Written By Brian Lord, President of Premiere Speakers Bureau
What three questions helped America become an independent country? How, how, and how. Or better yet, Howe, Howe, and Howe. Let me explain.
David Horsager, the author of The Trust Edge, is well known for showing how trust is absolutely needed to lead through difficult times. He’s also well-known for telling companies they need to ask three questions to make things happen- how, how, and how. But did you know, in a way, that’s ‘how’ America became a country?
Two decades before the American colonies were fighting for their independence against the British, they were fighting for their lives against the French in the Seven Years War, known in the US as the French and Indian War.
To help defend their American colonies, the British sent an especially energetic and adaptable officer in the form of Brigadier General George Howe (Howe #1), who commanded the Royal American Regiment. Unlike many British officers, Howe moved away from the customary pomp and flash of the European elites and embraced the American people and landscape. He had both their uniforms and hair cut short, got rid of the lace on waistcoats, and changed out the linen and hemp gaiters for more practical leggings made of wool. He led in his example for his own officers, cutting his hair short, washing his own clothes, and taking very little baggage into the field. He befriended the famous ranger Major Robert Rodgers and trained his soldiers and the American militiamen in his charge on marching and fighting in the woods. (This training was put to good use by the Americans against the British 20 years later.)
In what would become the ill-fated attack on Fort Ticonderoga, England’s Prime Minister William Pitt had wanted Howe in command, but General James Abercrombie had more political connections, so Howe was made #2 in command.
In the battle against the French and their allies, General George Howe’s regiment was accompanied by a unit of American colonists from Connecticut led by Major Israel Putnam (who later became a famous American general “Old Put”. If you live in or near a Putnam County, you have him to thank). The troops under Howe’s command performed well, but the British and their allies were ultimately defeated. The greatest loss was that of General George Howe, who died from battle wounds in IsraelPutnam’s arms.
This loss was taken very hard by many, as he was well loved in the American colonies. The Massachusetts Assembly voted to raise £250 (a large sum at the time) to place a monument in Westminster Abbey. General George Howe’s family was very grateful for this kind gesture.
In fact, Howe’s burial marking in St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Albany, New York, is the only burial marker for a British peer in the US.
Wars are expensive, and the British needed to pay their debts after seven years of fighting. The British reasoned that since large amounts of money had been spent protecting the colonies, the money should be paid by the colonies, and began to raise taxes. The first how- ‘how are we going to pay for this?’ made sense. The “hows” number two and three- ‘How are we going to do this?’ and ‘How are we going to enforce it?’ are where they lost their way and ended up changing the world.
The colonists understood the need for taxation, but the issue was with the ‘how’. King George took a heavy hand, raised taxes too high and too quickly, with no input from those being taxed. Taxes were done to them, not with them, so to speak. They had no say or control over it, and as a result, the American colonists made the ‘no taxation without representation’ demand.
To that point in history, the American colonists had been incredibly loyal and primarily thought of themselves proudly as British. Remember, the Pilgrims were in 1620, so you’ve got 150+ years of loyalty to the crown. A century and a half of trust were lost in one fell swoop once the people believed that their leader, King George, no longer had their best interests in mind.
Rather than talk things out, the British doubled-down on their demands and the British crown found itself needing to put down an uprising in that same Massachusetts colony that had been so loyal. At the time, the mighty British Navy was not only the envy of every other Navy in the world, but it was also the envy of the British Army. Jealous of the attention and funding it received from the British crown, as a rule, British Army generals and British Navy admirals rarely, if ever, got along or would cooperate in battle. Given that nearly the entire population of the US was within a few miles of the Atlantic, the British government desperately needed to find an exception to this rule and have a well-coordinated land and sea operation. The solution came from a family with a familiar name.
General George Howe had two younger brothers- Admiral Richard Howe (Howe #2), who had won the decisive naval battle in the Seven Years War in France, and Sir Willam Howe (Howe #3), who fought in the French and Indian War in the colonies. The British decided to make William Howe Commander-in-Chief of British forces, as he would work well with his brother Richard in coordinated attacks against the colonial militias. The British Crown also hoped their experience in America would make the American’s more likely to negotiate and come to peace.
However, some historians believe that this closeness to the American colonies and their older brother’s connection to them caused the Howe brothers to take it easy on the Americans. Had the British chosen a general and admiral who had no love for the colonies, they might have pushed for a more total victory, rather than smaller strategic wins. Instead of shock-and-awe and scorched earth, the younger Howe brothers were accused of pulling their punches.
The Americans for their part primarily focused their hate toward King George, rather than the Howe family. In fact, during the American Revolution, the people of Boston were not only raising funds to fight England, but they were still in the act of raising money to fund George Howe’s monument in Westminster Abbey. (The monument became so popular with American tourists that Westminster Abbey eventually gave it a prime location.)
The rest is history. The Americans won their independence, became a superpower, and changed the world.
The difference in trust between the two leaders- General George Howe and King George- is striking.
George Howe consistently made efforts to improve the lives of his men. He showed compassion, taking on their burdens despite his high station. His commitment to the colonists was known by all and he became well-loved by the people he protected.
On the other hand, King George did not lead with trust. He was inconsistent with how he treated his people- on one side of the Atlantic, he allowed a voice for his people through representation, on the other, he didn’t. He stayed within his royal inner circle and never attempted to connect with his colonies. Worst of all, his character showed that he viewed the American colonists as objects to do his bidding and not his own people.
Trust, or lack thereof, is the most important aspect of leadership whether it’s a business, a regiment, or a country. It all depends on how you want to do lead.
Author of this article, Brian Lord is the President of Premiere Speakers Bureau and host of the Beyond Speaking Podcast (Listen to his interview with David Horsager HERE). He’s been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, BBC Radio, the Huffington Post (UK), and was chosen as one of Nashville’s 40 Under 40.
For those who like to read more:
“The French and American War: Deciding The Fate of North America”, Walter R. Borneman
“Through A Howling Wilderness”, Thomas A. Desjardin