Tuesday, October 26, 2010

America in Rebellion

It was on this day in 1775 that His Majesty King George III of Great Britain and Ireland went before Parliament to declare the British colonies in North America to be in open rebellion against the Crown and to call for Parliament to pass measures to take swift military action to suppress said rebellion including the raising of troops, the enforcement of a naval blockade and the employment of such foreign mercenaries as may be necessary to restore law and order in the colonies. This is usually pointed to as the action which finally pushed the rebel colonists toward that point of no return -the Declaration of Independence. However, what exactly was King George III supposed to do given the events that had transpired?

Act after act that had been legally and democratically passed by Parliament to which the Whig colonists objected was left un-enforced or swiftly repealed. On issue after issue the British government had given in, letting the colonists have their way in order to keep the peace. However, that peace never lasted due largely to the actions of the professional revolutionaries and rabble rousers such as Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty. Crown officials had been assaulted, private property destroyed, British troops attacked by riotous mobs and, after April 19, 1775, the King’s soldiers had been attacked by armed militia. What would any other government at any point in history or even today do in response to such actions? Most governments would have taken far harsher measures much earlier on. Contrary to the image most often presented today, in 1775 the United Kingdom was one of the most liberal and democratic governments in the world.

How did it all come about? Well, there were the Navigation Acts which the colonists routinely ignored which led to a thriving black market and smuggling as a way of life. There was the 1763 Royal Proclamation which reserved the lands west of the Appalachian mountains for the American Indians. The land-hungry colonists did not like that, many having already claimed vast tracts of the territory for themselves in spite of the fact that the colonists already had far more land than they possibly needed for their relatively low population. There was the Sugar Act, which was repealed. There was the Currency Act which was amended out of existence when the colonies protested. There was the Stamp Act, which was repealed, there were the Townshend Acts, which were repealed and there was the Quebec Act which allowed the French Canadians to keep their own legal system and freely practice their Catholic faith. Naturally the colonists were outraged by all this; recognizing the rights of the American Indians to their own land, granting freedom of religion, asking the colonists to pay taxes to help fund their own defense, I mean, how outrageous is that?

The Whig howling about taxes also became very tiresome very fast in Great Britain. Taxes in Britain were something like twenty-five times higher than in America. Americans were generally wealthier, had a higher standard of living, paid almost no taxes and routinely ignored laws that were inconvenient. Naturally British subjects in the home islands were not too impressed with colonial whining over a miniscule tax on tea. After all, weren’t the taxes designed to offset the cost of the French and Indian War? The war had been fought on behalf of the colonies and it had been won thanks to the large numbers of regular soldiers sent over from Great Britain to eliminate the French presence in North America. Of course, presented with these facts the colonists would reply that it was not exactly the taxes that were the problem but the principle of “no taxation without representation”. That, of course, was a total red herring. It was a propaganda slogan pure and simple. When Ben Franklin was sent to London as the unofficial envoy of the colonies he was told in no uncertain terms that he should NEVER agree to any deal that would provide the colonies with representation in the British Parliament because they knew full well, even as they howled about having no representation, that if they were represented they would easily be out-voted due to the population disparity and they would lose both the argument and their very powerful slogan.

Finally, although the historians still like to be cute and say that no one knows who fired that famous first shot at Lexington, there is really no doubt about it. Only the colonists stood to benefit from war, starting a fight was simply not in the British interests. So, again, given all of that, what else was King George to do? Again and again the colonists had gotten their way through bad behavior but on this day in 1775 King George III finally said enough is enough. British law would be enforced, the Crown would be respected, criminals would be punished and duly enacted laws would be obeyed -like them or not. As the much-maligned monarch famously said, “The dye is now cast, the colonies must either triumph or submit…”

8 comments:

  1. I try to tell this History and no one seems to want to believe me. I feel that this was the time when people began to think in terms of Revolution, of all Monarchy being evil, and in which angry mobs got to bully everyone else into submission. It is this History that keeps me out of the whole “America the Great” mentality. This, and how the Loyalists were mistreated during and after the war. Heck, the Tea Party people who are ever so opposed to Wealth Redistribution quote a man whose home was the product of Wealth Redistribution. Thomas Paine got ot live in a Farmhouse that was stolen from Loyalists.

    The whole thing is simply a veneration of angry and irrational mobs who wanted to destroy what already existed in order to foist their own ideas, and give themselves more Power.



    Also, I think you need to make a small correction.

    "Taxes in Britain were something like twenty-five times higher in Britain."


    Its a bit Contradictory...

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  2. Thanks for catching that -it's fixed (I hope). The "American Revolution" is worse in hindsight for all those reasons, yet many people would use that same tactic to look at the US and UK as they are today and thank God it all worked out. What is odd is that the monarchy was at first not unpopular -in fact toward the end it was about the only thing most colonies still liked about Britain. Even Ben Franklin said nice things about the King. Oddly enough it was an Englishman, the aforementioned Thomas Paine, who did more than any other to turn Americans against the monarchy.

    To give a little perspective though, right or wrong, all regimes must justify their own existence through the glorification of their founders and their foundation and in the case of the US that means being at the very least generally unfavorable toward monarchy. What probably irritates me more is how both sides glorify the revolutionary aspect when, in fact, the American "revolution" was hardly that. The social order was not overturned, there was no class warfare and the King was still safe on his throne after it was over. Today however one would think it was all of those things and just a slightly tamer version of the French Revolution.

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  3. The reason the Revolution was not as bad in America is the motivation of the Revolutionaries. Apart from the Two Thomas’s, no one really wanted the Social Order to Change. Heck, Hamilton was an out and out Monarchist, John Adams had sympathy towards Monarchy (But concealed and denied it as by hen the Americans had turned on the concept) and Washington treated the Presidency as an Elective Monarchy. None of them really wanted to challenge social rules, customs, or cultures either, and all seemed pretty comfortable in the British or other cultural venue.

    Despite a lot of talk about the Philosophers, especially John Locke, the Truth is, most of the leaders in the American Revolution were wealthy land owners how wanted independence for they saw it as a mean for personal gain, as well as justification for expansion into the Indian Territories, which again was more about wealth than any sort of liberty, the Philosophy just gave justification for what was in the end simple greed and avarice. Had the Social order been overturned, that would risk their own standing in society.

    The French Revolution was purely about the desire to reshape all of society in accordance to the Dogmas of the Enlightenment, to create that new Ideal, hence why it was far more brutal. They wanted a new Humanity, Utopia, freed form the past injustices of Monarchy and the Church, and embracing Reason ( By which they only meant their own conclusions) and Liberty! America’s Founders were not really that interested in all that, just independence from the Parliament, and later Crown, so they could get away with doing things as they pleased.

    Still, they promoted the Philosophy, they gave life to the ideas, and they in the end inspired the Revolutions which still to this day are Praised and whose work is continued in the Ideal of expanding Democracy globally. For this I don’t excuse them.

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  4. Oh and I’ve also heard the whole Modern USA and Modern Britain Argument, but it makes no sense. It’s like those who claim if the American Revolution had not occurred, then Hitler would have won WW2. They forget that had the American Revolution never occurred, then the French Revolution would have likely not occurred either, so no Republican Philosophy would have spread to give rise to the Weimar Republic, and no Woodrow Wilson to create the Treaty of Versailles. Heck, with no American Revolution there would have been No Napoleon and thus no Napoleonic Code of Law, which is the basis of many Nations in Europe’s legal codes, the King of Sweden would be a totally different person, and all of Europe would be vastly different.

    Modern British Politics is the result of the modern Trend towards liberal secular Democracy, with its quasi-socialist Governing set-up and most powers exercised by the Prime Minister and the House of Commons, with the Queen nothing but a Figure head. Heck, the UK now has a Supreme Court like America. This whole trend got Started in the 18th Century, with the American Revolution, and the only reason Modern Britain is as it is now is the result of that war and later American influences over the world and the culture of the entire planet.


    While I’m not downing everything America has ever done, its just a stupid argument to think today’s Britain, with its socialism and liberalism, would have existed regardless as if it developed in Isolation, and that somehow America would be like the UK if the Revolt had not occurred. Besides, much of the British Countryside is still Traditional, just as Ulster is, and many US States, like California and New York, are about as Liberal as the UK is.

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  5. I don't play the blame game. People can be inspired in any variety of ways to any variety of actions. The French Revolution was the fault of no one, ultimately, but the French revolutionaries themselves. France was in pretty bad shape before what happened in America, it had long been the hotbed of the "Enlightenment" Philosophes. Likewise, the US should blame Wilson for the tyrant he was, not the Europeans who created their own mess and were the ones who actually signed on to Versailles.

    I don't blame America for people in Britain adopting some American ways nor do I blame Britain or Canada for Democrats following their socialist examples. Everyone has to be responsible for their own actions. I don't think the American Revolution (so-called) was legitimate or justified but it happened and cannot be undone. The only possibly obtainable goal that I see is making America less hostile to monarchy.

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  6. Oh, I'm not trying to play the Blame Game, but simply noting that peopel tend ot think the eventsof History are unrelated. They act a if World War 2 would have hapened regardles of the outcome of the American Revolution, but that is highly unlikely to say the Least. Then again, people also act as if America created the idea of a Governmetn with Checks and Balances.

    Of course, the main point is as I said above, that the American Revolution was not really a Revolution because the Social order was not changed. Peopel today think it was. Heck, most Americans htink peopel lived in utter tyranny, were constanty destitute becuase of the imposed Taxation, and lived on the commands of an all powerful absolute Monrch who regulated everythign until Americas Founders gave them Freedom via Revoltion. They imagine Monarhcy as Dictatorship, and a epublic (Now Democracy) as the only way t keep Freedom.


    But yoru right, this is mroe about justufying it. If they admited otherwise, a lot of peopel woudl have a harder time justufyign the cesession of the COlonies.

    And yoru right, its not really a Revolution, life didn't change much. But I still think I'm righ ton why: The American Revolutionaries did not want to change social customs and norms, and had no real interest in creatign a new social order, they simply wanted to st their own rules and make themselves rich by expadign into Indian Territories or not havng to pay back their own debts. They also were terribley prejudiced agaisnt Catholics or Indians.

    Thats the only thing that matered ot them. To the French Revoutionaries the Philosophy was all important, tot he American revolutonaries it was secondary, sort of a mean to drape their cause in legitimacy, to justufy it, but the real goal was personal gain.

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  7. I disagree in one point. Why didn't the king offer the Americans a seat in Parliament in the first place? Heck probably the same reason we don't offer Peurto Rico! Any one see any similarites ( although the peurto rican's are poorer.

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    Replies
    1. Because from the British point of view, even if they had no seats, the American colonies were represented in Parliament already. However, it would have been a non-starter because when Ben Franklin was sent to London as unofficial ambassador-at-large for the colonies he was told, under no circumstances, to accept representation in Parliament. The population of England was so much greater at the time they knew they would be easily outvoted and use a nice-sounding propaganda slogan, so a lose-lose.

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