Emigration and Revolution
By Bryan Caplan
Actions speak louder than words – and exiting your country – emigration – is the loudest action most people will ever take. Mass emigration swiftly exposed the horrors of communism. The French Revolution is also notorious for provoking flight. How does the American Revolution compare? From Rothbard’s Conceived In Liberty, vol. 4:
The eminent historian Robert R. Palmer has offered a critically important comparison of the degree of radicalism in the American and French revolutions: the number of emigres who felt compelled to flee the country during the revolution. The French Revolution created 129,000 exiles out of a total population of about 25 million: an emigre ratio of 5 per 1000. The American Tory emigres amounted to what Palmer very conservatively sets at 60,000 in a population of about 2.5 million: 24 emigres per 1,000. But at least half a million of the American population were slaves, who could hardly be considered in the same category as other inhabitants of the colonies. A more likely estimate for Tory emigration in the Revolution is 100,000. At this corrected rate, 50 Americans out of every 1,000 were emigres during the Revolution, a rate fully tenfold of the exile rate in the supposedly more radical French Revolution.
I’ve found discrepancies in Rothbard’s historical citations before, but I tracked down his source (Robert Palmer’s Age of Democratic Revolutions) and everything checks out. You could say that moving from the U.S. to Canada was a lot easier than moving from France to any neighboring country, but that’s hardly clear. Most obviously, French counter-revolutionaries could move to Belgium without learning a new tongue. And transportation was probably a lot better in France than colonial America. So while it’s tempting to dismiss reports of anti-Tory atrocities as isolated incidents, the Tories’ emigration rate tells a truly frightening story.