Sunday, July 25, 2010

Propaganda in the American Revolution

To think that the entire cause of the American Revolution was righteous anger against an oppressive mother country is a little naive. We are brought up believing that the evil English Empire was trampling upon the rights of the lowly Americans. Realistically, did you know that the standard of living was higher in the American colonies than in England itself. In addition, the tax burden was less despite the English government investing large sums of money in fighting the French on the western border of the colonies. Many of the people in the colonies had to be convinced that the English were an oppressive people and we as Americans needed to break away from their rule. In the aftermath of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, Dr Joseph Warren tried to accomplish that very thing.

It is important to understand a little of how and why the battles transpired. First of all the tensions between the British government and the American colonists were growing but only in certain regions. The hottest of these regions was by far Boston, Massachusetts. With the major headlines being the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party the British government felt they needed to make sure that no armed resistance would break out between them and the citizens in Northeast. Word spread quickly that the local militia was stockpiling guns and cannons in Concord, Massachusetts for possible hostilities against the British. The decision was made for British troops to march to Concord and seize those munitions. This is where Paul Revere made his midnight ride to warn the people that the British were coming. This is where the great moment of "the shot heard round the world" occurred. Such indelible moments which defined beginning of the American Revolution.

When the British arrived in Lexington it was like a wild west showdown. Except it was 700 trained British troops up against 77 farmers and workers. What isn't really said in the history books often is that neither side wanted to start shooting and Captain Parker, who led the Lexington militia, even started to order his men to disperse but not everyone heard that order. Once the shooting started both sides tried to stop it immediately but it was inevitable that everyone would commence firing. When the shooting stopped from both sides and the smoke cleared eight men lay dead on the side of the Americans with only one British solider wounded.

Now word was spreading more rapidly than ever that the British meant business and they were heading toward Concord. Militia from everywhere were moving in. By the time the British arrived in Concord there were nearly 400 militia waiting for them. With the British commander Smith splitting up his troops it made overtaking the city difficult and the British were forced to surrender and retreat along a single road all the way back to Boston, nearly 18 miles. Along this entire road is where the British really got into trouble. As many as 3800 American militia poured into that area and began firing upon the retreating British. With the road being in a slight valley it became very easy for the American militia to shoot down upon a helpless retreating army. The militia men would basically take a shot, reload while running down the row and take another shot, over and over again. The British made attempts to break up this constant shooting gallery however they were not incredibly successful. They drove the British all the back to Boston and forced them to stay there without any option for a major counter attack. In the end the British lost 73 men with 174 wounded. Compared to the Americans who only had 49 killed and 39 wounded. With the British achieving no objectives that they set out to do, being forced to retreat back to Boston, and losing far more troops than the Americans one could look at the outcome of this and say it was a victory for the American colonists. However Dr Joseph Warren published a news article throughout the colonies that painted a much different and darker picture of the events that occurred at Lexington and Concord.

"Gentlemen,- The barbarous murders committed on our innocent brethren, on Wednesday, the 19th instant, have made it absolutely necessary that we immediately raise an army to defend our wives and our children from the butchering hands of an inhuman soldiery, who, incensed at the obstacles they met with in their bloody progress, and enraged at being repulsed from the field of slaughter, will, without the least doubt, take the first opportunity in their power to ravage this devoted country with fire and sword. We conjure you, therefore, by all that is dear, by all that is sacred, that you give all assistance possible in forming an army. Our all is at stake. Death and devastation are the instant consequences of delay. Every moment is infinitely precious. An hour lost may deluge your country in blood and entail perpetual slavery upon the few of your posterity who may survive  the carnage. We beg and entreat, as you will answer to God himself, that you will hasten and encourage by all possible means the enlistment of men to form the army, and send them forward to headquarters, at Cambridge, with that expedition which the vast importance and instant urgency of the affair demand."

It doesn't take long to see how the writer is painting that vivid picture of an evil empire of men out to kill and murder every member of this society. The reality however is much different. The British did not march toward Concord with the intent of killing colonists but rather to prevent future hostilities that would cause death and destruction. In addition, the British troops never fired upon the colonists until they were provoked which is basically what happened when 77 armed men stood their ground in Lexington. To say that Dr. Joseph Warren used propaganda effectively is an understatement. For those colonists not present at the battle it would be easy for them to read this and believe that the British had every intention of storming upon their houses and killing their entire family with zero provocation. 

I truly find this kind of information enlightening and important to understanding the small factors that led to the American Revolution. Without Dr. Joseph Warren writing this piece of propaganda to the colonies than many men might not have heeded the call and joined the militias that headed to Cambridge, Massachusetts which overlooked Boston. Without all those men joining in the outset the Battle of Bunker Hill might not have turned out as well as it did and who knows how the rest of the American Revolution might have transpired. 

1 comment:

  1. Actually what I wanted to know was how and why it was used. But other than that it's great.


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