Benefits of the American Revolution
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 first two paragraphs of this month’s Econlib Feature Article. The article, “Benefits of the American Revolution: An Exploration of Positive Externalities” by economic historian Jeffrey Rogers Hummel.
Since I’ve taken over as the person who lines up a monthly article for the Econlib Feature Article, I’ve had Liberty Fund commission 12 articles a year for a little over 10 years. Of the 120+ articles I’ve lined up and edited, the one this month is my favorite. One main way I judge what’s my favorite is by how much I learn.
I learned a lot and I highly recommend this piece.
Of course, I lined it up because of the coming July 4th holiday. What I hadn’t known, but learned this morning, is that John Adams predicted that the day we would celebrate is July 2 because that’s when the Second Continental Congress voted for independence. So it’s fitting that the piece appears on July 2.