With election season upon us, it's the perfect time to visit with Stan Mack's book, Taxes, The Tea Party, and Those Revolting Rebels: A History in Comics of the American Revolution. Mack's history of the American revolution is simultaneously breeze and accessible — drawn and told in the style of wicked editorial cartoons — and a deep look at the conflicting motives, attitudes, and narratives of all the parties to the American War of Independence.
The traditional account of the revolution has a unified America fighting against a unified British, assisted (eventually) by the French. Paul Revere makes his ride shouting "The British are coming!" as though the colonists already identified as American and not British. Slavery is regrettably enshrined in the Constitution, but only because it's the only way for a greater freedom to be won.
The truth is a lot grimier, a lot more tangled, and a lot more interesting. Mack's history elegantly illustrates how the merchant classes, the American aristocracy, America's teeming lawyers, slaves, Native Americans, farmers, and laborers all backed the revolution for different reasons and at different times. He has a keen eye for the self-interest of the merchant classes and their profiteering, and is unflinching in his willingness to surface the framers' deep suspicion of "the mob" and skepticism for democracy.
The traditional account of the battles of the revolution are mostly hagiographies of American generals. But as Mack shows, Washington and his general squabbled, fled, fortified the wrong hills, held their men in contempt, and screwed up royally at least as often as they displayed brilliant flashes of leadership and guerrilla tactics.
In chronicling the betrayal of slaves and the poor, of veterans and working people, Mack gives us a different history of America, one where revolution is betrayed as much as it is honored, where hypocrisy jostles with nobility. Where a super-rich, stuck up Pennsylvanian called Gouverneur Morris has the cynical gall to coin the phrase "We the People…" even as the Constitutional Congress opted to remove the Bill of Rights from their Constitution.
This humanized account of the dawn of the American project is a beautiful piece of work, and a strong tonic against the whitewash of history. There's bravery in this history, and sacrifice, and cunning and resolve. But with the founders' failings and flaws on display, we can see that America's problems have been there since the start. There have always been ruthless bandit businessmen who saw the rest of the nation as "freeloaders" who shouldn't get to vote and can't be trusted to govern.