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Mimishu1995's avatar

Can you help me fact-check my history textbooks?

Asked by Mimishu1995 (19100points) 2 months ago

OK, so this is another Revolutionary War question. I hope you don’t get too tired of me for asking so much about that :(

I’m in the process of fact-checking what I used to learn at school. Recently, I looked back at my history textbooks which are still being used to teach kids today, because I wanted to confirm that my misconception about the Revolutionary War wasn’t because I slept in class. And I came across some… really interesting things in the textbooks. They looked so suspicious that I needed some help to verify if they are accurate.

The Revolutionary War is taught by three textbooks throughout my school day. I’m going to sum up what each of them says.

- 8th grade history textbook: the Revolutionary War is only a small section in a larger chapter about wars during the 17th century – 19th century. The war broke out because the British tried to prevent America from getting too economically developed for reasons never explained, and they did that by enforcing taxes, stealing lands and banning America from trading with other countries. As a side note, the 13 colonies were also adopting capitalism at this time.
– 10th grade history textbook: there is now a chapter for the war. It basically repeats the same thing about the British’s ruling over America and the capitalism thing, except that they now explain that the reason why the British tried to oppress America was because America was becoming such a big economic center that they were competing against Britain, which didn’t please the British very much. Also one of the reasons why the Americans were so angry was because they couldn’t explore the land to the West.
– 11th grade advanced history textbook: this one is pretty… disjointed, which facts scattering around and very little to connect the ideas. This book is more focused on presenting facts than the other two. Basically it says that although the America was ruled over by the British, the 13 colonies had developed their own government. The 13 colonies were an important trading market of the British. The British enforced harsh laws onto the colonies for reasons not explained either. Sandwiched among these are the same things about capitalism and the American economy growing big. The book then concludes that the Americans got angry because of the strict laws and because they had developed their own identity as a separate country and they wanted to be free of the British’s oppression.

What do you think about these three books? Does what they say have any truth to it, or is it just blatant misinformation?

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17 Answers

Smashley's avatar

They seem mostly true, albeit simplistic, with a little Nationalistic propaganda to help it go down better. America was a collection of colonies, and colonial history was necessarily exploitative. Those who claimed ownership over colonies held the idea of a vassal state to be as natural as human slavery. The books you mention feel more like they frame the evil British as having a specific agenda of suppressing the power of the colonies out of fear of the very nationalism that would come to create America. Like Americanism is some immutable property of the people here, and the British were just fundamentally against it.

The books also don’t mention that it was Britain’s very inability to control the colonies which had been the history of American prosperity for 100 years. Our founding fathers were smugglers and tax evaders, and it when Britain tried to yoke them, it became clear that the colonies were already too powerful to be controlled, and wealth was too entrenched to cede power across the ocean.

Mimishu1995's avatar

@Smashley I’m not from America, so does what the books say still count as Nationalistic?

KNOWITALL's avatar

I agree with @Smashley that it’s a very simplistic explanation of a complicated situation.

Britain enacted The Intolerable Acts after the Boston Tea Party as punishment for the ‘rebels’ in America, which ultimately resulted in a more cohesive stand by the colonies, the First Continental Congress. It’s a very interesting part of history.

While you can’t necessarily blame Britain for doing what they did (monopolizing the tea trade and duty free export to America), you can’t blame Americans for wanting representation in a government that controlled their taxes and limited their ability to export, as well. Unfortunately it cost Britain a lot of money when the tea was ruined, 342 chests of tea lost to a company in financial straits, seemed to quite prove the point.

LostInParadise's avatar

A large factor was the belief in mercantilism. The idea was that nations should strive for favorable trade balances. One way to achieve this was to import raw goods from colonies and then produce and sell manufactured goods. This article gives a summary. Note Adam Smith’s objections to mercantilism.

Smashley's avatar

@Mimishu1995 – Where are they from then? I’m a little surprised they sound pretty American, but American culture is pretty influential. I feel like these issues in explaining a complicated subject are more about the era they were made in, rather than explicit bias. When were they written and what exactly were the misconceptions you had about the Revolution that you think these books were responsible for?

janbb's avatar

I would say one difference is that wrongly or rightly, “capitalism” per se was never discussed as a factor in the Revolution when I studied it at school although taxation and the trade issues were.

Mimishu1995's avatar

@Smashley I see someone doesn’t know where I am from yet :D

I’m from Vietnam. And the textbooks are literally what I grew up with except for the last book. I’m not sure when those books were written, but I think they went far back in 2007.

The misconception I had can be summed up by The Patriot, if you know what I mean :D But if you don’t, I always thought that the British were a bunch of greedy monarch who wanted the Americans to basically be their slaves (working for free, having no civil rights…), and America was a separate country that was just for some reason bound to the British and was unjustly oppressed, so they basically fought to kick the British out of their country, as the British were never meant to be there in the first place.

And as I mentioned earlier, all three books talk about capitalism, and one of them ties the war to all the other wars that happened between the 17th century and early 19th century. The point all three books are making is that the society that had the king as the ruler was falling apart because people had found a new way of producing things called “capitalism”, and the king needed to go if society wanted to progress.

Smashley's avatar

@Mimishu1995 – fascinating. Sounds like some 80s anti-communist, Cold War shit.

zenvelo's avatar

A big factor driving the British to tax the Colonies was paying for the 7 years war. By taxing the colonies, the British populace was spared the burden of paying for Whitehall’s extravagances in fighting a prolonged war.

Unlike colonies in other parts of the world, the British colonials were populated mostly (other than slaves and Native Americans) by descendants of British freemen, who felt equal to those still in Britain. That was a huge motivator in why the colonies felt justified in standing up for their economic rights.

stanleybmanly's avatar

I believe @zenvelo ‘s thoughts worthy of emphasis. America’s place in the then current mercantile model was unique in that it was not the usual subjugation then exploitation of the native population toward the extraction of resources. The native population in this case was about as useful in such an enterprise as weeds in a garden, and thus relegated the destiny assigned anything restricting the “yield”. I don’t believe enough emphasis is given on this absence a of population suitable to taming and adaptation for typical grunge work, but that’s grist for another discussion. The point that matters is that colonists viewed themselves every bit as English and entitled as residents of Surrey, while England saw them as basically employees in America—- the 13 colonies as a British “company town”.

Mimishu1995's avatar

So in short, my textbooks are accurate, but they leave out important details and are a bit biased to one interpretation?

stanleybmanly's avatar

Our textbooks are equally deficient, as are the resulting products they supposedly indoctrinate.

Zaku's avatar

They’re simplistic but not atypical of simplistic statements about the period.

The weird part that stood out for me was: “the 13 colonies were also adopting capitalism at this time”. From my perspective, that seems very out of place, silly, inaccurate, irrelevant and anachronistic. Maybe it makes more sense from a Vietnamese historical perspective, though. I don’t know what they mean by that exactly or what else they may be saying about the history of capitalism. It might make sense in whatever the rest of that context is.

There are many more aspects which a good treatment of the subject could go into. It’s not so simple a subject. But simplistic American school books say similar things (except the part about capitalism). A better treatment would explain the colonial history, trade, the British Empire, and the whole process of the conflict. A really good treatment would get into various other issues, and mention that the colonies were not a homogeneous entity, and in fact there were colonists on both sides and with various points of view and on and on.

elbanditoroso's avatar

Also read up on the concept of “triangular trade” – the points of the triangle being westbound slave movement from African to the southern US, sugar, tobacco, and other merchandise from the US to England, and manufactured goods from England to Africa.

That was a multi-century set of trade routes that England wanted to keep intact because they made all sorts of money.

zenvelo's avatar

Regarding the “adopting capitalism” citation. It isn’t like a group of leaders sat around and decided on a capitalist economic structure. The development of a capitalist system was an evolution over centuries.

Adam Smith wrote the “Wealth of Nations” in 1776. It described the advantages of certain aspect of a capitalist system. But it was not something that was “adopted.”

Fundamental to development of capitalist systems is the development of laws that protect property rights. The colonies were quite forthright about protecting property rights, sometimes above other principles. Chattel slavery is a good example: the protection of the property rights of a slave owner was placed above almost all other rights and laws within the Colonies.

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

I think the capitalism references make a lot of sense. They sound odd to American ears because we grow up surrounded by it, and take it as simply the way things are, instead of one way among other possibilities.

I am surprised that you study the American Revolution at all (unless you are focusing on American Studies). Your text books sound good, and you know more than most Americans about our revolution.

Zaku's avatar

The odd part about it is The 13 colonies were also adopting capitalism at this time”.
Because no, the colonies were just part of the longstanding European focus on wealth, and what the European nations could gain from colonies and sea trade. The colonies were not “adopting” capitalism; but the wealth and power there was largely about that trade, and they wanted to have more control over themselves, their laws and their wealth independent from the nation they were a colony of.

Saying the 13 colonies were “adopting Capitalism” at that time, makes the revolution sound like an economic revolution, which it wasn’t. And it makes it sound like the economy was something not-capitalistic before, which it only was in the sense that the Crown of the British Empire claimed ultimate authority over the colonies.

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