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
a drop of blood was shed.
~John Adams to Thomas Jefferson~
(August 24, 1815)
As I have already stated, the Colonists lived in relative peace as subjects of the King of Great Britain for a pretty lengthy period before they decided to separate and form their own country. I have also discussed the Stamp Act, which led to open acts of civil disobedience to the King’s Laws. But for a moment I’d like to backtrack a bit; but before I do there is something you need to know.
By today’s standards, most Colonists would be considered drunks. That’s right, I said drunks. The amount of alcohol they consumed is mind boggling by today’s standards. Part of this is due to the fact that water was considered unsanitary and unsafe for human consumption; as they did not have water treatment plants like we do today; so they turned to libations.
Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying, “Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants to see us happy.” Thomas Jefferson supposedly said, “Wine is necessary for life.” While George Washington said, “My manner of living is plain…a glass of wine and a bit of mutton.”
But it wasn’t just the occasional glass of wine or beer that they consumed; it was from the moment they woke up in the morning until the time they climbed into bed for the evening. In writing about his co-workers and a printing press, Benjamin Franklin stated, “My companions at the press drank every day a pint before breakfast with his bread and cheese, a pint between breakfast and dinner, a pint in the afternoon about six o’clock, and another when he had done his day’s work.”
One of the spirits that was favored amongst the Colonists was rum; and rum requires sugar and molasses to produce. One of the things the Crown had done was to impose taxes, or duties upon goods entering the Colonies in an effort to coerce the Colonists into purchasing goods from English manufacturers, rather than from French manufacturers. One of these duties was upon the importation of sugar and molasses; a tax of six pence per gallon. However, this tax was not strictly enforced, and smugglers often brought in huge quantities of it from the French Indies. In fact, John Hancock, the man whose name is most prominent on our Declaration of Independence was supposedly heavily involved in the smuggling trade.
This tax, or duty, had been in existence since 1733 and in 1764 was about to expire. Seeking a way to make the tax less offensive and more enforceable, the Sugar Act, or The American Revenue Act of 1764 as it was officially called, reduced the tax to three pence, but they also beefed up their Navy’s presence to enforce it. Not only did the Sugar Act list sugar and molasses as goods to be taxed, but certain wines, coffee, pimiento were also taxed, while it placed restrictions on the exportation of lumber and iron.
The tax on molasses caused an immediate decline in the amount of rum produced in the Colonies and the restrictions on exporting lumber and iron hurt the Colonists trade with Madeira, the Azores, the Canary Island and the French West Indies.
Although the King was well within his right as their sovereign, these acts were seen as harmful to their trade and livelihood and the Colonists viewed them as violating their right to trade with whomever they pleased.
In September of that same year, Parliament passed another act; The Currency Act; which effectively took control of the Colonists control of their currency. This act also established a vice-admiralty court to hear cases of suspected smugglers.
Many of our prominent Founding Fathers held a deep seated hatred of banks and bankers, and the corruptive influence upon economies. Franklin went so far as to 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.”
This opinion was also expressed by others, such as Thomas Jefferson, who said, “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. Already they have raised up a monied aristocracy that has set the government at defiance. The issuing power (of money) should be taken away from the banks and restored to the people to whom it properly belongs.”
John Adams declared, “Banks have done more injury to the religion, morality, tranquility, prosperity, and even wealth of the nation than they can have done or ever will do good.”
And James Madison writes, “History records that the money changers have used every form of abuse, intrigue, deceit, and violent means possible to maintain their control over governments by controlling the money and its issuance.”
Today the Sugar and Currency Act are merely a part of our nation’s history, and in fact, we suffer far worse from our own elective government than they did; but back in 1764 these two acts were an affront to their liberty, their livelihood, and their status as freemen. In short, they were the first push of a shoving match that would lead to actual violence; The American Revolution. These two acts basically told the Colonists “You can’t conduct global trade with whomever you want”, “You can’t print your own money to pay your debts”, “And if you do any of these things and get caught, you won’t be tried by a jury of your peers.”
You see, the difference between our Founders and the people living in America today is that our Founders understood their rights and sought to protect them against any and all infringements; whereas we are more likely to accept violations of them if, in so doing, it provides us with the assurance of safety and security. Well you all know what Ben Franklin had to say about that right, he said, “Those that would give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither and will lose both.”
Years after the Revolution James Madison would write, “Because it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of Citizens, and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The free men of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle.”
Unlike us today, our Founders resisted every encroachment upon their rights as freemen. Sometimes it was peaceful petitions to the Crown for a redress of grievances, and sometimes it was in the form of violent protests. I have already discussed the looting and ransacking of the homes of Governor Hutchinson and Andrew Oliver, I would now like to speak for a moment in regards to a more direct attack upon the personages who the Colonists felt were violating their rights; tarring and feathering.
Tarring and feathering is, to put it mildly, a harsh form of punishment. The victim is either stripped naked, or to the waist, then hot tar is painted or poured onto him, then they are covered in feathers for their suspected crimes. Although it did not occur with great frequency, it did occur to those who the Colonists felt were particularly deserving of it.
In 1766 Captain William Smith was tarred and feathered and dumped into the harbor at Norfolk, Virginia for supposedly informing on smugglers. Tarring and feathering made its appearance in Massachusetts in 1767 when customs agents were often the victims of this form of mob justice; the most notable being the tarring and feathering of customs worker John Malcolm in 1774.
Again, this type of civil uprising, and taking the law into our own hands, is something that is unheard of today, and if it were to happen the public outcry against it would be long and hard. Can you imagine a group of people tarring and feathering an agent of the IRS sent to perform an audit of someone’s taxes?
The point I’m trying to get at is, had our Founders been as complacent and apathetic as we are today, the American Revolution may very well never had happened. Sure, we may eventually have become an independent nation, but who knows when it would have happened, and more importantly, what form might our government have taken had it happened later in time?
After the passage of the Stamp Act, and the reaction from the Colonists, the Crown decided the only way to enforce the law was by stationing troops inside those areas where resistance to the law was heaviest. Instead of building forts though, Parliament passed the Quartering Act of 1765 which allowed for the quartering of British soldiers in inns and taverns, and if these weren’t sufficient, in the homes of the Colonists themselves. Not only that, but those forced to quarter these soldiers would be required to furnish, “…furnished with diet, and small beer, cyder, or rum mixed with water…” (Source: text of the Quartering Act of 1765)
This act was so grievous that it later led our Founders to ensure it never happened again by protecting against this violation of people’s rights by constitutional amendment; the Third Amendment to be more specific.
In 1767 Parliament passed the Townshend Revenue Act, which placed taxes on glass, paint, lead, oil, paper and tea. When officials impounded a ship owned by John Hancock mobs swarmed the customs officers, forcing them to flee to a British Naval ship anchored in Boston Harbor. The Colonial reaction was not violent this time, instead they established non-importation agreements which stated they simply would no longer import these items. Parliament then partially repealed these acts, but left certain parts of them in place.
Then came an event most are somewhat familiar with; The Boston Massacre. Although from a purely legal standpoint, the soldiers who fired into the crowd of Bostonians, it only added gasoline to the fire that was the increased sense that the Colonists rights were becoming increasingly threatened and violated by their King.
There were also less known instance where resistance to British authority was demonstrated by the Colonists. There were the Pine Tree riots where restrictions on the cutting down of White Pine’s with diameters more than 12 inches were routinely violated. There was the Gaspee Affair where an overzealous customs enforcer, Lieutenant William Duddington was lured into a trap where his ship was boarded, his men abandoned on the shore, and his ship set ablaze.
However, it is the next event that most are familiar with, the Tea Act and the ensuing Boston Tea Party. The Tea Act imposed no new taxes per se; what it did was seek to prop up the floundering East India Tea Company who had 18 million pounds of tea it needed to sell. The Act declared that the tea be shipped to the Colonies and sold at a discount rate.
Colonists in Philadelphia and New York refused to allow the ships to set anchor and sent them back to England. Charleston simply let the tea rot while sitting in their harbor. But it was those feisty old Bostonians who upstaged everyone. Dressed as Indians, locals, supposedly members of the Son’s of Liberty, rowed out to the ships holding the tea, then boarded them and dumped 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. Considering for inflation over the years, the loss suffered by the East India Tea company came to roughly $750,000.
When news of the Boston Tea Party reached London, the Crown reacted by shutting down Boston Harbor and implementing the Administration of Justice Act. This act was particularly offensive, as those found guilty of violating the Kings Law were to be transported to England for trial, denying them the right of a trial by a jury of their peers.
Things were now heating up. The Crown, fearing an armed uprising began restricting the rights of the Colonists to own powder and ball for their muskets, and often confiscated weapons held by locals.
In March of 1775 Patrick Henry delivered a speech at St. John’s Church in Virginia, declaring, “Give me liberty or give me death.” The following month would bring the ‘shot heard round the world’ when British Redcoats clashed with local Minutemen at Lexington and Concord when the British soldiers sought to confiscate their cache of arms and arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock.
In early 1776 Thomas Paine published his pamphlet Common Sense, which urged the Colonies to seek independence. In May the Second Continental Congress gathers together and a committee is formed to draft a declaration of independency.
And now would be a good time to pause before I begin discussing the greatest document ever written by man…