We think we know everything there is to know about the Revolutionary War and the fight for American Independence. From the very Declaration of Independence, to the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, to Valley Forge and beyond …these events have been etched into our minds and have become a part of our shared American heritage for as long as we can remember.
Yet much of what we know is not entirely true. Some of it has been greatly embellished. And worse yet, there are entire parts of the real story of American Independence that have been completely left out of the history textbooks.
Who Is Writing History?
There’s something that we need to establish first before we dive into the untold history of the American Revolution. It’s so plain and simple that it almost feels ridiculous to even say it. But, it is so key – so important – I simply must point it out before we go any further…
History depends on who is writing it.
There’s even a term for this phenomenon. Scholars call it the “historian effect.” The historian effect happens when history is recorded, in print or otherwise, with a slant, angle, or even an outright bias – usually from the point of view of the victor. But this is not always so. Sometimes big money or media propaganda attribute to the historian effect in grave ways.
As we teach our children lessons from the past, the true stories of history become even more critical. Will the next generation learn what some modern (secular) textbook author wants them to learn, or will they learn real history? If we trust modern textbooks to do the job for us, it will be a colored view of history at best. Most secular writers will search for anything that will justify their own claims or agendas. Instead, honest Christian writers should always point to the truth, even when it’s difficult or painful.
So, in honor of July 4th, let’s reveal two important, yet largely untold truths of the American Revolution.
Truth #1: American Independence started long before 1776, and included some unlikely players.
Yes, America officially declared its independence from Britain in 1776, but the true march towards independence began long before that. We must first go back to Colonial America.
You’ve heard it all before – the Puritans came to America in the 1600s to practice their religion without constraint. They wanted to live “pure” lives and be able to worship free from government intrusion and without the extra-biblical notions that the Church of England had pushed upon them. But the Puritans weren’t alone in this radical idea.
In addition to the Puritans, thousands of Scottish Presbyterians settled in the American colonies during the mid-1700s. They were as ready as anyone to break free from the confines of the English Parliament. Their pastors preached in favor of Revolution and treated it as an opportunity for another Great Awakening. A famous quote they used often: “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.”
The Scottish Presbyterians are not mentioned by name in many standard (secular) history books, but without a doubt, they played a vital, key role in the American Revolution. Entire congregations, along with their pastors, enlisted in the colonial army and marched into battle together for American freedom. By the time the Battle of Yorktown was finished, all but one Colonel was a Presbyterian! Additionally, we know that at least 19 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were Scottish or of Scottish descent.
These Presbyterians played such a major role in the Revolution that one German mercenary wrote, “Call this war by whatever name you may, only call it not an American rebellion; it is nothing more or less than a Scotch Irish Presbyterian rebellion.” Meanwhile, John Witherspoon (the Founding Father you’ve probably heard the least about in the history books) famously said, “Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian Parson!”
Back in England, the war was not affectionately called “The American Revolution.” Rather, it was called “The Presbyterian Revolt.” And the British hatred for these Presbyterian colonists grew white-hot. British troops targeted Presbyterian churches on colonial soil and would either burn them down, or perhaps a greater insult, would turn them into stables.
But they didn’t just contribute on the battlefield. The Scottish Presbyterians continued to shape America in other important ways, long after the war was over. They helped form the pattern for representative government and for a federal court system, using their own church system as a model.
Presbyterian churches each elect their own elders (representatives). Then, there is a graduated system of organized representation all the way from the local level to the regional and national level. This system was widely different from the experience of the other colonists at the time. Puritans and Baptists were more congregationally organized, while the Anglicans practiced heavy top-down management.
Truth #2: The American Revolution wasn’t just about taxation.
It may sound a bit unbelievable (especially if you grew up reading standard history textbooks) but the American Revolution had more to do with sermons and papers than tea and taxes!
No doubt, you are familiar with the phrase, “No taxation without representation.” Yes, exorbitant overtaxing of the colonies did play a role in the Revolution, but that’s not the whole story. In fact, it wasn’t even the biggest issue of the day! The colonists (both the Presbyterians and the others) had much bigger concerns than taxation. They were vehemently against one thing: England sending a high-church Anglican Bishop to oversee the colonies. The King was no dummy. He knew this would provoke the colonists like nothing else.
“No King but Jesus!” was the famous rallying cry of the Presbyterians and other religious colonists. They believed that the law of God was supreme, and over any law of the King of England, or elsewhere for that matter. They would not tolerate a corrupted church, and wanted nothing to do with the Church of England with the King at its head.
But it wasn’t just the King they were breaking away from. Even more so, the Christian colonists wanted nothing to do with the amoral lifestyle that was running rampant in Britain back in the 17th and 18th centuries. They yearned for clean living and a better way. Does this sound familiar to our struggle with culture today? It should.
We must remember the tyrannies that happened before so that we can guard against them ever happening again here on American soil. That’s why the real story of history is so critically important to pass on to our children. We must be diligent to share a true account of history with the next generation, without the stains of bias or propaganda.
So this July 4th, celebrate your Independence. But know what your forefathers truly fought and died for. It wasn’t just taxes!