The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

April 25, 2014

The first Civil War

Most of us are taught from our very earliest days in school that this nation and its democracy were founded during the Revolutionary War, and that four score and seven years later it was embroiled in a great Civil War.

Yet, that really is somewhat misleading of textbooks.

The Revolutionary War was a civil war, it just wasn’t called that at the time.

You see, our Founding Fathers had enough on their plates in beating the British and trying to govern a sometimes ungovernable melting pot of people, and then overcoming all that chaos the war roiled so they could form a new nation.

It was a messy business. It was a very messy business.

Revolutions always are.

Take two other of the world’s most famous internal conflicts.

The 1917 October Revolution in Russia was a bloody overthrow of the Imperial Romanov Dynasty, and was a particularly nasty politically based revolution.

During the French Revolution of 1789, the people rose against Louis XVI and his absolute monarchy, butchering the king and his wife and thousands of aristocrats of the landed gentry, who had complete say in the lives — and the life or death — of every man, woman and child within its borders.

The blood from the guillotine marked the face of that government and class-system overthrow.

Both those famous historical eras were singular in their nature, much as the American Revolution was unparalleled.

While we like to think our revolution was more circumspect, had higher principles based upon democracy, equality for all and fairness in governmental representation, it, too, was marked in blood, in terror and sometimes in chaos.

Watching the new TV series “Turn,” set in New York during the Revolution, you get a tremendous historical perspective of how divided Americans really were during this time.

There were ardent Patriots and Loyalists, yet there were many straddling the fence between the two. Uncertainty as to which side would prevail — our sovereign England and King George III, or our Patriot Founding Fathers — was uncertain from the start in 1775, until Yorktown and the fall of the British Empire’s influence on these shores.

Many Loyalists had a large stake in keeping our allegiance to King George — from the businessman to the slave holder to the farmer or merchant who shipped goods from these shores to England.

Everyone had relatives in the British Isles or Europe.

It made for some hard choices for every American in the 1770s and 1780s.

There is no more poignant story than that of the rift between perhaps the most famous of our Founding Fathers — Benjamin Franklin — and his illegitimate son, William.

A notorious womanizer throughout his life, Benjamin Franklin fathered William out of wedlock with an unknown woman, yet took him to raise with his common-law wife, Deborah Reed, in Philadelphia.

William grew up to be a soldier, serving in the American Regiment in 1746 and fighting in Albany as a captain in the King George’s War.

He later became an attorney and colonial administrator, and was appointed as the last colonial governor of New Jersey in 1763.

The younger Franklin was a staunch Loyalist through the Revolutionary War, while Benjamin had no peer as a Patriot leader and steadfast supporter of America’s break with England, the Declaration of Independence and for helping establish our democracy.

There obviously could be no common ground between father and son here, as the Loyalist clashed with the Patriot, causing an irreconcilable break between the two.

Benjamin, just after the war began in 1775, was selected as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, which governed the colonies at the outset of war, and was on the five-man committee drafting the Declaration of Independence.

Due to his age and stature abroad, he was sent to enlist the aid of France to help with the Revolution, and was able to convince the French to sign a military alliance with America in 1778, providing soldiers, ships, supplies and money that proved to be a tipping point in our war against England.

As minister to France, Benjamin helped negotiate the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War.

The younger Franklin actually was imprisoned for a time during the Revolution, and went into exile in 1782 to England, living in London until his death.

Two prominent figures in Colonial America — father and son.

Yet totally separate in their views of this nation.

Like the American Civil War we now observe 150 years later, when father and son, brother and brother were divided in loyalties over slavery and the schism between North and South over secession, the Franklins epitomized thousands of like stories during the American Revolution.

There was nothing clean or easy about our founding, as we felt our way along a democratic course in history that today — still — has no peer in history.

Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. Go to his column blog at enid news.com/historicallyspeaking.

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