Benefits of the American Revolution: An Exploration of Positive Externalities
By David Henderson
It has become de rigueur, even among libertarians and classical liberals, to denigrate the benefits of the American Revolution. Thus, libertarian Bryan Caplan writes: “Can anyone tell me why American independence was worth fighting for?… [W]hen you ask about specific libertarian policy changes that came about because of the Revolution, it’s hard to get a decent answer. In fact, with 20/20 hindsight, independence had two massive anti-libertarian consequences: It removed the last real check on American aggression against the Indians, and allowed American slavery to avoid earlier—and peaceful—abolition.”1 One can also find such challenges reflected in recent mainstream writing, both popular and scholarly.
In fact, the American Revolution, despite all its obvious costs and excesses, brought about enormous net benefits not just for citizens of the newly independent United States but also, over the long run, for people across the globe. Speculations that, without the American Revolution, the treatment of the indigenous population would have been more just or that slavery would have been abolished earlier display extreme historical naivety. Indeed, a far stronger case can be made that without the American Revolution, the condition of Native Americans would have been no better, the emancipation of slaves in the British West Indies would have been significantly delayed, and the condition of European colonists throughout the British empire, not just those in what became the United States, would have been worse than otherwise.
These are the two opening paragraphs of a very powerful article by economic historian Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, “Benefits of the American Revolution: An Exploration of Positive Externalities,” Econlib, July 2, 2018. Of the more than 100 articles I lined up and edited during my 11 or so years with Econlib, this is my favorite. Jeff handles so many issues and addresses so many things I had not know about.