Editorial: Why is the Revolutionary War Not Popular?
This is something I have wondered for some time. I am fascinated by the Civil War also, but I don't completely follow why it so popular to the exclusion of other time periods, especially the Revolution. Firstly, it is all to easy to take the Revolution for granted, but there is more to it than that. Many people become interested in the Civil War by researching their ancestors, and by reading men and women's experiences in their own words. There are many more diaries and remembrances available from the Civil War than the Revolution, with the result that more research is possible. And we naturally relate to people of the 1800s more easily than we do to the people of the 1700s. For me, the 1700s are more interesting BECAUSE it was such a different world - an "Age of Reason" with one third of all births out of wedlock and the rich painting naked babies on the ceiling. Wigs and tight pants for men!
Sadly, many people today have not spent time developing an interest in politics, government, and history and are completely absorbed in their own lives and material possessions. Today, people who still believe in the Second and Tenth Amendments are labeled kooks. Citizens are subjected to many more taxes and oppressions than the colonists ever were, but few people seem to notice. This is not what made America great. Although the Revolution is full of drama and interesting characters, people will never come to appreciate the Revolution unless their interest is sparked. Unlike Civil War battlefields, many of the battlefields and landmarks of the Revolution were lost or forgotten long ago, and we can NEVER get them back. Sadly, there is a Civil War Preservation Trust, but not a Revolutionary War Preservation Trust.
But there has to more to it than just that! Do people see the Founding Fathers as Gods who were perfect and therefore boring? I admit to hero worship of George Washington, and I am hardly alone. His refusal to exploit his power for his own purposes makes him one of the great men of all time, perhaps the greatest. But he and the others were far from perfect. Did he try to steer his French and Indian War superiors to blaze trails in specific locations to increase the value of his land speculations? Was he a male "gold digger" looking for a rich woman to marry to increase his wealth and influence? What about that lengthy Revolutionary War expense account? Did he conceive an illegitimate child with a slave? It looks like Mr. Jefferson did. The much beloved Benjamin Franklin split with his own son because of political differences, and Benedict Arnold was only the most infamous of a number of questionable characters of the time. Many Revolutionary figures were, in fact, self serving glory seekers or adventurers, concerned more for themselves than for any ideals. This makes the Revolution as interesting as any era in history - so why is there relatively little interest?
Mark Boatner wrote that a person interested in both the Revolution and the Civil War is as rare as the person who loves both London and Paris. I am one of those rare persons - but perhaps the typical Revolution buff and the typical Civil War buff see the world differently. Maybe it's political outlook, or maybe it's the absence of modern controversy or hard feelings concerning the Revolution - as is demonstrated so well by my "Made in England" Independence Hall plate! Few people will argue that the British were in the right during the Revolution. In contrast, the the arguments of the Civil War are frequently re-fought to this day. Possibly contrary to the typical RevWar buff, I - and undoubtedly others - believe that secession was legal and that the Civil War was the beginning of the destruction of the Constitution, at least the one intended by the Founding Fathers, and that this destruction continues to the present, having accelerated in the 1930s and 1960s. (See CW opinion) Could it be that it takes a rare person to justify the secessions of both the Founding Fathers and the Confederates?
Due to location, a Northerner is more likely to be a fan of the Revolution, but Northerners tends to be statists, desiring a bigger, more powerful government - which is counter to the spirit of the Revolution, low taxes and a small government. And due to location, a Southerner is more likely to be interesting in the Civil War. A Southerner tends to be more conservative, and is likely to already have sympathy with one secession. So why would a Southerner not go nuts over the Revolution?
Despite the fact the Revolution was a global war, I detect that it is wrongly seen as a regional, or Northern, event, and the people of the South and West just don't relate to it. I do believe that a lot of history is North-centric and that SOME people of the North are convinced of their own cultural superiority. This is not beneficial to the appreciation of our history. It is a mystery to me why Ken Burns' Union-biased Civil War program created so much interest in the war. I have often found PBS's history programming depressing, Marxist, and inferior to cable TV, and "The Civil War" also was also to some extent. The A&E series, "The American Revolution", is a timeless classic and should have sparked as much or more interest in the Revolution, but it obviously did not. "The Patriot" with Mel Gibson may help. It is good as a movie, but it is rated R, and the numerous inaccuracies are disappointing. It is sad to say, but it may up to us to spread the word - buffs, re-enactors, teachers, and the like. The word was spread to me in the 5th grade by a Bruce Bliven book with a gruff looking Continental soldier on the front. If this webpage is a fraction as effective as his book, I will be happy.
Back to Revolutionary War Virtual Battlefield Tours