If I were to ask you what year the American Revolution began, how would you answer? I’m pretty sure many would say somewhere around 1775 or 1776…but you would be wrong. The American Revolution began much earlier than that day on Lexington Green when the ‘Shot heard round the world’ was fired.
I tend to agree with John Adams, that the war itself was just an inevitable consequence of the revolution. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, Adam’s states it thusly, “As to the history of the revolution, my ideas may be peculiar, perhaps singular. What do we mean by the Revolution? The war? That was no part of the revolution; it was only an effect and consequence of it. The revolution was in the minds of the people, and this was effected … before a drop of blood was shed.”
Now, if I were to ask you to name a few significant events from the American Revolution, would you be able to answer with more than one or two of the more famous ones; such as the Boston Tea Party or the Boston Massacre?
If you recall your American History, most of the events that led up to the actual war itself occurred in and around the city of Boston. Why would the other Colonies agree to take up arms against the mightiest empire on the planet when all the conflict was centralized in and around Boston?
I know that is a lot of questions right out of the gate, but I just wanted to make a point; that most of us, including me until I began studying on my own, don’t know much at all about the conflict between the Colonies and the Crown which led to America becoming a free and independent nation. Even after all these years of studying that period of American History, I’m certain I don’t know the whole story; there is probably much more that I could learn if someone were to just point me in the right direction.
The American Revolution was more a mindset than it was a physical conflict between two warring nations. When someone mentions the American Revolution, what is the first thing that pops into your mind? Is it visions of George Washington leading his men into battle, or crossing the Delaware? Not me; when I think of the American Revolution I think of men who understood the nature of their rights and who had the courage to stand up against every violation of them. When I think of the American Revolution I think of the birth of a nation conceived on the principle of unalienable rights that no government may infringe without incurring the wrath of the people it represents.
So, when did the revolution begin? If you want to pick a date, I suppose October 7, 1763 is as good as any. The Seven Years War, or French and Indian War as you may know it, had just ended and the Colonies were once again in relative peace; so why October 7, 1763? Well it is because on that day King George issued a proclamation which forbade the settlement of any land west of the Appalachian Mountains.
The King did this because he had just fought a war, part of which was fought right here in America, and he learned the cost of fighting such a war was not cheap. To prevent incurring the wrath of the Native American Indians to the west of the Colonies, he issued this proclamation prohibiting any westward migration.
You have to realize that for almost a century and a half the Colonies had grown and lived relatively free of any interference in their internal affairs from the Crown. In between the time the first settlers arrived at Plymouth in 1620 and the time the King issued this proclamation, much had happened.
First of all the Colonists had developed a sense of independence. Even though they still considered themselves subjects under their King, they had been left alone to govern themselves for so long that any interference by the Crown in the internal operation of the Colonies was seen as an offense to their liberty. This concept of the rights of the Colonies to be free from interference from their government could be said to be the origin of the whole concept of State’s Rights, and what would later cause the 11 Southern States to secede from the Union in 1861. But I get ahead of myself…
Another, more crucial thing had also happened during that time frame. During the period which saw the Colonies grow into thriving entities that were profitable for both the Colonists and the Crown, a new way of thinking about the relationship between people, their rights, and their systems of government had taken place. This Age of Enlightenment had spread across Europe; spawning men like Isaac Newton and John Locke, whose Treatise on Civil Government was widely read by many who played major roles in the American Revolution.
So, when the King began flexing his muscles, so to speak, the Colonists, having undergone a subtle change in the way they viewed their relationship with their government, resisted. The ensuing back and forth fight between the King exercising his kingly prerogative, and the Colonists standing up to what they viewed as tyranny, is what I consider to be the true American Revolution; not the war that was but an inevitable consequence of it.
It was during these early years which saw the King exercise, heretofore, un-exercised authority, that a series of laws, or Acts as they were called, upon the Colonies. In 1763 the Sugar Act was passed by Parliament to help offset the cost of the Seven Years War. The Sugar Act increased the duties on such items as sugar, textiles, and coffee, and doubled the duties on foreign goods reshipped from England to the Colonies, as well as banning the importation of foreign rum and French wine.
In 1764 Parliament passed the Currency Act which prohibited the Colonies from issuing their own currency, instead requiring that all legal debts be paid in silver or gold. This was, according to Ben Franklin, the real reason the war was fought; because the Currency Act destabilized the economies of the Colonies and caused widespread unemployment and suffering.
Prior to the revolution Franklin had been sent to London to represent the Colonies. He was shocked to find beggars and rampant unemployment in the working class. When asked how the Colonies could provide for full employment and a thriving economy, Franklin responded by saying, “That is simple. In the Colonies, we issue our own paper money. It is called ‘Colonial Scrip.’ We issue it in proper proportion to make the goods and pass easily from the producers to the consumers. In this manner, creating ourselves our own paper money, we control its purchasing power and we have no interest to pay to no one.”
After the Bank of England influenced Parliament into passing the Currency Act, things had changed dramatically in the Colonies. After having their money supply cut in half, unemployment rose and there was not enough money in circulation to make the free flow of goods possible. As Franklin would later say, “The Colonies would gladly have borne the little tax on tea and other matters had it not been the poverty caused by the bad influence of the English bankers on the Parliament, which has caused in the Colonies hatred of England and the Revolutionary War.”
Then came the real kicker; in 1765 Parliament passed the Stamp Act, the first direct tax upon the Colonies. Up until this all taxes had been paid in the form of imposts or duties upon goods being imported our exported. However, with the passage of the Stamp Act, each Colonist who used paper goods of any kind were forced to pay a tax upon that good; not unlike a sales tax.
This tax could range from three pence to two pounds, depending upon the purpose for which the paper was to be used. For example, the Stamp Act declares, “For every skin or piece of vellum or parchment, or sheet or piece of paper, on which shall be ingrossed, written, or printed, any copy of any will (other than the probate thereof) monition, libel, answer, allegation, inventory, or renunciation in ecclesiastical matters in any such court, a stamp duty of six pence.”
Six pence is roughly six pennies under our current monetary system; not much. But then there is this, “For every skin or piece of vellum or parchment, or sheet or piece of paper, on which shall be ingrossed, written, or printed, any licence, appointment, or admission of any counsellor, solicitor, attorney, advocate, or proctor, to practice in any court, or of any notary within the said colonies and plantations, a stamp duty of ten pounds.” That was an enormous sum at the time.
The Stamp Act led to, what we would today call, violent protests. At the time Thomas Hutchinson was Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts. Upon passage of the Stamp Act, Andrew Oliver was appointed to be the collector of those taxes in Boston. On August 14, 1765 an effigy of Oliver was hung from a tree, later to be known as the Liberty Tree, in Boston. That night his home and business was ransacked. Three days later he was forced to resign his position.
Then, on August 26th an angry mob descended upon the home of the Lieutenant Governor, destroying it and forcing him to flee. Once inside every piece of furniture was broken, as well as all the windows. Pictures were torn off the walls, and his priceless collection of books was burnt.
I find it an interesting comparison on what happened in 1765 and what is happening now in response to the election of Donald Trump. While I believe the outrage of the protesters in response to Trump’s election is misdirected and based upon flawed beliefs, I find the reaction of those on the right to how far people are willing to go in support of their beliefs telling.
I have often wondered what would happen if I could transport many of these, so-called conservatives, back to the period of American history which saw the rise of the Son’s of Liberty and the looting and ransacking of the homes of Oliver and Hutchinson. Which side would today’s conservatives take? But again, I get ahead of myself.
In 1764 James Otis, a Boston lawyer, wrote what is probably the first real document from the period known as the American Revolution; The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved. As the insults upon the Colonists by the Crown continued, more and more people would begin writing in protest against them, including a young Thomas Jefferson, whose Summary View of the Rights of British America led John Adams to select him as the primary author for our Declaration of Independence.
Also in 1765 Parliament passes the Quartering Act, which allows for the British soldiers to be housed and fed in the homes of the Colonists; another outrage.
In 1766, after an emotional plea by Ben Franklin, Parliament repeals the Stamp Act, but a fire has been stoked in the hearts of the Colonists; they have now seen what their King is willing to do, and their fears are justly warranted, as on the same day they repeal the Stamp Act they pass the Declaratory Act; an act which states that the British government has the authority to enact any law it sees fit, and is binding upon the Colonists in all cases whatsoever.
Some may say that it was not until shots were fired at Lexington and Concord that war was inevitable. I believe it was upon the passage of the Declaratory Act that war became inevitable. It was at that point that the government drew its line in the sand, and the Colonists were forced with making the choice of either submitting to the unlimited arbitrary power of their government, or fighting for their freedom from such unlimited power.
-In 1766 violence breaks out in New York when the people protest the quartering of British soldiers in their homes; which forces the Crown to suspend the New York Legislature.
-In 1767 Parliament passes the Townshend Revenue Acts, a series of new taxes to offset the cost of protecting/enslaving, (you decide which), the Colonies.
-In 1768 Samuel Adams publishes a Circular in which he calls for people to come together in opposing taxation without representation and to unite in their opposition to the actions of the Crown.
-That same year a British Warship sails into Boston Harbor as a show of force against the increased hostility towards those in service of the Crown and the refusal of Bostonians to obey the law.
-Also that same year the Massachusetts governor dissolves the court after the Legislature defies his order to revoke the Circular letter previously written by Adams.
-In 1770 violence breaks out between members of the Sons of Liberty and the Redcoats over the posting of broadsheets; large printed papers usually containing royal proclamations.
-On March 5, 1770 an angry mob confronts a group of British soldiers, harassing them and causing them to fire point blank into the crowd; killing three instantly. This ‘Boston Massacre’ as it comes to be called further inflames the hatred of the Colonists towards the British.
-In 1772 a British Customs Schooner, the Gaspee, runs aground off the coast of Rhode Island. Colonists from Providence row out to it and attack it, release the crew on the shore, then set it ablaze. The Crown announces a reward for their capture and declares that those responsible will be transported to England to stand trial.
-Between 1772-1773 the Colonies form committees which will correspond and communicate with those engaged in resisting the tyranny of the Crown in the other Colonies; an underground network of resistance if you will.
-In 1773 the Tea Act goes into effect; giving the British East India Tea Company a virtual monopoly on tea in the Colonies.
-In December 1773 Colonists dress up as Indians and row out to ships containing crates of tea, and dump them into Boston Harbor. This Boston Tea Party will become one of the most famous/infamous acts of resistance to the British of the period.
-In response to increasing disobedience to law, the Parliament begins passing the Coercive Acts; known as the Intolerable Acts by the Colonists.
-1774, the First Continental Congress meets. Those in attendance include George Washington, Samuel Adams, John Hancock and Patrick Henry. Two days after convening, the Congress issues a declaration stating that these Coercive Acts are ‘not to be obeyed’.
-1775 Parliament declares Boston to be in a state of open rebellion; John Hancock and Joseph Warren begin defensive preparations for war. Later that month Patrick Henry will deliver his immortal speech, declaring, “Give me liberty or give me death.”
-That same year Governor Gage is ordered to use whatever force is required to enforce the Coercive Acts.
-April 18 General Gage orders 700 British Regulars to Concord to destroy the weapons stored there and arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock.
The rest, is as they say, history; shots were fired and the war, which was all but inevitable since the passage of the Declaratory Acts, had begun.
Not all those living in this period of American history supported a separation from England. There were those Loyalists who felt that adherence to the Crown was their duty and obligation. There were those who didn’t care one way or another. Yet there were those few who understood that by their first act back in 1763 the Crown had crossed a line and was, as Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”
Although they have yet to quarter troops in our homes, our government today has done many of the things which led our nation’s Founders to take up arms against their government. We have direct taxes; both in the form of a sales tax and a tax upon our income. Through a myriad of both State and Federal Laws, they are attempting to restrict our right to keep and bear arms. We can be detained, and transported to locations where we will never have charges brought against us, nor will we stand trial; all the government has to do is declare that we are possible terrorist threats and our right of habeas corpus and of a speedy and impartial trial by jury will vanish. Our right to security and privacy in our homes and personal effects are also gone; all because we want to be safe from the bogeyman terrorists.
Yet all the people care about is whether it is a Republican controlled government or a Democrat controlled government that is depriving you of your liberty. The fact that your liberty is being stripped away from you is of no concern, the only that seems to matter is whether it is your party that is in charge while it is happening.
Why did these men risk so much, only for us to throw it all away? John Adams once wrote to his wife Abigail, the following: “Posterity! You will never know, how much it cost the present Generation, to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make a good Use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.” He must either be looking down upon us with absolute horror at what we’ve allowed to happen, or with absolute disgust at our willingness to allow our government to deprive us of the liberty he fought so hard to secure for us.
Sometimes even I don’t know what to say to people these days. I’ll get a glimmer of hope that the things I’ve said have sunk in; only to have that hope dashed to pieces when they make some ridiculous comment which proves they haven’t learned a bloody thing.
I’ve even noticed it myself, I’m becoming more and more reclusive, turning inwards, or towards the small circle of people I consider to be friends. I have become so frustrated and annoyed with people who have this tunnel vision of their political party against the other guys party, while they refuse to see the overall picture of our government as one giant entity that threatens their liberty.
People don’t care that there is this shadow, or deep government as some call it; those who are in positions of power and authority who are not elected by the people, and who wield enormous power and influence. People don’t care that through all these government agencies, which are under no control of the people, their rights are being trampled upon. All they can see is the guy up on the stage giving the speeches and sitting in the Oval Office.
Did our Founders seek to overthrow the King and replace him with one more amenable to their liking? NO, they sought to severe the ties which bound them to a SYSTEM OF GOVERNANCE which was detrimental to their LIBERTY.
They had hoped that, with the recent experience of fighting a war to gain their independence, that they could establish a system of government which would secure that liberty for all generations to come. Unfortunately, THEY FAILED. We the people have sat back and let government, not Democrats, not Republicans, but GOVERNMENT deprive us of all those things our Founders fought so hard to secure for us. And it makes me sick that nobody, except a select few, can see this! So my final question is, are you a modern day Son of Liberty, or are you one of those who are content to be a slave?
Long Live the Son’s of Liberty