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CORRIGENDA. In Vol. LI, No. 203, Dr. T. J. J. See's paper on the Depth of the
Milky Way : page 12, 8th line from top, for large read small loth
decreasing read increasing.
" large read small. page 13,
8th line from bottom, for enfeeblement of read en. feeblement to. page 14, 4th line from top, for million read thousand.
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AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY
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THE LEGENDARY AND MYTH-MAKING PROCESS IN
HISTORIES OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION.
BY SYDNEY G. FISHER.
(Read April 18, 1912.)
Having taken the trouble some years ago to examine the great mass of original evidence relating to the American Revolution, the contemporary documents, pamphlets, letters, memoirs, diaries, the debates in parliament and the evidence obtained by its committees, I found that very little use of it had been made in writing our standard histories, works like those of Bancroft, Hildreth, Fiske, which have been the general guides and from which school books and other compilations, as well as public orations are prepared.
Others have made the same discovery and have been overwhelmed with the same astonishment. About fifteen years ago Mr. Charles Kendall Adams, astonished at what he found in the original evidence, wrote an article on the subject published in the Atlantic Monthly (Vol. 82, page 174), ridiculing the standard histories for having abandoned the actualities and the original evidence. Our whole conception of the Revolution, he said, would have to be altered and the history of it rewritten. Within the last year or two Mr. Charles Francis Adams has made the same discovery and in his recent volume “Studies Military and Diplomatic” has attacked the historians with even greater severity and rewritten in his usual PROC. AMER. PHIL. SOC. LII. 204 A, PRINTED MAY 21, 1912.
trenchant, luminous and captivating style, a considerable portion of that history. His essays on the military strategy of the Revolution are contributions of permanent value, refreshing and ennobling, because they substitute truth and actuality for the mawkish sentimentality and nonsense with which we have been so long nauseated.
Minor investigations like the recent works on the Loyalists by Flick, Van Tyne, Ryerson and Stark, Bartlett's “Destruction of the Gaspee,” Judge Horace Gray's essay on the “Writs of Assistance," publications like the Hutchinson Letters, the Clinton-Cornwallis Controversy, have of course helped to bring about this change. The general improvement in public libraries, in accessibility to the old pamphlets and original evidence of all sorts, has also helped and led to a desire for knowledge of the actual events. Lapse of time, too, is no doubt having its effect in lessening the supposed inadvisability of letting all about the Revolution be known.
Within the last two years in writing a life of Daniel Webster I had occasion to examine the original evidence of our history from the War of 1812 to the Compromise of 1850; and I found that it had substantially all been used in our histories of that period. There was no ignoring of it or concealment of it such as I had found when I investigated the original evidence of the Revolution. It is strange at first sight, that the history of our Civil War of 1861 should have all its phases so openly and thoroughly exhibited, the side of the South as well as the side of the North, both fully displayed to the public, and that the greater part of the evidence of the Revolution should be concealed. But the circumstances of the Revolution were quite different.
In the first place, the large loyalist party in this country in some places a majority, were so completely defeated, hunted down, terrorized, driven out of the country and scattered in Canada and various British possessions, that to use a vulgarism they never “opened their heads” again. It is only in recent times that any one has had the face to collect their evidence and arguments from the original sources and publish it. For more than half a century after the Revolution no writer could gain anything but condemnation and contempt for mentioning anything about them. The suc
cessful party in America would not even vilify them, but ignored them and their doings as if they had had no existence. The object of this was to make it appear that the Revolution had been a great spontaneous uprising of the whole American people without faction or disagreement among themselves. In England, strangely enough, the loyalists were also ignored and nothing said about them. They were often suspected of being half rebels, “whitewashed rebels ” as they were sometimes called. Those who fled to England were apt to be treated with more or less contempt. They were often regarded as mere objects of charity,“ lick pennies ” as one of them complained, or at best as mere provincials of neither social nor political importance.
But at the close of our Civil War, the people of the Southern States remained in the country, were respected by the North as well as by the rest of the world, published their side of the controversy and again sent their representatives to Congress as they had done before the war. No one has as yet dared to falsify or conceal the facts of that history or turn it into myths and legends.
In the second place, after the close of the Revolution, we were for a long time a very disunited country. It was very doubtful whether the States would be able to come together and form a national government. Many thought that some of them might go back under British control. When a national constitution was at last adopted, it was regarded by the rest of the world and even by ourselves, as an experiment which very likely might not in the end succeed. In Europe, it was largely regarded as a ridiculous experiment. Our democratic ideas and manners were despised and our newness and crudeness contraster, with the settled comfort and refinement of the old nations. We felt all this keenly. Our writers and able men struggled might and main to unite our people and build up a nation. They strove to give dignity and respect to everything; to make no damaging admissions, to let not the smallest fact creep out, that might be taken advantage of. It was, therefore, perhaps too much to expect that they would describe the factions and turmoil of the Revolution as they really were, the military absurdity of the British General Howe letting it go by default, the cruelty and perse