Saturday, July 5, 2008

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
This is a verse of The Star Spangled Banner that I have not often heard. At first glance I thought it might have something to do with the signers of the Declaration of Independence but that notion was rather quickly displaced.

Rather the reference is about the other side. I think we too easily forget that conflicts have two sides. History tends to emphasize the winners. The American Revolution was no different in this regard. Of course it was the British government that was being changed and the British military was sent to prevent it. But the Revolution was not unanimously supported by those who lived here.

They were called "Loyalists" and "Tories" and "King's Men" and probably other, less flattering names. I read that historians have estimated this group at about 15% to 20% of the population, or some 400,000 to 500,000 individuals. Another 35% to 45% were neutral. It is also interesting that 62,000 loyalists actually left the country after the war. The number of actual patriots or rebels (depending upon your viewpoint) was probably never more than 50%.

I guess the neutral group would be something akin to the undecided of our modern polls.

This verse seems to me to be about those who chose the active avenue of war as a means to settle the conflict. I thought for a while that the part about "their foul footsteps" might indicate just those foreign to the country but I think it is better understood in the sense of those willing to take action. That's as opposed to the neutrals.

Vauntingly is an interesting choice of words. It conveys the sens of bragging or boasting. Since the British army at the time was probably the best army in the world I am uncertain just how boastful it was though to expect an easy victory.

Better to not boast about how easy it will be to win a war. This lesson seems to elude us all regardless of our time. Whether it is a real war with bullets and guns or a lawsuit war or a dust up with the neighbors, invariably it turns out that wars are harder to stop than they are to start.

Anyway there are always two sides. At least two and sometimes there are more.

Really the American Revolution was the first Civil War. The Civil War was the second one.

People were loyalists for several reasons. Some simply felt a sense of loyalty to the King and the traditions of homeland. Some had economic concerns. Some had family ties or friends. Some simply disagreed with the idea of republicanism. One has to remember that the British Empire at the time was the most liberal government the world had seen in terms of individual freedom and liberty. Some were against war. I suspect it was much as now that people were pretty principled in their views and that there were more reasons than one that entered into thinking.

The loyalists were hated by the time the war ended. They generally suffered greatly for their losing allegiance. Many of those that fled did so to save their lives. It wasn't a good time to be a loyalist.

There just is not much evidence in human events of victors being magnanimous to the losers after conflict.


Lori1955 said...

I had never heard that verse. I wonder what side I would have stood on during that war. It really would be a lot like a state trying to leave the union. You are right in that it was a civil war. Interesting to thing about.

~Betsy said...

Very interesting post, Terry. These are things I hadn't thought about before.