Could the American Revolution have been avoided

Media strategies of the revolutionaries

In the summer of 1776 the owner's birthday is celebrated in a castle near Paris. The festival party indulges in cheerful games in the English garden of the castle. A young couple lying down at the entrance to an artificial grotto talk about the ideas of the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), which are currently being realized at the other end of the world, in distant America. At this moment the comedy poet and jack of all trades Pierre de Beaumarchais (1732–1799) enters the scene, who, enthusiastic about the cause of American freedom, devotes all his energy to organizing arms deliveries for the insurgents.1 He explains his delay by saying that he still read current mail from the New World. He carries one of the letters with him and asks to be allowed to read it in front of the assembled guests. Beaumarchais stands on a small hill under a maple tree, the Symbol of North America. In his hands he is holding the Declaration of Independence with which a few weeks earlier, on July 4, 1776, the 13 American colonies established their statehood. With pathos, the speaker declaimed the statements in the document, which he translated into French during the lecture: America's justification to the world, the appeal to natural, human and resistance rights, the charges against the King of England. His audience, among which the castle's lackeys have mingled, listens intently. Everyone feels that this declaration concerns them personally too.

This scene with its Rousseauistic ambience, the enthusiastic speaker and the audience merging into a community of equals is too perfectly composed to have happened in reality. Rather, it comes from one of the most important novels dedicated to the American Revolution: Lion Feuchtwanger's (1884–1958) trilogy The foxes in the vineyard (1947/1948).2 Literary fiction, however, expresses many historical truths: The Declaration of Independence wanted to establish not only the interests of the American colonists, but also the basic rights of all people. It addressed itself explicitly to humanity as an audience, before which the insurgents justified their action and which they hoped for applause and approval. The linguistic style was pointed and rousing. The readers should not only convince with arguments, but also be touched emotionally, as it were inflamed for the cause of law and freedom. Far from making a formal statement with which the colonies broke away from the motherland in the sense of international law, the Declaration of Independence should be as widely circulated in the world as possible and even advertise the cause of the Americans.3

Feuchtwanger's account is realistic in another respect as well: the declaration of independence got into the hands of its French admirer in the mail. All message flows of this time were tied to the post office and thus dependent on its speed.4 Information from the New World came to Europe by ship and as a rule took between three and four weeks to travel. Within Europe they first came to London, Paris and Amsterdam; one or two weeks later they reached the countries of northern central Europe; The forwarding to the northern, eastern and southern European periphery took the same time again.5 Based on the data under which the Declaration of Independence was printed in the European newspapers, this flow of news can be illustrated: The document appeared in British, French and Dutch newspapers in early and mid-August 1776,6 on August 24th at the same time in Hamburg impartial correspondents7 and in the Polish press,8 End of August in the Göteborgs Allehanda9, finally, in two parts, on August 31st and September 11th in Viennese diary10, to name just a few examples.

The fact that the Declaration of Independence was so strongly conceived with media impact makes it clear how high the American politicians assessed its importance and weight. They had already come to this judgment on the basis of experience in their own country. The American patriots would not have been able to constitute themselves as a political party if they had not built up a correspondence network in the 1760s, and if many new newspapers had not ensured that like-minded people in the 13 colonies learned of each other and that they could share a common ground Communicated platform about interpretations of reality and political goals.11 Communication between the colonies and the motherland was outstripped by communication in the colonial area itself. The borders between the 13 colonies lost more and more of their importance. Both became the defining factor in the American one nation building.12Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), one of the founding fathers of the USA, was directly involved in this - as postmaster general of the colonies, he intensified and accelerated mail traffic,13 and as a printer, publisher, and newspaper editor, he brought out publications that benefited from the improved connections.

How skilfully the American patriots were able to play on the keyboard of public reporting was also demonstrated by the event that to this day is considered the prelude to the struggle for independence: the Boston Tea Party. To express their opposition to British tax policy, the patriots staged a spectacular action: disguised as Mohawks, they stormed the East India Company's merchant ships and threw their cargo, several hundred tea boxes, overboard. This was an "unheard of incident", as the journalists in particular knew Boston Gazette to report who were significantly involved in the preparation,14 an event whose news spread like wildfire. Other forms of resistance to colonial power might have been more effective, but they would have generated less publicity. The Boston Tea Party on the other hand, as a performative act, the interpretation of the conflict by the American side was strikingly expressed: the Indian as the contemporary symbol for America15 resisted the unreasonable demands of British trade policy. The expansion of the subject from concrete tax to general trade policy increased the political connectivity for other states, which also suffered from the English trade monopoly for North America. The fact that the patriots also acted against this trade monopoly immediately aroused the interest of third powers, who smelled the morning air of increasing their own shares in the lucrative Atlantic trade.

As expected, the descriptions and images of the Boston events went around the media-receiving world and left deep traces in the collective imaginary. The idea of ​​freedom, otherwise always a bit abstract and indefinite, became more concrete, became tangible in a dramatic scenario. In America itself she served Boston Tea Party many comparable actions in other ports as a model.16 On a global scale, it made a career in the following almost two hundred and fifty years not only as a multimedia staged vehicle of remembrance of the American Revolution, but also as a model for numerous boycott movements against the goods of current or former colonial rulers, at least overpowering trading partners.

Britain and the Empire - from common to separate public

That the Boston Tea Party Just as the rest of the events of the American Revolution found the greatest public response in Great Britain compared to other European countries, it is hardly surprising - the British Empire was challenged directly by the patriots in the New World. It was noteworthy that the conflict between the mother country and the colonies was initially treated as an intra-British problem. This happened on the one hand because secession had not yet actually taken place and the North American settlement colonies and emigration areas were in any case viewed much more as part of Great Britain than other colonial areas, but on the other hand because the political ideas and problems discussed by the Americans were similar in Great Britain itself determined the debate.17 As early as the 1760s, the opposition in London called for a reform of parliament and electoral law that should break with the principle of virtual representation,18 that later attacked the American patriots. Since British newspapers were still read primarily in America at that time, this criticism was also heard in the New World. Meanwhile, Franklin stayed in London twice for several years as a representative of colonial interests, and through his correspondence brought the position of the British opposition into the American debate personally. The dispute over parliamentary reform in Great Britain was also embedded in a fundamental conflict over the political state of the country, which, in the opinion of the opposition, was far from the ideals of the Glorious Revolution (1688/1689) had removed. An overpowering crown and a decadent aristocracy would join them Bill of Rights from 1689 with feet. On the other hand, the conservative camp objected that Parliament's participation in power was adequately secured, and that it was not for nothing that Great Britain was considered the country with the most liberal institutions worldwide.19

When the dispute with the American patriots escalated from 1773 onwards, it was based on precisely this interpretation framework in Great Britain: Opposition forces emphasized the legitimacy of the American criticism of virtual representation, of the inadequate say of the population in tax policy, and of the autocracy of the monarch .20 Conservatives, on the other hand, asserted that the Americans were adequately represented by parliament, and that Parliament rightly demanded that the Americans also help to pay off the mountain of debt that the country had accumulated during the Seven Years' War (1756–1763), among other things to defend the political and religious freedom of the colonists against France and Spain. Refusing these taxes shows ingratitude and weakens the authority of Parliament, which embodies the political freedom of the British like no other institution.21 In America itself, patriots and loyalists fought each other with the same arguments. Great Britain and the colonies formed a common space for political communication, in which it was not the contrast between the motherland and the colony that formed the decisive line of conflict, but rather the position in the debates about the reform or preservation of the political system created in 1689.

This structure changed when the Americans declared independence in 1776. Now the conflict could no longer simply be interpreted as an internal British matter. Even so, many newspapers continued to defend the former colonists' point of view.22 A decisive break did not occur until 1778, when France entered the war on the side of the Americans. The alliance with the archenemy cost the Americans in Great Britain much sympathy; the British moved together across the domestic political rifts in the struggle against France. When Spain also declared war on Great Britain in 1779 and the two Catholic powers planned an invasion of the British Isles, their population quickly found themselves in the traditional position of defense against papism and "absolutism".23 The Americans were no longer regarded as "almost compatriots" whose political views could be approved or disapproved, but as barbarians and savages, whom London had to lead back to the path of civilizing virtue. Only part of the radicals continued to side with the overseas revolutionaries.24

If one looks at the medialization of the American Revolution in Great Britain at a glance, one notices - alongside the frankness with which the opposition was able to articulate its opinion25 - First of all, the great density and intensity of the reporting.26 It only decreased when, after 1778/1779, the confrontation with the European rivals came to the fore:27 The battles for Gibraltar and Jersey as well as the sea battle at the Dogger Bank took place in greater geographical proximity and were therefore particularly precarious. Up until then, the newspapers reported almost constantly in detail on all facets of the colonial conflict, and all of the important programs of the actors involved on both sides of the Atlantic were published and discussed. For example, after the Declaration of Independence was published, a pamphlet appeared in response28 by John Lind (1737–1781), who tried to refute the arguments of the Americans. France's entry into the war led to a similar public exchange of blows between the adversaries.29

One of the reasons for this huge media presence of the topic was certainly the importance that the War of Independence had for the everyday life of many British: The economic consequences of the breakdown in trade with enemy states were felt everywhere and could only be inadequately absorbed by the profits of war suppliers. In addition, military service in the army or the navy included numerous men and threatened to expand in view of the feared invasion.30 About the reaction to the defeat of Saratoga could the Gazette de Leyde in December 1777 write: "Toute la Nation est dans la plus grande consternation."31 Just as the public thematization was the result of real experiences and dispositions, it also had an impact on the awareness of the population. The continuing media presence of the common problem welded people together, especially in the years after 1778.32 In addition, the British benefited nation building of the Irish and Scots identifying more strongly with the Empire cause.33

The newspapers not only provided a forum for editors to express their opinion and for reports and documents to be printed, but also gave room for comments from the population. Numerous addresses of loyalty and peace were printed, which the British cities addressed to the crown.34 Here, too, a contest of opinions took place - as at the level of letters to the editor, with which people from the lower middle class also took part in the public debate.35 These authors confidently weighed the pros and cons of government action. Every argument, every point of view seemed worthwhile to be brought to the attention of the audience. The reasoning public, ideal of the Enlightenment, came close to its realization in some respects.36

The military events in the strict sense of the word met with particular interest from the audience. The readership followed the strategic planning and its practical implementation step by step. The depiction was so detailed that even individual desertions by German rented soldiers were mentioned in the newspapers.37 The behavior of the military leadership was carefully observed and met with praise and criticism. After the surrender of Saratoga, when the British General John Burgoyne (1722–1792) had to justify himself to the House of Commons, the press also took part in the debate about the alleged failure of the troop leader.38 Again and again the public complained that unsuitable people got into the highest offices, whose misconduct caused serious damage to the nation.

The commander-in-chief of the American Continental Army, George Washington (1732–1799), on the other hand, had consistently good press in Great Britain. The media stylized him as a modern Cincinnatus (519-438 BC), who left his estates when the republic called him to selflessly serve the common good. The fact that Washington was ascribed the habitus of a British gentleman made it even easier to test on him the gentleman's ideal of respect for the enemy.39 Equally popular was Franklin at the beginning, who - as "brother genius" Voltaire (1694–1778) [] designated40 - stayed in England until 1775, where he represented and explained the position of the colonies in numerous newspaper articles.41 He argued that the American demands must be met in order to preserve the empire that was and should remain the political home of the transatlantic colonies. His popularity in London was largely based on this moderate attitude, even a mediating role, which was attributed to him. When he was for the Boston Tea Party and the escalation of the conflict in the wake of which was made partly responsible, the relationship deteriorated increasingly - rapidly again when Franklin returned to America and thus clearly sided with the rebels.42 Another highly regarded personality was the American commodore and pirate John Paul Jones (1747–1792), who made the English coast unsafe during the war.43 There was a lot of fuss in the British media about its landing on the Dutch island of Texel in 1779, which seemed incompatible with the neutrality of the Netherlands.44

An indication of the great attention paid to the American Revolution by the British public is its frequent theming in fiction. Robert Heilman counted 75 novels that appeared in England between 1776 and 1800 and referred to events in the New World. Most of the time, however, the conflict was only briefly referred to in dialogues; Storylines or entire novels that set during the Revolution and War in America were rare. The evaluations that were made in each case were extremely varied and cannot be synthesized into a general political tendency.45

In addition to texts, images also played an important role in the medialization of the American Revolution. Copper engravings, woodcuts or etchings, as they have been sold as single-sheet prints in Europe since the invention of letterpress printing, illustrated people and events from the context of the War of Independence. In the 18th century they migrated into the new print medium of the magazine, where they were published in a more permanent form. An example is the monthly one London Magazine called, an opposition magazine that regularly published political cartoons, among other things.46 In painting, which usually only appreciated the events from a distance of several years, two native Americans emerged whose biographies were linked to Great Britain: John Singleton Copley (1737–1815) and John Trumbull (1756–1843). Copley's large format painting Death of Major Pierson47 from 1783, which takes its motif of the foiled French invasion of the British Channel Island Jersey in January 1781, is one of the most famous contemporary images of the American War of Independence in Europe to this day.48 Trumbull took part in the war himself on the American side; his pictures also deal with death in battle, but also the great surrender of British forces at Saratoga and Yorktown. The marine painter Thomas Whitcombe (approx. 1760 – approx. 1824), who later became known for his depictions of the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars, dealt with the disputes at sea. From the context of the American Revolutionary War, he put that in 1782 Naval battle off Gibraltar and 1783 the Battle of The Saintes in front.

Other visual media, which were located below the level of painting and graphics, have so far received little attention from research. The victory of Admiral George Rodney (approx. 1718–1792) over the French fleet at the Caribbean islands of The Saintes in 1782 was depicted on numerous ceramics.49 The maps that were distributed in Great Britain during the war and that also illustrate the events and conditions in America have not yet been systematically examined. After all, clothing fashion is also part of visual culture; British women developed a preference for uniform-style cloakrooms during the war.50

The Patriots in the Netherlands as elective relatives

Linking American events with domestic political debates made sense in Great Britain in the first years of the war because the colonies were still part of the Empire. But in other European countries, too, it can be observed that the overseas revolution was associated with its own problems, and that the degree of thematization in the media actually depended on the feasibility of such references. The interpretative work of the media consisted to a large extent in making corresponding discourse couplings. In the Netherlands, for example, which was drawn into the military conflict by Great Britain's declaration of war at the end of 1780, the contrast between pro-American and pro-British voices was immediately reflected in the dispute between the governor's party, the Orangists, and the popular opposition of the patriots.51 While Wilhelm V (1748–1806), who was related to the English royal family and known for his Anglophile attitude, initially condemned the rebellion in the colonies, the patriots used the independence movement to raise a public issue about which they were concerned could convey their own political goals. The criticism of the London policy towards the American colonies flowed together with the criticism of the government in The Hague, the taking up of the central ideas of the insurgents enriched the enlightened-progressive discourse in their own country. Joan Derk van der Capellen (1741–1784), one of the leaders of the Dutch patriots, translated one of the most important government-critical pamphlets from Great Britain, Richard Prices (1723–1791)The Fall of Liberty, in the local language, to gain sympathy for the American cause - sympathies that he knew could easily be transferred to the cause of the Dutch opposition. John Adams (1735-1826) [], the American envoy in the Netherlands, made a profit from this constellation: the patriots used the events in America for which he stood to gain popular themes and images to strengthen their own position, and he himself promoted the patriots who stood for a pro-American public opinion.52

The Dutch newspaper Gazette de Leyde, which appeared in French, was also one of the papers that were particularly important multipliers in reporting from America. It was distributed across Europe and cannibalized by other newspapers.53 Many articles about the revolution fell into the secondary coverage category. Because there were still no firmly institutionalized channels of communication54 and most newspapers could not afford to employ their own correspondents or even to buy directly from these articles, they made do with quoting other newspapers. There was nothing to prevent this approach, because at that time no copyrights could be asserted.55 Most of the time, the quotations were expressly marked, and often even introduced with the note that one could not vouch for the credibility of the source.56 This certainly massively shook the authority of the newspapers and their claim to disseminate truths;57 on the other hand, this distancing them relieved themselves of the responsibility self To have to distinguish between the rumors that have been invoked again and again and the credible information.58 This evaluation was left to the reader, as it were, who was also addressed as a sovereignly judging individual, as if to use the program of the Enlightenment.59

Leisurely quarrel in the Old Kingdom

If the assessment is correct that the debate about the pros and cons of the American Revolution was fiercely fought where it could be mapped to lines of conflict in one's own country, it is not surprising that the discussion in the Old Kingdom was comparatively moderate. Particularism prevented a debate that was polarized across the empire. The newspapers were generally reluctant to comment on what had happened.60

There was at least a positive response on the book market: between 1770 and 1775 there were hardly more than a dozen works a year in German-speaking countries that dealt wholly or in part with North America - in 1776 and 1777, however, 40 such publications each came to print.61 Most of these works were translations by British authors. There were also some mentions of the events overseas in fiction, for example in Friedrich Schiller's (1759–1805) drama cabal and Lovewhere the soldier trade is denounced in a conversation sequence;62 Only a few plays of poor aesthetic quality were aimed specifically at the events in the New World. They put the fate of individuals in the foreground without showing general political perspectives.63

In any case, the older research has to be contradicted, which saw a sporadic and little detailed public thematization at work. The newspaper with the highest circulation in Northern Germany with 20,000 copies,64 the Hamburg impartial correspondent, brought detailed articles and analyzes on the events of the war and the parties to the conflict in almost every issue.65 American political program writings received just as much recognition as British House of Commons debates.66 Even the Franco-American treaty of alliance of 1778 was printed.67 The Hamburg merchants were dependent on exact information because the war events influenced business prospects, trade routes and price developments. For the most part, the paper made use of the newspapers from Western Europe, with the editors trying to either weaken or openly address the partisan coloring of the news from London or Paris in order to reduce its effect on the readership. An unmistakable preponderance of London sources nevertheless resulted in a slightly pro-British tendency.68 Open partisanship was mostly avoided, only in the case of atrocities or crimes against humanity was there open criticism.69

In addition to the newspapers, the magazines also took up the subject. In the course of the 18th century, the political magazine gained more and more importance as a new genre in Germany.70 She not only depicted political events, but also commented on them.71 One of the most spectacular startups - the first edition appeared on March 31, 1774 - was Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubarts (1739–1791) []German Chroniclewhich immediately found a powerful topic with the American Revolution. The paper appeared twice a week and in 1775 had a circulation of 1,600. Schubart's way of working has been well researched and in many ways can be considered typical of the print media of his time. The editor of the German Chronicle