The American Revolution: A History in Documents

By Steven C. Bullock | Go to book overview

Chapter Three
Taking Sides
The Experience of War

Americans in the Revolution
fought not only with Britain
but with themselves. This illus-
tration of a contentious town
meeting was prepared in the
1790s for a Revolutionary-
era poem, [M'Fingal,] which
mocked the Tories
.

On July 4, 1776, the day Congress approved the Declaration of Independence, Cadwallader Colden, Jr., also made a declaration—against independence. Colden, the eldest son of New York's former acting governor and a devout member of the Church of England, had spent a troubled night praying and meditating about his situation. In the morning, he appeared before the Patriot's county committee and spoke boldly against what he considered an illegal rebellion. The committee's actions, he argued, led toward [independency, which he should ever oppose with all his might, and wished to the Lord that his name might be entered as opposed to the matter, and be handed down to the latest posterity, to show them his disapprobation of it.] But, despite these strong convictions, Colden also promised not to act on them while the war continued. His careful distinction between words and deeds did not convince the committee. When Colden refused to sign an oath obliging him to take arms against the British, the committee sentenced him to jail. Colden spent the next two years in and out of custody before being banished to British-held territory.

As Colden's experiences suggest, taking a stand on the Revolution could have dangerous consequences. These potentially fatal decisions involved a variety of considerations: political philosophy, religious conviction, family loyalty, and even outright force. For Native Americans and some African-American slaves, these issues could be particularly problematic. Their interests usually lay fully with neither side, yet their support (or at least their acquiescence) was sought by both.

But as Colden tried to tell the committee in 1776, deeply held convictions did not necessarily lead to actions, and as leaders of both sides recognized, actions would decide the fate of [independency.] Just as troubling, choices about the Revolution did not always work out as people intended. Chance, as well as choice, also shaped people's fate.

-71-

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