I also learnt during the course that African Americans are another community that bore the brunt of injustice – as they came to the continent tied in chains and were forced to slog as slaves. In this backdrop, the European frontiersman’s basic grievance was that he was restricted in robbing the already wretched natives and black slaves. Their cry for freedom and liberty was nothing more than a clamor for more control over the disadvantaged slaves and natives. This state of institutionalized injustice was accentuated further during the years of the revolution, diminishing the aura surrounding it even more. In other words, the injuries and sufferings associated with the revolution were apportioned unequally between the colonialists and other colored groups. These darker facets of the American Revolution were not cognizant to me prior to taking the course. And taking the course has made me realize the parallel injustices meted out to the natives and blacks by the colonials and the Crown.
Above-made observations are not to suggest that I disbelieve the democratic credentials for the revolution. To the contrary, I still believe that the grand democratic justification of this landmark event has inspired (and continues to inspire) liberation struggles throughout the world. The benefit of taking the course is that it has facilitated distinguishing positive aspects of the revolution from the unsavory ones. For instance, I could now distinguish between the oppression and injustice of European colonization from the undeniable fact that the shores of New England offered escape from similar violations far away in Europe.
Another key insight that I gained via the course is that the seeds of American imperialism were sown quite early in the country’s history – in fact as early as the revolution itself. Previously, I believed that the democratic character of the American Republic is inherently incompatible with imperialism. This assumption is based on the understanding of circumstances surrounding the formation of the new republic. For example, while American scholarship on the subject notes the emergence of the new nation as a product of the Revolution, British historians attribute the same event as the ‘American War of Independence’. In the American sense, the Revolutionary War was assumed to resonate with parallel revolutions in France and Haiti. Further, patriot scholars marked the moment of overthrow of the thirteen British colonies in North America (under an invidious external despot–George III) with such poignancy and self-righteousness, that later day American imperial activities would sound contradictory. But, alongside noble utterances toward the end of the revolution, there were also claims to the ownership of the continent from sea to sea. In the period before the outbreak of hostilities in 1775, calls for unfettered colonial expansion became increasingly bound up with the claim for colonial self-government, and not only for those, such as Washington, who were actively pursuing expansion. In A Summary View of the Rights of British America (1774), Thomas Jefferson argues not only that democracy and colonial expansion are compatible, but that the former springs from the latter. Such ‘democratic colonialism’ is not, therefore, incompatible with membership of the British Empire, as long as the empire is understood as a collection of independent and equal polities of ‘free men’ (i.e. not natives, slaves, or the property-less) sharing the same constitutionally limited monarch.