The Revolutionary War

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What is a reason to be a loyalist?

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Back in the Colonial days, there were many reasons people would choose to be loyal to the British government or to be patriotic and attempt to establish a new nation. In retrospect, it is easy to sympathize with the Patriots and assume that their solution was the only rational option, but in reality, the conflict was not cut and dry.

For many years leading up to the Revolution, there was great optimism that Parliament would change for the better. Most people believed that eventually the colonies would receive some sort of support in Parliament and they would be able to reduce the ridiculous taxes imposed upon them. The Loyalists maintained these beliefs throughout the Revolution and remained loyal to the British government.

They also believed that they were better taken care of under British rule. Without the assistance of the British, the colonies would likely be foregoing numerous creature comforts with which they had become accustomed. They also were loyal to the monarchy and had been faithful British citizens for their entire lives. It was a difficult change and one that would not necessarily end up benefiting the colonists. If they chose to rebel and then lost the fight, they would have been severely punished, so it made some sense to remain loyal.

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As many as one-third of the colonists at the time of the American Revolution remained loyal to Great Britain. While every loyalist had his or her reasons, let's look at some of the more common motivations.

First off, the colonists were all British citizens and considered themselves to be Englishmen and Englishwomen. A separate American identity did not develop until some time later. As such, loyalists saw a rebellion against England to be morally repugnant and treasonous.

Many loyalists were appalled at the violent actions of the rebels. They saw the tarring and feathering of English officials, the burning of property, and the firing on English soldiers to be barbarous acts that they could not support.

Some saw the Patriot leaders as opportunists who were hoping to profit politically or financially by cutting ties with Great Britain.

Many loyalists had family and business ties to England. The revolution put these relationships in jeopardy. The extensive trade networks protected by the British Empire were indeed good for global commerce.

The Patriots lacked a clear plan for the type of nation they wanted to create after they declared independence. Loyalists did not want to support a cause without a clear plan for the future.

The British had the world's strongest military at the time. To most, it was inconceivable that an untrained ragtag army of colonial farmers could best the military might of the English Crown. Indeed, loyalists would have been aware of the failed 1745 Jacobite rebellion in Scotland and the disastrous results for those that revolted against English rule.

It is also possible that some loyalists saw independence as an inevitability that could be achieved through peaceful means instead of open rebellion.

Additionally, there were many black loyalists. The governor of Virginia had promised freedom to any slave who fought for the British. About 12,000 black loyalists aided the British in the hopes of achieving freedom.

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There were plenty of reasons to stay loyal to the British:

  • For one thing, Great Britain was a leading military and maritime power. In a dangerous, hostile world, it makes sense to have protection, and the British were certainly more than capable of providing that.
  • Another reason is that there were so many similarities between the British and their American colonists—language, culture, education—that it didn't make much sense to want to break free from the mother country. Yes, there were problems; but surely, they could be ironed out through negotiations and some kind of amicable settlement. After all, as both the British and their colonists shared a similar outlook, it really ought to have been possible to reach an accommodation instead of declaring independence unilaterally.
  • Independence was too much of a leap in the dark. Not only could it lead to war with the British, a war which the British would almost certainly win, it could also result in domestic political disorder, with bitter divisions potentially breaking out into full-scale civil war.
  • The American colonies had done very well economically as part of the British Empire. But if they went their separate way, then America's prosperity could be seriously jeopardized. After all, at that time America was a very loose collection of independent political units. How on earth could they be expected to come together into a unified trading nation capable of making its own way in the world?
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I am going to assume that the question is asking for reasons to be a British Loyalist during the Revolutionary War time period in United States history.  There were definitely reasons to be a Loyalist during this time.  

  1. British colonists are British citizens.  The Patriots are the people that are rebelling against their home government.  Being a Loyalist means that you are choosing to support your home country instead of committing treason.  
  2. Treason is punishable by death.  That's a powerful reason to stay loyal. 
  3. If and when a war does occur, Britain is likely to win that war.  Their army is bigger, is better trained, has access to more weaponry, and has a full fledged navy capable of shutting down shipping and supply lines.  Additionally, Britain has a robust economy to support a war.  Being a Loyalist means that you are "rooting" for the team that is likely to win.  You get to celebrate and enjoy the fruits of that victory.  
  4. Colonists and the colonies profit from friendly trading with the British.  Separating from Britain risks that profitable business. 
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