It has been four years since the French had helped the Americans defeat King George III. Since then, living conditions in America have changed considerably.
For one thing, the French have taken the best parts of New York and Charleston harbors and turned them into French military ports for their ships.
They have also taken the best part of Philadelphia and turned it into a walled up French compound called (for some strange reason) “The Green Zone.” Within its walls, they have a construction project going on that makes the palace at Versailles look like a hunting lodge. It’s an area that includes Independence Hall and, in fact, the new American government is almost entirely housed within French fortifications. It’s for their protection – from the ‘Tories’ who have threatened to disrupt the new government.
The French military has gone to great lengths to round up these Tories. They regularly send patrols out to villages that they suspect as having Tory sympathies. When they do so, they will typically round up everybody in the village and haul them off to French prisons for interrogation. Those who come out again tell of stories of torture and abuse.
Over time, the French have taken to use the word ‘Tory’ to refer to more than just the original supporters of King George, but anybody who is opposed to what some Americans call ‘The French Occupation’. The French say that they are not here to occupy the land and claim it as their own – that they will leave if the American government asks them to. Yet, it is difficult to imagine that they would actually leave the military installations they have created or the “Green Zone”. The French seem to be putting an awful lot of effort to make sure that they are never actually quite asked to leave, at least by the government that they recognize, which (as it turns out) is made up of people who are ‘easily persuaded’ into not extending that particular invitation.
Many of these ‘Tories’, as the French call them, were actually opposed to King George. They endorsed a list of grievances against him, such as his habit of sending soldiers door to door in massive sweeps to search people’s homes and arrest anybody they suspect as having anti-government sympathies, holding the accused indefinitely without charges filed against them, inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on those individuals while they were held in these prisons, and hauling them off to distant prisons to be tried according to ‘secret’ evidence, far from home and far from any evidence that can be collected in their favor.
Now, we have the French sending troops door to door in massive sweeps to search people’s homes and arrest anybody they suspect of having anti-French sympathies, holding the accused indefinitely without charges filed against them, inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on these people who were held in these prisons, and hauling them off to distant prisons to be tried according to ‘secret’ evidence, far from home and far from any evidence that can be collected in their favor.
Of course, the French propagandists only see two options. “Either you are with us, or you are against us. Either you are for the French, or you are for its enemy (the British).” Their propagandists cannot see – or, at least, cannot allow others to see that that somebody might simply be anti-arbitrary arrest, indefinite confinement, cruel and unusual punishment, or rigged trials based on secret evidence. Those people do not care who practices these wrongs – British or French. Whoever does so is evil.
The French have another problem in America. Besides the Americans who see the French Occupation as an affront to their liberty and have taken it upon themselves to kill French soldiers, the French are having to deal with the aftermath of the war in the South. That part of the Revolutionary War was substantially a civil war – Americans versus Americans. It was also a particularly bloody and cruel war, with a long list of the most heinous acts of barbarism one can find in war. This generated a great deal of hard feelings. Members of each group insist that they are entitled to ‘justice’ against the members Actually, what they want is revenge. They have adopted an ethic that if Person A in a town committed a crime against some member of their group, that ‘justice’ can be extracted from anybody in that town, regardless of their connection to the original act.
So, the French are not only dealing with Americans who want to kill the French. They are dealing with Americans who want to kill other Americans.
Much of this is a battle among different groups that want to control the government. There are the ‘federalists’ who want to establish a strong central government and who seem to have acquired the support of the French. And there are the ‘Democrats’ – made up mostly of Virginia plantation owners, who insist on a weaker form of government. In the chaos of French occupation (since the French were more interested in building secure bases for themselves than in figuring out how to deal with the Americans), this dispute also grew increasingly violent.
Of course, the English are not sitting back quietly watching all of this happen without comment and, wherever they think they can get away with it, without trying to find some way to do harm to the French. They have found ways to funnel money and supplies to the anti-French ‘Tories’. Even though some of those Americans were vehemently anti-British when the British ruled the country, they are not above taking money and supplies from whomever will provide them. Particularly since the only alternative would be to surrender and allow the French occupation, with all of the injustice that the French have so far exhibited in their country.
Now, I want you to imagine that you are in this land. You are living in Tranton, New Jersey. You have seen the French enter your town and take away whomever they thought might be anti-French. You have talked to some who have returned with horror stories about what the French did to them in prison. Some people never return. They are simply called, ‘the Disappeared’. The French seem skilled at making people ‘disappear’ when convenient. Other neighbors who have been captured and hauled away were taken off to Europe to face trial in secret courts where secret evidence will be presented against them.
Let’s assume that you have had a fleeting thought that there might be some merit to joining the people in the hills who are fighting the French occupation with British money and British supplies. If you should hint at these new sympathies to the wrong person, you could end up on one of those French prisons. But, heck, you could end up in one of those French prisons anyway, since the French are not arresting people based on anything more than the most casual evidence. All it would take is for one of the people that the French hauled away to give his captors your name in exchange for some water or a good night’s sleep – which they may well consider a small price to pay, since you are the one who would be paying it.
In the mean time, roaming bands of Virginia Democrats are hunting down any Federalist they can get their hands on, Virginia is not that far away. At the same time, New England Federalists are seeking revenge against Virgina Democrats. At any moment you could be identified with one group or the other and be killed (or worse), not by the French, but by another American.
This is your life, now. And yet the French are congratulating themselves for having rescued you from the British, as if they have done you some great favor.
This is the new America.
In the year 1787.