; and in case of its succeeding, that he probably would be one of our tyrants, until we prayed some more illustrious tyrant of the army to spurn him to his primeval obscurity...
Innumerable are the advantages of our connection with Britain; and a just dependence on her is a sure way to avoid the horrors and calamities of war. Wars in Europe will probably than theretofore become less frequent, religious rancour, which formerly animated princes to arms, is succeeded by a spirit of philosophy extremely friendly to peace... Be it however admitted, that our speculations are nugatory, and that as usual we are involved in war. In this case we really do not participate a twentieth part of the misery and hardships of war, experienced by the other subjects of the empire.
Students today are stirred to thought by both pamphleteers, when they are presented with the material, and also fascinated by the weird similarities between Paine and Chalmers:
1) Both Paine and Chalmers were Come From Away: Paine from England, Chalmers from Scotland.
2) Paine threw his rhetorical grenade barely a year and a half after coming to Philadelphia. Chalmers preceded him to Maryland by way of the Indies, only fifteen years earlier, two hundred and fifty years after the Mayflower brought the "real" Americans, Indigenous tribes excepted.
3) Paine lingered in the Colonies to cheer, conspire, enjoy celebrity, and to remind Americans, Rebel and Loyalist, "I told you so!" until he began to annoy everyone, even General Washington, and fell into disrepute before he sailed back to England. Chalmers became a Lieutenant Colonel in the First Maryland Loyalists, made every effort to fight the Rebel foe, but was underutilized, almost totally ignored by the British, and was so disappointed when his side quit, that he too sailed back from where he came.
4) Though Paine and Chalmers had meager educations, each constructed cogent, forceful arguments laden with references to the Classics and to recent Enlightenment literature.
5) Paine got under Chalmers' skin right from the start, and his mere existence continued to irritate him, so much so that Chalmers spent the rest of his life trolling the former corset maker and continued to author dozens of pamphlets defaming him.
6) Set side by side, the arguments and lives of both men were kind of, sort of doppelgangers [an apparition or double of a living person], and their arguments could have amounted to a script that could be performed today. In fact, it was, in 2013, when the University of Maryland and the Smithsonian hosted a forum in which professors acted the parts.
So, why doesn't The Norton at least add to its mix the writings of Chalmers?
Rather than trying to encourage the study of History and Literature with "survey courses" that bore our students, and forcing them to buy and read the enormous and time-swept volumes available, such as The Norton, that also bores them, a more effective way to reach them might be to begin with a smaller conflict, such as the debate between Paine and Chalmers, and encourage their imaginations to reach outward to some of the larger questions of the time, such as: Is Monarchy a more stable form of government than democracy? Is armed rebellion really worth it when you consider the consequences? How successful have past rebellions been in forming a new government that is better than the one that the Rebels just replaced?
The Loyalists and Rebels fought to the death over these matters, and they are still worth revisiting today.
(1) Porphyria refers to a group of disorders that result from a buildup of natural chemicals that produce porphyrin in the body. Porphyrins are essential for the function of hemoglobin, a protein in your red blood cells that links to porphyrin, binds iron, and carries oxygen to your organs and tissues.
BY ROBERT LIFTIG, EdD