The History of America: The Initial Rejection of an Empire
In the last post, we discussed the economics behind the Mercantilist Theory, the idea that caused Britain to gain a sudden interest in North America. Now we reach the initial rejection such “patriots” would feel towards the British Empire.
The end of the war for empire showed the powerhouse of Britain that debt wasn’t just a fictional plague. It was indeed a reality, and the Royal Government of Britain was over 122 million pounds of sterling silver in debt. Quite a large amount; this was a good sixty percent of all British revenues. Similar to how the French Revolution started, Britain had a large population that was paying more taxes than people that could actually afford it. Eight million people in Britain were being overloaded with new taxes, and the Treaty of Paris hastily demobilized large parts of the Royal Military so that the government wouldn’t have had to pay for soldiers they no longer needed.
It was far too late to just fire everyone unneeded during a time of peace. Even a small force of a mere twenty battalions cost nearly two hundred thousand sterling a year. And more than half of that would have to be stationed across the ocean to police new Canadian provinces snatched from the French and unhappy Indians who disliked British intervention in their homelands.
As we discussed in the last post, the age of Absolutism and Mercantilism (formed in the 1600s) gave off the ideology that monarchs were in fact the only legit form of government and therefore had the right to experiment with total control. That is exactly what the Stuart Monarchs in Britain attempted to do.
James I (1566 – 1625), Charles I (1600 – 1649), Charles II (1630 – 1685), and James II (1633 – 1701) all attempted to impose a form of absolute government in not only the capital of London, but in the colonies across the pond as well. This started minor political revolutions and created turmoil in the already boiling over Parliament at the time, but it would eventually evolve into much more.
The Parliament decided in not only 1642 but also 1688 that the Stuart Monarchs in control (at the time of the political chaos was Charles I and James II) were unfit to lead and demanded change. Absolutists, on the other hand, claimed that a strong, centralized monarchy was needed to stop anarchy.
The people of the British empire began to divide themselves into two separate groups: Whigs and Tories. Political overthrows ensued and enlightenment stormed across England. But what exactly are Whigs and Tories? Whigs were not completely opposing monarchy, but radicals did want England to become a republic. Tories on the other hand respected the monarchy and wished for it to live on.
After the war for empire, King George III sacked Whig generals that he and past Kings had used to win wars. He replaced them with a veteran Parliament member by the name of George Greenville (1712 – 1770). Greenville was William Pitts’ (we talked about him in the last addition in this series) brother in law, and believed that Americans should pay the taxes to pay off the debt Britain was suffering through.
He advised and supported the idea of placing direct taxes on the colonists due to the third point of the Mercantilist Theory: colonies should serve and support the motherland. He decided to place down the Stamp Act, which required all printed documents to carry a British revenue stamp. Greenville severely underestimated the American reaction to the Stamp Act.
The British Government had failed to realize that through the past couple centuries of doing whatever the Hell they wanted to, the Americans had grown a fond amount of desire to govern themselves. They were okay with being loyal British subjects, but they realized that Britain hadn’t bothered with much internal structure in the colonies. In short, the Americans enjoyed governing themselves without the need of the British Parliament. They were more than fine with ocean shipping taxes, but the Stamp Act made them feel as if Britain was finally starting to mess with internal structures by bypassing the colonial laws and miniature governments they had set up.
James Otis (1725 – 1783) of Massachusetts issued a call for a colonial conference, and nine colonies sent representatives to New York for what would be eventually known as the Stamp Act Congress. The Rights and Grievances composed by John Dickinson (1732 – 1808) of Pennsylvania showed the view of the colonies. That they were not plantations willing to be controlled internally by Britain, and that they should be taxed by their own representatives. Their own governments.
On August 14th, 1765, the Loyal Nine (the name given to a group of protesters) attacked and destroyed the house of Andrew Oliver (1706 – 1774), who was the designated Stamp Act Officer in Massachusetts. He was hanged in effigy from Boston’s Liberty Tree shortly beforehand, and the events of August 14th compelled him to resign his position three days later. That still wasn’t enough for the Loyal Nine, however, and they continued to harass the man until he publicly swore he would never distribute or endorse stamps three months later.
Two weeks after the attack on Oliver’s home, the Loyal Nine attacked the Tory Lieutenant Governor’s office. Thomas Hutchinson (1711 – 1780) watched as his house was nearly destroyed. In Connecticut, a crowd calling themselves “The Sons of Liberty” forced their own stamp agent to resign. New Jersey’s stamp agent resigned before the crowd had a chance to show up.
The fact that nobody wished to endorse the Stamp Act triggered the collapse of Greenville’s administration, and on July 10th, 1765 the king asked the Marquis of Rockingham (1730 – 1782) to organize a new colonial government himself. This caused the repeal of the Stamp Act the following Spring.
The Americans wanted to be led by their own people; they wanted their own government representatives. Many believed in the Whig style of thinking, and they decided that they believed the king’s elites were corrupt. They saw something much more coming in the future due to this anarchist style of paranoia. They didn’t fear a simple Stamp Act anymore. It was far worse by this point. The American people feared a complete takeover of the Church of England — a religious uprising in their own backyards.
In 1766, Pitt took control of the administration again, but he was incredibly ill. Power fell to Charles Townshend (1725 – 1767). Townshend sponsored new taxes on the American colonies, but unlike Greenville, he realized and understood that the Stamp Act was a perfect example of Britain attempting to reach its hands into the pockets of American lifestyles. This time he targeted smaller objects — such as paper, glass, and tea.
But Townshend didn’t understand that the Americans didn’t really hate the idea of the Stamp Act. They just didn’t want taxes at all. They weren’t upset at losing money, but freedom.
When the Massachusetts legislature adopted a letter written by Samuel Adams (1722 – 1803) that protested the new taxes, the Massachusetts governor Francis Bernards (1712 – 1779) immediately attempted to dissolve it. The legislature refused to dissolve it with a whopping result of ninety-two to seventeen. The British Government, upset, shut them down soon afterwards.
Bewildered redcoats, or British soldiers, unintentionally antagonized the American civilians. They held concerts on Sundays in a heavily Puritan Boston. They took moonlighting jobs that bumped American workers out of a way of life. They challenged Boston people in the streets through simply doing their jobs.
In February of 1770, a shooting incident between a few Boston workers and a redcoat soldier claimed the life of a young American boy. On March 5th, a street fight turned into a massive crowd. One soldier was hit by a club, so the entire line began raising fire. This would eventually be spread into propaganda against the British Government as the infamous Boston Massacre. The outcry of this was so terrifying, that Britain took soldiers out of the city. They believed Americans would cool down if they didn’t have to see what they were most upset with.
Yet another new government, led by Frederick North (1732 – 1792), suspended the taxes on the American colonies except for the taxes on tea. This still did not recognize them as official members of the empire, which was what the colonists wanted the most at this point. In retaliation, the American colonists began boycotting English exports.
The Tea Act of 1733 offered Americans a luxury item at bargain prices. The East India Company was teetering on Bankruptcy, and Lord North proposed a bailout in order to remain a global exporter of tea. The idea was that all taxes on tea would lower the prices of tea, but Americans were already prepared to fight it. They believed that lowering the prices on team must have been a trick! It would legitimize British rights to tax!
After tar and feathering a few supporters of the Tea Act, Britain began to get worried. On December 16th, 1733, the Sons of Liberty, thinly disguised as Mohawk Indians, boarded the ships in the Boston Harbor and pitched 90,000 pounds worth of tea into the water below. Parliament passed the Intolerable Acts in retaliation. This closed Boston Harbor until the so-called “Tea Party” was paid off. It also enacted on Marshall law under Major General Thomas Gage (1721 – 1787).
In May of 1774, Virginia and Massachusetts called for the first ever Continental Congress, which would be held on September 5th, 1774. Twelve out of the thirteen colonies sent representatives to pass laws. Georgia was the only state to not show up. The situation was terrible, and Thomas Gage disbanded the Massachusetts legislature yet again. Of course, the legislature just got back together out of his reach under the name of the Provincial Convention of Massachusetts.
Gage himself recommended the repeal of the Intolerable Acts after hearing rumors that the people living in the areas around him were stockpiling weapons, but Lord North’s government wouldn’t back down. In April 1775, after learning the weapons were in Concord and that John Hancock and Samuel Adams, two leaders of the Convention, were in Lexington, Thomas Gage organized a force of eighteen hundred soldiers to slip out of town in the middle of the night and strike the two cities on April 19th.
The militia in these towns were tipped by Paul Revere. To read his story, you can check out my post The Dark Truth Behind Five “Good” Men here. When the British soldiers entered the town, the local militia was ready, but scattered. Adams and Hancock were nowhere to be found.
The American Revolution was about to begin right here, at Lexington and Concord.
In the next post, we’ll be having some fun with the politics behind the American Revolution, in which we discuss the people behind the initial rejection of an international empire.