Rebels Against Authority

For United States Independence Day:

In 2010 the Samuel Adams beer company trumpeted beer’s role in the founding of the nation. It claimed that William Bradford’s Pilgrims came ashore in Plymouth, Massachusetts, only because they were “out of beer.” (Bradford actually wrote that the Pilgrims made straight for land- “whatsoever it was they cared not”- because they had “no water, no beere, nor any woode.”) The Boston beer company further claimed that the American Revolution originated in the taverns of New England. “The revolutionaries gathered over beer to plot their rebellion,” it proposed, adding that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were home brewers. Samuel Adams inherited his father’s beer company, although he clearly preferred fermenting rebellion to fermenting beer. Actually, Adams chief claim to posterity is related to tea! LOL

Yet the founders are so deeply embedded in our culture that their names, in addition to appearing on beer bottles, can be spotted almost everywhere. “Washington” is the name of 31 counties and 42 cities. Iowa and Indiana combined, have nearly 100 “Washington” townships; California has 28 “Washington Elementary Schools.” After “Main Street,” Washington is the most common street name in the United States. School children also relish his name. Washington is considered a favored elementary American hero, and his birthday was declared a national holiday in 1968, which many schools honor by closing the school for that day.

Indeed, the founders now loom so large that is may seem that they could not have lost to the British. But their triumph was not inevitable. In fact, it was most probably not even likely. To understand the American Revolution, we must examine if from the perspective of the past, before the names of the founders adorned beer bottles and elementary schools, and before the United States became a mighty nation. The simple truth is that the American Revolution was accomplished by men and women who did not know they would succeed (and many of them thought they would surely lose). At the outset, they did not even know whether they sought British concessions or independence, whether most colonist would side with them or remain loyal to His Majesty’s government, whether foreign powers such as France could be enlisted to provide support (which when they did, enabled the colonist to win), whether rebellion against political authority in London would undermine social order in America, or whether the many different peoples of the colonies could be knitted together into a single nation. The revolutionaries did know, however, that if they failed they would likely face arrest, imprisonment, and even death. All revolutions are based on an expectation that if you fail you are finished, but also on an ideal, that you are willing to fight and die for your cause regardless.

As the rebellion escalated into a full-scale war for independence, the colonist confronted the challenge of creating and financing an army that could defeat the mightiest empire in the world. In the midst of fighting, and in the wake of freedom from British rule, they faced an even greater challenge- the founding of a new nation, with a new government and a new national spirit.


Samuel Adams Beer logo, 1860

William Walcutt’s 1857 painting, “Pulling Down the Statue of George III at Bowling Green”

Washington School built in1904 in Shawnee, Farrell Park, Oklahoma

c.1876 The Grand Union Flag, also known as the Continental Colors, said to be the first National Flag of the United States.


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