Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Revolutions Podcast: The American Revolution

The English Revolution was filled with the names of lords and provinces I was not terribly familiar with. I remember Cromwell, and I remember the kings Charles I and Charles II, but beyond that all I really remember is general military strategies, diplomatic deals, and religious movements. The exact people and places are kind of lost in the mist already.

That's not the case with the American Revolution. I was raised learning the broad strokes of the American Revolution, so this season of the podcast had the much easier job of filling in the details. If you're not a scholar of revolutionary America, I highly recommend listening to this season of Revolutions, even if you don't listen to any of Mike Duncan's other work. I guarantee you'll learn a lot.

This season covers the revolutionary period from the situations leading up to unrest in the 13 colonies in the wake of the French and Indian War all the way through to the ratification of the Bill of Rights, a journey spanning nearly three decades in total.

Probably the most important thing about any revolution is the reason people revolt in the first place, which is why the story begins about a decade before the Declaration of Independence. The podcast establishes the scene nicely, giving a brief account of the 13 colonies as they were at the time, introducing the major players on both sides of the conflict, and giving context to everything that would soon cause a war to erupt.

Americans are pretty familiar with the grievances the colonists had against England, but we rarely get to hear the other side: why did England create the Stamp Act? The Townshend Acts? Surely they weren't simply a bunch of villains, twirling their mustaches at us from across the pond. And indeed they were not: they were simply experimental tax policies, trying to get the colonies to pay for the expenses of housing troops in the colonies to protect them from those French and Indians they just had a war with.

In any case, many Americans simply had no interest in fighting the British, but most seemed to have some grievances. The decision to declare independence was a decision reached by a select but powerful few, and the Declaration of Independence truly is a comprehensive and powerful document that clearly lays out why the revolution needed to happen.

The war itself doesn't play out the way I had always pictured it in my head. An awful lot of it was fought in New York, which is where George Washington focused much of his attention, bravely and effectively running away from battles left and right, barely keeping his ragtag army together. If it wasn't for brave Benedict Arnold giving America its major win at Saratoga the war might never have turned in our favor.

Of particular interest to me was hearing Britain's side of the story, though: the military leaders who somehow led one of the most powerful armies in the world to a defeat against a ragtag group of colonists.

The series closes with the aftermath of the war: the fascinating (to me, anyway) process of figuring out how independence would even work, and the decade-long process of coming up with the foundation of the government that we still use today.

The series pulls no punches about the hypocrisy of the Americans (oh ho, slavery), and it tries to give us as realistic a depiction of our practically deified commander in chief, George Washington, as well as the context and personalities of the other founding fathers. I heartily recommend the series if you're ever in the mood for some podcasts.

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