American Revolution, French Revolution, King Louis XVI, National Assembly, Tennis Court Oath, Bastille, Guillotine and Reign of Terror

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 6th, 2012

Politics 101

France was Staring at Bankruptcy while her People were Suffering Poverty and Hunger

Shortly after the American Revolution came the French Revolution.  Inspired in part by the American Revolution.  Whose spirit of liberty was infectious.  Some French even joined the Americans in their fight for liberty.  Such as Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette.  Who was a general in George Washington’s army.  And who Washington looked on as a son.  America’s war was an expensive war.  And only through the generosity of Louis XVI, King of the French, did the Americans win their war.  Ironic, really, that an absolute monarch like Louis XVI would help the Americans break free from a monarchy.  But he did.  And saddled France with a tremendous war debt.

These are two things you don’t want to do if you’re a king.  Showing your people that you support the end of monarchy while denying it to your own people.  And making the French people pay for another people’s independence.  Through higher taxes.  And greater privations.  Things that tend to piss off a people.  It was a gamble for Louis.  For he didn’t believe in the American cause.  It was just a calculated bet.  The British had just recently defeated the French in the Seven Years’ War.  And the British took France’s North American territories.  Territories the French wanted back.  The American Revolution was their chance to rebalance the balance of power.  And get back at their hated enemy.  Great Britain.

Well that was the plan.  But it did not go as planned.  The Americans got wind of what the French monarchy was doing behind the scenes.  Which was even in discussions with the British to secure a peace that left the Americans subjects of the British Crown.  With a much smaller territory in the New World.  Leaving room for the French.  And their ally.  Spain.  An outcome that benefited neither the British nor the Americans.  So the British and the Americans made a separate peace.  One that favored their interests.  Not the French or the Spanish.  So Louis gambled.  He lost.  And he lost big.  The nation was staring at bankruptcy.  While her people were suffering poverty and hunger.  And what did these poor and hungry people see?  A very comfortable and well fed king, nobility and clergy.  This was the kindling just waiting for a match to light.

Montesquieu influenced the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen as well as the U.S. Founding Documents

That match came in 1789.  And the lighting of that match began with Jacques Necker.  Comptroller-General of Finance for Louis XVI.  Who advised the king that the nobility and the clergy needed to pay more taxes.  And proposed restricting the power of the parlements.  The nobility and the clergy paid little taxes due to their tax exemptions.  While the poor were too poor to help with the financial mess France was in.  So the only hope of raising new revenue was the nobility and clergy.  Alas, the monarchy did not like his recommendations and fired him.  Enter Charles Alexandre, vicomte de Calonne.  Who advised the king that the nobility and the clergy needed to pay more taxes.  Facing opposition from the parlements for proposing unpopular policy Calonne got the king to summon the Assembly of Notables.  A group of notables (like Lafayette) who advised the king.  But the notables did not endorse Calonne’s plan.  So the king called the Estates-General to the Grands Salles des Menus-Plaisirs in Versailles.

The estates were representatives of the people.  There were three of them.  The clergy.  The nobility.  And everyone else.  The commoners.  That is, the Third Estate.  Who grew weary with the way things were in France and declared themselves representatives not of the Third Estate but of the people.  They called themselves the National Assembly.  A radical move.  The first of a lot of radicalism to follow.  Not liking the look of this movement Louis closed their meeting hall and posted a guard in front of the door.  So the National Assembly moved to an indoor tennis court.  And took the Tennis Court Oath.  Where they promised to write a new constitution before adjourning.  Others joined them.  From both the clergy.  And the nobility.

The weariness grew into agitation.  The people grew angry.  And everything the king did just inflamed their anger.  From the firing of Necker.  To the presence of foreign soldiers in Paris.  The people feared royal oppression.  And began rioting.  Paris was out of control.  Then the people stormed the Bastille for weapons and ammunition.  They released all seven prisoners.  And brutally murdered Governor Marquis Bernard de Launay.  The guy in charge of the Bastille.  Beheaded him.  And placed his head on a pike and paraded it through Paris.  Then they went to Paris city hall and brutally murdered the mayor.  Jacques de Flesselles.  Then the National Constituent Assembly (of the National Assembly) went to work on the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789).  Sort of a combination of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Bill of Rights.  Drawing heavily on the same great French philosopher of the Enlightenment the Americans did.  Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu.

The People who Embraced the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen unleashed the Reign of Terror

In America after the U.S. Bill of Rights was ratified by the states the nation went about its business.  With some bitter fighting between the Founding Fathers as they argued over what the new nation was going to be.  But this bitter fighting was of the verbal kind.  It wasn’t quite like that in France.  There they attacked the Catholic Church.  Seized its property.  And sold it to the highest bidder.  As France grew more radical.  Where the radicals sat to the left in the legislative hall.  And those supportive of the old ways and monarchy sat on the right.  Giving us the political terms ‘left’ and ‘right’.  Then the radicals turned against the monarchy.  Created a constitutional monarchy to restrict the king’s power.  Like they had in Britain.  As the monarchy was assaulted the royal family tried to flee France in 1791.  They were caught and returned to Versailles.  Where they were put under house arrest.

Then the violence escalated.  Food shortages continued.  Prices continued to rise.  King Louis and Marie Antoinette were guillotined in 1793.  Control of France fell to the Committee of Public Safety.  And new leaders rose up to take power.  Including the radical journalist Jean-Paul Marat.  Who was murdered in a bathtub by a woman in the opposition party.  Georges Jacques Danton escalated the bloodletting by unleashing the Reign of Terror.  Where anyone who was identified as an enemy of the people or was not quite enthusiastic enough about the revolution was sent to the guillotine.  He was pretty bad.  But then there was Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre.  Who was real bad.  In all during the Reign of Terror the Committee of Public Safety guillotined some 20 to 40 thousand people.  Including Danton.  And Robespierre.  Live by the guillotine.  Die by the guillotine.

The French overthrew their king quicker than the Americans overthrew their king.  But the Americans quickly won their peace.  Without killing 20-40 thousand of their people.  Or their king.  Whereas the French descended into anarchy.  Even executed their king.  Something that appalled George Washington.  For though his motives were wrong and the Americans just rebelled against a monarch of their own, Louis provided the greatest aid to the Americans in their revolution.  Which probably made it easier to maintain a policy of neutrality in the new war between France and Great Britain during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars that followed.  Even favor the British in that policy of neutrality.  For the vast majority of American trade was with the British Empire.  And all of the agreements the Americans made with France during their Revolution they made with King Louis XVI.  A man executed during the Reign of Terror.  A period where the rule of law was thrown aside.  By the same people who embraced the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

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American Revolution, Vietnam, Civil War, Guerilla War, Fabian Strategy, Jackson, Arnold, Lafayette, Clinton, Cornwallis and Yorktown

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 21st, 2012

Politics 101

In a Civil War where the Enemy was Everywhere and Holding Cities meant little the Only Way to Win was to Kill the Opposing Army

The American Revolutionary War was a lot like the Vietnam War.  Both involved a people on one side of the conflict torn apart by civil war.  Both were bloody.  Both involved a military superpower fighting on the far side of an ocean.  Both involved the French (the French role in Vietnam was in the decade which preceded the American’s two decades).  In both conflicts the French suffered politically at home and profited little for the blood and treasure they invested after the war.  In both the underdog used a Fabian strategy where they avoided major battles for their winning strategy was simply not to lose.  So they fought to extend the war to make it more costly (in both treasure and politics) for the other side to keep fighting.  Both involved poor military planning where decisions were based more on politics than military necessity.  In both the Americans and French were on the same side.  During the American Revolution they were both on the winning side.  In Vietnam they were both on the losing side (though the French stopped fighting before the Americans began fighting).  And, of course, both were wars contesting overseas colonies.

The fighting was cruel in Vietnam.  Especially against the civilians.  As the opposing sides fought through villages people suffered if they had shown the ‘wrong’ loyalties when the other side had controlled the village.  The North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong (the guerilla insurgents in South Vietnam) did some nasty things.  As did the South Vietnamese American allies.  Even some Americans did some nasty things.  There were few innocents.  Though the Americans were probably more innocent than most.  For when they did something nasty it became public.  Eventually.  And the Americans punished those responsible.

Both sides used killing as the primary strategy.  The Americans introduced the body count.  Measuring the success in military operations in the number of enemy dead.  The Viet Cong conscripted anyone who could fight.  Removing most young men from villages in areas they controlled.  Or they killed anyone who could fight against them.  Both sides tried to kill as many of the other as possible because in a civil war where the enemy was everywhere and holding cities and hills meant little the only way to win was to kill the opposing army.  So they couldn’t fight you anymore.

Neither the Patriots nor the Tories could claim the Moral High Ground in the Deep South

General George Washington quickly adopted a Fabian strategy in the American Revolutionary War because he had no choice.  He was fighting the world’s sole superpower.  And when the war broke out the Americans had no army or navy.  So until they did they fought a guerilla war.  Especially in the south.  Where Patriot partisans controlled the country.  And Tories loyal to the British held the cities.  And manned posts in the interior.  Under the command of British General Cornwallis.  Who reported to General Clinton comfortably ensconced in New York City.  Waiting for General Washington to launch an assault on New York.  Which would never come.

The civil war in the south was about as ugly as civil wars get.  And the ugly stuff was American on American ugliness.  Patriot against Tory.  The British charged that the partisans were killing innocents and neutrals.  And the Americans claimed the Tories were doing the same.  Neither side could really claim the moral high ground.  A young Andrew Jackson (hero of the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812 and America’s seventh president) even said, “In the long run, I am afraid the Whigs [the Patriots] did not lose many points in the game of hanging, shooting and flogging.” 

It was a merciless guerilla war in the South.  And they did kill wholesale.  Because that’s the only way to win a civil war.  You kill fighting men until there are not enough of them left to fight back.  And the fighting was not always honorable.  The British captured Jackson in a Waxhaw meetinghouse.  When a body of Tories dressed as locals advanced ahead of a body of Redcoats.  The trick worked.  They captured eleven.  And a British officer gave Jackson scars that would leave him a lasting hatred of the British for the rest of his life.  The officer demanded that Jackson clean his boots.  Jackson claimed he was a prisoner of war.  And that the British officer should treat him as such.  The officer saw him as a partisan traitor.  And brought his sword down on Jackson’s head for his insolence.  Jackson tried to shield his head with his left hand, leaving two deep scars.  One on his head.  The other on his hand.

The Grand Battle George Washington longed for was before him at Yorktown 

The changing fortunes of war in the South often changed the fighting spirit of those fighting the war.  On both sides.  British deserters joined the American lines.  And American deserters joined the British lines.  The Americans serving in the Continental Army were still hungry, thirsty and half-naked.  The Battle of Eutaw Springs was the last big battle in the Deep South.  And it almost ended in a route of the British.  Had not the hungry, thirsty and half-naked Americans stop their pursuit when they entered the abandoned British camp.  As they enjoyed the spoils of war the British returned.  And another 3 hours of bloody fighting continued.  In the sweltering heat of the Deep South.  By the time it was over the Americans lost.  The American casualties were just over 500 (about 25% of their force).  The British lost over 800 (about 40% of their force).  A costly victory for the British.  Despite this loss the Americans were in control of the lower south.

Up until this point Virginia had seen little of the ravages of war.  Lucky for them as Virginian governor Thomas Jefferson, though a brilliant thinker, was a pretty poor wartime governor.  Washington urged him to prepare some defenses.  But he didn’t.  General Cornwallis urged General Clinton to abandon New York and conquer Virginia.  An action he believed would win the war.  Clinton refused for awhile.  But finally agreed to send a force under America’s greatest traitor.  Benedict Arnold.  A new brigadier general in the British Army.  Who landed unopposed in Virginia.  And moved at will.  Tarleton’s cavalry came up from the south to join Arnold.  Entered Charlottesville.  Captured members of the Virginia legislature with Jefferson just escaping in the nick of time.  With the addition of British reinforcements in Virginia Washington sent a force under Lafayette to Virginia to help with their defenses.  A perfect storm was gathering for the British in Virginia.

Cornwallis himself entered Virginia.  And futilely gave chase to Lafayette.  Cornwallis wanted Clinton to commit a major force to the conquest of Virginia.  Clinton wanted the few thousand troops he sent to Virginia returned to New York.  Clinton ordered Cornwallis to hold a position on the Chesapeake with his reduced force.  Cornwallis thought that order was stupid and ordered a withdrawal of his own forces.  Clinton countermanded that order.  Insisting that he pick a place and defend it.  Cornwallis picked Yorktown.  With his back to the sea.  And hopefully the British fleet.  While he moved towards Yorktown the hunter became the hunted.  Lafayette harassed him all the way.  Worse, the French were also on their way.  And the French fleet would engage the British fleet and defeat them.  And a French force would join Washington who came down from New York.  Finally able to abandon his Fabian strategy.  The grand battle he longed for was before him at Yorktown.  Cornwallis was trapped.  And would surrender his Army.

With the surrender of a second British army the initiative went to the Americans.  To continue the war would cost far more British blood and treasure.  But that price was too high.  The British wanted out.  Conceding that the Americans were indeed independent of British rule.  The delaying Fabian strategy, though costly, had worked.  As they would again in another American war.  Where the Americans instead would be fighting on foreign land.  In a place called Vietnam.  Only the Americans would suffer the same fate the British did in the American Revolutionary War.  As a Fabian strategy can be a very effective strategy.  As long as time is on your side.

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Trenton, Saratoga, Valley Forge, Rockingham, Chatham, American Problem, Carlisle Commission, Professional American Army and World War

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 5th, 2012

Politics 101

General Gates gave the British Lenient Terms of Surrender at Saratoga allowing a Defeated British Army to be Replaced by Another

When the Americans began fighting for their independence the British said, “Really?  You’re going to fight us?  The greatest military power in the world?  Yeah, right.  Forgive us if we don’t tremble in our boots.”  Then came Lexington and Concorde.  Bunker Hill.  Then the Siege of Boston.  Not exactly an auspicious start for the greatest military power in the world.  But a little premature for the Americans to be feeling big in the britches department.  For the British had a cure for britches that ware too big.  It’s something they called the greatest military power in the world.  Which General Sir William Howe unleashed on the Americans on Long Island.  And he didn’t stop pushing the Americans back until he took winter quarters in New Jersey.  General Howe took those big American britches and shrunk them down in good order.  Very disheartening times for the Patriots.  Times that Thomas Paine wrote “try men’s souls.”

The British were feeling confident.  Even their hired mercenaries.  The Hessians.  Who where in Trenton.  Across the Delaware from Washington’s army that was “almost naked, dying of cold, without blankets, and very ill supplied with provisions.”  Ill conceived words from the Hessian commander.  Considering that naked, starving army surprised the bejesus out of them.  Giving the Americans a much needed win in the field against the British.  Or their Hessian allies.  Giving the Patriots fresh hope.  After they had just lost pretty much all of it.  And when they emerged from winter quarters they came out fighting.  Came close to a couple of victories.  But unable to pull out a victory.  Losing more land in the process.  Including Philadelphia.  And when the army took winter quarters at Valley Forge they were “almost naked, dying of cold, without blankets, and very ill supplied with provisions” again.

But it wasn’t all bad.  For there was an American victory up north.  At Saratoga.  Where a British army surrendered.  To an American force.  Something the French had great trouble doing themselves in the last century.  So this win was big.  But it could have been bigger.  For General Gates gave the British painfully lenient terms of surrender.  Allowing the British army to go back to Britain if they promised that they would never fight in North America again.  Of course the fault with that logic is that if that army went back to Britain they could relieve other forces that could fight in North America.  So the victory was a hollow one militarily.  As it did not weaken the enemy militarily.  Worse, had that British army been interned in a POW camp the war may not have continued for another 5 years.  For that win at Saratoga brought the French into the war.

The Americans weren’t Interested in Making a British Peace, what they Had in Mind was an American Win

The British did not want to broaden this war.  And the last thing they wanted was to bring in their old nemesis.  France.  Who would be glad to broaden the war.  And would rejoice at the opportunity to bring some hurt down on their old foe.  And perhaps recover some of their lost North American possessions.  So the British started to send out some peace feelers.  They approached Benjamin Franklin in January of 1778.  But he was not interested in what terms the British offered for Parliament to recognize America’s independence.  For Franklin said it was not up to Parliament to recognize their independence.  It was up to the Americans.  And they already did.

The British even tried bribing prominent Americans.  Such as Franklin and Washington.  In exchange for their help in convincing the American people to end their rebellion they would bestow upon them titles and rank.  And privilege.  Including generous pensions.  But Franklin and Washington weren’t for sale.  Parliament held heated debate about the American problem.  And the Americans and the French entering into any treaties.  Lord Rockingham led the Whig opposition who favored American independence.  While Lord Chatham vehemently disagreed with giving up sovereignty over America.  As it would be an insult to the Crown.  He was making his case passionately in Parliament when he collapsed.  This became his last speech as he died shortly thereafter.  His last breaths in Parliament were for naught, though.  As they agreed to send a peace commission to America.  To try to end the war before the French could affect the outcome. 

The Carlisle Commission arrived in Philadelphia as General Clinton (who replaced General Howe) was moving his army back to New York.  Which did not give the British a strong negotiating position.  For it is usually easier to get someone to accept your generous terms when you have the world’s most powerful military behind you.  Giving people something to think about if they don’t accept your generous terms.  The Americans refused to negotiate with them, though.  The British then tried bribing some prominent Americans.  Even tried to appeal directly to the American people.  Who just suffered a British army occupying their city.  So the British made no progress towards a negotiated peace.  Even though the terms were generous.  And had the British offered them a few years earlier the Americans would have accepted them.  For they gave them most of what they wanted then.  But after three years of war things changed.  The British had done things they couldn’t undo.  Certain unrestricted warfare things.  And the Americans weren’t desperate to make peace.  For they had survived 3 years of war against the greatest military power in the world.  Recently defeating one of their armies in the field of battle.  And now had the French as allies.  No, the Americans weren’t interested in making a British peace.  What they had in mind was an American win.

After Surviving 3 Years of War and 6 Months at Valley Forge the Americans had Reason to Believe they could Win this War

As General Washington entered winter quarters in the barren land of Valley Forge the British were settling in for a comfortable winter in the city of Philadelphia.  The British moved into comfortable homes while the Americans raced the calendar to build some barracks before the snow fell.  They had little food.  No meat whatsoever.  Many were barefoot.  Few had a decent shirt to wear.  And blankets were few.  To stay warm soldiers huddled around fires.  Or shivered under shared blankets. 

Some 2,500 men would die in all during the 6 months of Valley Forge.  But the army emerged intact.  And with confidence.  They now had an ally.  France.  And during that awful winter they also trained.  Under the Prussian Baron Friedrich von Steuben.  Who may have lied on his resume.  But he knew how to drill an army into shape.  And that’s what emerged from Valley Forge.  A professional army.  As good as any in Europe.  Even European officers led some of their units.  Who came over to fight for the cause.  Combat engineers like Louis Duportail from France.  And Thaddeus Kosciusko from Poland.  Also from Poland was cavalry commander Count Casimir Pulaski.  And, of course, Marquis de Lafayette from France.  The one foreign officer that never caused Washington any grief over persistent demands for promotion and rank.  Not Lafayette.  Who proved himself in battle.  And even changed his political persuasion during the war.  From monarchy to the liberty of republicanism.  Washington looked upon Lafayette as a son. 

After surviving 3 years of war and 6 months at Valley Forge the Americans had reason to believe they could win this war.  For the army that emerged from Valley Forge was a better army than the one that defeated General Burgoyne at Saratoga.  And they were less alone.  Thanks to France.  And these foreign officers.  Making it more difficult for Britain.  For with France (and her ally Spain joining in) the American Revolutionary War became a world war.  Diverting British resources elsewhere as their new enemies looked to take advantage of Britain’s American problem.  Which the Americans knew when rejecting the Carlisle Commission.  Namely that a quick peace didn’t favor the Americans.  It favored the British.

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