Thursday, February 13, 2014

Lesson 05: Murmurings of Independence

Constitution Class Handout
February 13, 2014
Instructor: Douglas V. Gibbs

Faith Armory
41669 Winchester Rd.
Temecula, CA


·   Murmurings of Independence

·   Forging a Nation
·   The French and Indian War
·   Proclamation of 1763
·   Military Occupation, and Confrontation
·   Tea Party, and Association

Forging a Nation

"This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion."--Thomas Jefferson, letter to Henry Lee, 1825

The United States was not born.  There was no precise day it was birthed.  We have heard July 4th referred to as America's Birthday.  The date on the Declaration of Independence is July 4, 1776.  The Declaration of Independence listed the grievances of the English Colonies with Britain, and declared that it was time to "dissolve the political bonds that connected" The Colonies to Mother England.

The drive for independence began long before the signatures of 56 patriots on that famous document, long before the first shot was fired at Lexington Green, long before British Tea was dumped into Boston Harbor, and long before the original agreement to act as a union in 1774 under the Articles of Association.  The United States of America was not born, but forged, piece by piece, and moment by moment, in the pubs, churches and meeting halls as the revolutionaries discussed their strategies; on the battle fields through the spilling of the blood of Patriots; and in the homes of the colonists as they did their part in the effort, be it producing food, manufacturing arms and ammunition, or darning socks for the bare feet of the members of the various militias.

The United States was not born, but forged through war, blood, sweat, and tears.

From the very beginning, we were unique.  Rather than come as conquerors, the early English Colonists came to America as families and entrepreneurs, taking advantage of the charters offered by the King of England.  Those early Americans did not come to America slaughtering the native population, or raping and forcing into marriage the native women, as did the Spanish warriors that conquered the rest of the Americas in decades prior in what is known today as Central America, and South America.  The English Colonists along the Atlantic Coast came as immigrants that needed, and obtained, assistance from the native population - a reality of coexistence best portrayed by the real story of the first Thanksgiving.

The English Colonists were unique in that they were individualistic, rather than members of a military force.  Colonization was by charter, rather than by conquest, which instilled in the American Colonists the traits of self-sufficiency, self-reliance, hard work, and personal responsibility.  The frontier to the west encouraged the Americans to step into the unknown, to seek a better life, obtain property, embrace the toughness of the New World, use their guns, take care of themselves, and leave behind the old way of doing things. The treatment of the colonies by the British Empire taught the colonial Americans to not settle for being nothing more than a revenue source for the king.  They learned to stand up for their rights, demand liberty, and fight on the side of virtue. The character of America was forged through struggle, economic risk taking, and hardship, developing long before the advent of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, or the Constitutional Convention in 1787.  We were, and are, an exceptional nation that refuses to settle for anything less than life, liberty, and an exceptional opportunity to pursue happiness.

The English Crown watched Spain colonize the New World by conquest, and learned exactly what not to do.  The lessons from Spain’s tactic of military conquest, and the incredible financial expenses of empire Spain had encountered, convinced the English monarchy to use a different tact when colonizing the Atlantic Coast of North America.  Rather than set out to conquer lands with troops and equipment, adventurers were encouraged to invest in the New World.  To English colonists, the ownership of property was true wealth, so the opportunity to invest in a new land, where they could own their own property, and become self-sufficient without the iron fist of Britain always on them, was appealing.  With that new land in the New World, the English colonists envisioned that they would be able to grow various crops of their choice, and make themselves rich in a way the Spanish were never able to achieve.  And with the passage of time, the English did indeed produce crop surpluses for export to the Old World, making the English colonies profitable in a potentially unlimited manner.

England’s colonists were middle class families and businessmen.  The English colonists were not soldiers filled with the desire of conquest and gold, but families filled with the desire of a new start, property ownership, and riches through farming and trade.  Investors, like the Virginia Company, risked their capital because they saw great potential for profit in the new colonies.  For the monarchy, the system was a proposition Britain felt it could not lose.  The British Monarchy did not have to put up any money, or effort.  All the king needed to do was issue charters.  If the colony failed, it cost England nothing, for the loss would be absorbed by the investors.  If the colony succeeded, England would benefit through taxation, trade, global influence, and profits from the agriculture of the new land.  The struggles were immense.  Many colonists died, and the people that survived were sick, hungry, and miserable.  The colonists endured Indian attacks by a minority of the local tribes, and disease, and starvation with little assistance from the British homeland.  Faced with the immense difficulties associated with settling in an uncivilized environment, bickering among the colonists left the settlers with unplanted crops, and shrinking food supplies.

The North American wilderness was not quite the paradise described by the Virginia Company’s publications in England.  Disease and starvation threatened to wipe out the Jamestown settlement early on.  The people lay day and night groaning in misery.  The weakened and demoralized people were on the verge of death, on the verge of failure.  The local native people came to the rescue.  In 1607 the local Indians began to bring corn to the colony for barter, which assisted in feeding the colonists, while stocking the Indians with Old World goods they desired.  However, the corn was not enough. By the time 1610 had rolled around, after the “starving time” winter of 1609-1610 where food was in such short supply some settlers resorted to eating their recently deceased neighbors, only 60 of the previous 500 settlers remained alive.  These early struggles, however, had an important impact on the English colonies that the Spanish never encountered.  The struggles, with no help from England, instilled a spirit of survival, self-reliance, and independence into the English colonists.  From the very beginning the virtues of hard work, and personal responsibility, were important for the sake of survival.  Without these characteristics, which were taught to the colonists through their struggles, the English colonies would never have survived.  Like the struggling butterfly that becomes strong enough to fly because of the struggle to free itself from the cocoon, the rugged storms of colonization strengthened the English colonists, forging this nation through the difficulties of existence, preparing the new nation for the hardships of war, and the arduous journey it would face as a new nation.

The Western Frontier’s influence on America’s character added to the spirit of toughness that was fast becoming a common trait among the English colonists.  With that spirit of adventure came the desire to seek a better life, obtain property, battle the difficulties of the untamed land, become skilled with their firearms, and leave behind the old European way of doing things.  When George Washington was a young man, he constantly sought adventures on the Virginia Frontier.  In March of 1748, when Washington was but a sixteen year old young man, his frequent adventures epitomized the toughness of Americans. “George and his companions swam their horses across swollen rivers, slept under the stars, and feasted on wild turkeys cooked over open campfires, had their tents carried away twice by high winds, and on one occasion awoke to find their straw beds in flames.  But through it all they successfully surveyed or ‘ran off’ hundreds of acres along the South Branch”.

As the colonies grew, so did the colonist’s encroachment into the Indian frontier.  With this kind of life came hunting, fishing, living off the land, and numerous confrontations with the native population.  The tough adventurous side of the character of America lends much of its existence to the presence of the wild frontier, Americans’ willingness to explore, and conquer, that frontier, and epitomizes what it means when I say America was forged into existence.

In the New World, the colonists created for themselves a society that was distinctively colonial and distinctively British.  The emerging political identity of the English colonists was British, so when the king began to revoke various charters in the New World, and when the king began to send British bureaucrats into America, the response was one of anger.  Though “chafed under increasing royal control, they still valued English protection”.  The rise of various rebel governments challenging the British at the turn of the eighteenth century, however, was only a small sign of things to come.

The British Empire eventually revealed itself as a tyrannical system that was even willing to use troops against the Americans.  The Americans began to see the British as rulers that limited their freedoms, and denied them of their natural rights.  The American Revolution was fought against a highly centralized state that was headed by a despotic chief executive.  The Americans, due to over a hundred years of building their American character, posed to be a difficult opponent for the British, and did not lay down quietly.  The attempt by the British to quell unrest became a war, and that war emerged as a revolution for the independence of the American colonies.  The British army considered itself to be an army of skilled professionals who would come in and easily defeat the rank amateurs in short order, putting a quick end to the nonsense.  Their approach to victory was the traditional one, pushing the enemy from point to point.  They came to fight a war over real estate.  The Americans, however, were not your traditional foe.  The Americans’ history of self-reliance, hard work, and experience in the frontier changed the face of the conflict.  In the end, the British finally departed from America’s shores, for the forging of a new nation seeking independence was too much for them to control.

Independence was inevitable.  Thomas Paine pointed out that securing independence from England was America’s destiny.  If the United States did not achieve independence, the country would never be able to disentangle itself from the family feuds going on in Europe.  America’s unique character, which had been constructed in the American psyche from the earliest days when the Americans struggled as new colonists without outside help under the charter system, and from the American taming of the frontier through hardship and struggles, and the harsh treatment the colonies received from Britain, followed by the challenges of war, made independence inevitable.  The character of America demanded independence, history foretold independence, and pre-revolutionary events ensured independence.  And that is how America was forged.

When General Charles Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia, General George Washington wrote a letter to President Joseph Hanson announcing the great victory.   President Hanson, and six other Presidents of the United States, served their one year terms through those tumultuous years approaching the writing of the United States Constitution, with no power to mediate between the quarreling States, and no tax authority, or standing army, to quell insurrections, and armed squabbles.

The Articles of Confederation was instituted during the Revolutionary War, and reflected the fears of the colonists regarding the dangers of a strong, central government, like the one they had just won their independence from.  The national government was too weak to protect, preserve, and promote the union, and when Shays’ Rebellion erupted in 1786, it became apparent that a new central government was needed.

The writing of the United States Constitution would be the first time in history that a nation would be designed from scratch, with a specific intent consciously embedded into the founding.  The lessons of history were taught by the evolution of the colonies, and the mistakes of history, but the United States would not become a nation in that same manner.  America would be made, after it was forged.  The government, and the template of what America was, and would become, was written down during heavy debate, and then enacted through ratification, and representative government.

History reveals that the Founding Fathers were problem solvers, and activists.  They laid out the foundation for this nation, and the Law of the Land for all of posterity to follow, and protect.  As it says in the final sentence of the Declaration of Independence, they were willing to lay down their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, for the idea of freedom.  The Founders expected us to be problem solvers, too.  They expected us to be informed, and active participants in maintaining liberty as laid out for us in the pages of the United States Constitution.  They expected us to do what it takes to preserve, promote, and protect our freedom, and the founding principles of the Constitution.  They expected us to do these things for our country, for ourselves, and for our posterity.  The forging of this nation was through action, and the forging of America has never stopped.  We, now, are the ones responsible for carrying on the banner of liberty, and like the founders, we must not falter, or else the forging of this nation will cease, and it will be fundamentally transformed into something the founders never intended, and we will lose our liberty forever, or at least until a future generation is willing to put on the line their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor.

The French and Indian War

The French and Indian War, the American name for the North American theater of the Seven Years War, was the final colonial war.  During that war the French and British battled over colonial domination in North America, the Caribbean, and India.  Though the English succeeded in winning majority control over colonial outposts, victory came at a staggering cost.  Desperate to settle the massive debt incurred during the war, the British Parliament began to tax the colonies.  The claim by Great Britain was that the taxes were simply to recover the monies expended in North America.

The war-effort, combining the forces of the British, and the colonists, against the French and their Indian allies in the frontier backcountry of the American Colonies, was also an effort that held secret hopes that the British and the colonists would realize they needed to be aligned because of shared interests.  The relationship between the British and the colonies were strained, going into the war, and then when the conflict was over, and the British government began taxing the colonists to pay for it, no matter how legitimate some may have thought the new British taxing policies were, led to protests in Boston.

War between Britain and France, or Spain, was a normal affair.  The first fifty years of the eighteenth century, Britain was intermittently at with one of those adversaries from mainland Europe.  New England ran right along the edge of New France, and the disagreements with the French Frontier increased when in 1754 a conflict began over contested land in the Ohio Valley.  The Seven Years’ War, in which the colonists experienced ten years of, resulted in a British takeover of French Canada, the Ohio River Valley, and essentially all lands in North America east of the Mississippi River.

Proclamation of 1763

The British Empire decided, in 1760, after the final battle of the French and Indian War had been fought, to keep a standing army in the colonies.  Twenty-two year old George III, the new king, claimed that stationing troops in America was to maintain peace between the colonists and the Indians, but the colonists didn’t see it that way, and in the long run King George III’s decision to keep a standing army in the colonies, and heavily tax the colonists in the hopes of recouping the costs of war, would prove to be costly both in financial, and political, terms.

Tensions with Indian Tribes on the American western frontier where Indian tribes that were allies of the now departed French refused to accept defeat, led to Pontiac’s Uprising in 1763.  By the time it was all over, no fort weat of Detroit remained standing, four hundred British soldiers had been killed, and over two thousand colonists had been taken captive, or killed.  To stop the violence, the British government issued the Proclamation of 1763, forbidding colonial settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains.  The goal was to separate the colonists from the Indians, but it also limited trade between the Indians and licensed colonial traders.

The provisions of the proclamation proved impossible to enforce, and the growing populations in the existing colonies continued to send many settlers west of the Appalachians.  Land speculators were not about to miss out on the profitable resale of their land grants.  There weren’t enough British troops available to stop the westward push, and King George III had larger problems to deal with, like paying for the expenses of the war.

The Search for Revenue

The Colonists, though considered to be British Subjects, were become more of a problem than they were worth, as far as the Monarchy was concerned.  The New World was full of riches, and Britain had spent countless monies and lives protecting the colonies, the least the colonists could do, as far as King George III was concerned, was pay for the bill.

Prime Minister George Grenville decided the way to create revenue from the colonies was through customs.  The salaries of the customs officers were costing the British government, according to reports to Grenville, four times what was collected in revenue.  Grenville demanded that there be more attention to paperwork, and rigorous accounting audits, to stop the bribery and smuggling that seemed to be common practice.  After the failed Molasses Act of 1733, which was a stiff tax on any molasses purchased from non-British sources, Grenville came up with the Revenue Act of 1764, also known as the Sugar Act.

The Sugar Act lowered the tax on French molasses to encourage shippers to obey the law, while increasing penalties for smuggling.  Rather that regulate trade, as was the aim of the navigation acts, Grenville’s intent was to raise revenue, using existing law for new ends.

With stiffer enforcement policies in place, British naval crews became customs officers, boarding suspicious ships and seizing cargoes they believed to be in violation.  Smugglers caught faced swift and severe justice.  The act led to confrontations in the port cities, and the law raised questions among the colonists about Britain’s right to tax the colonists.

The Stamp Act was put into place in 1765, and is was designed to escalate Grenville’s revenue program, since the Sugar Act was not producing the revenue Grenville had hoped for.  The Stamp Act imposed a tax on all paper used for official documents, including newspapers, pamphlets, court documents, licenses, wills, and so on.  The tax was enforced by an affixed stamp that served as proof the tax had been paid.  Unlike the Sugar Act, the law had nothing to do with trade, and was obviously only a tool being used to raise tax money.

The Stamp Act was a direct tax, and encouraged a stronger conflict between Britan and the colonies over the Parliament’s right to tax.

Taxation had been seen as a gift to the monarch, granted by the people’s representatives, but in the cases of the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act, the parliament was demanding money, and that led to a fear of confiscation of property.  Grenville responded that indeed taxation by consent was the British way, but that the colonists were “virtually” represented in Parliament.  The colonists rejected the notion of virtual representation.

August 14, 1765, to discourage a stamp distributor from his duties, and to convince him to resign, a crowd in Boston launched a street demonstration where a mock execution of the stamp distributor was enacted.  The stamp distributor went into hiding, the royal governor took no action in hopes of calming the tensions, and the next day the stamp distributor resigned - teaching the colonists that street demonstrations were a valuable tool, that worked.

Twelve days later the home of Thomas Hutchinson, the brother-in-law of the stamp distributor, Andrew Oliver, was surrounded, and destroyed.  This action brought a temporary stop to the protests, and a town meeting issued a statement of sympathy, and a large reward for the arrest and conviction of the rioters.  No leads were found, and nobody was arrested.  Samuel Adams professed shock at the “truly mobbish nature” of the violence.

Nobody volunteered to replace the resigned stamp distributor, and customs officers were incapable of enforcing an act that failed to produce properly stamped documents.

The protests in Boston encouraged similar demonstrations throughout the colonies by groups calling themselves Sons of Liberty.  Chants of “Liberty,” and “Liberty and Property,” were common at these events.  The Stamp Act was repealed in March of 1766, but with it came the Declaratory Act, which stated the Parliament had the right to legislate for the colonies “in all cases whatsoever.”

The Townshend Acts of 1767 proposed new taxes on tea, glass, lead, paper, painters’ colors imported into the colonies, and was combined with the Sugar Act which remained in place.  The Townshend duties were not a great burden, but the principle of taxation through trade duties, was not received favorably by the colonists.

Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, widely reprinted in the winter of 1767 and 1768 proclaimed, “We are taxed without our consent. . . We are therefore - SLAVES.”  John Dickinson, the writer of these articles, called for “total denial of the power of Parliament to lay upon these colonies any tax whatsoever.”

In 1765 the Quartering Act required colonies to furnish shelter and provisions of the British army left in place after the French and Indian War.  Many of the assemblies refused to enforce the “intolerable act,” because it was really a tax requiring colonists to pay money by order of Parliament.  In the case of the New York Assembly, they were ordered to obey, or all of the assembly’s acts would be considered null and void by Parliament.  Colonists began to wonder if their legislative government was under attack, and if their systems of local government were secure.

Resolutions began to emerge in the colonies that called for the boycott of all British made goods.  These “no consumption agreements” were hard to enforce, but the agreements were popular.  They required an agreement to coordinate the effort throughout the entire process of shipping and receiving.  Overall, the boycotts were a success, and British imports fell by 40 percent.  The Sons of Liberty were staging celebrations, and Boston seemed to be overrun by anti-British sentiment.

Military Occupation and Confrontation

With all of the unrest over the colonial disagreements with the various attempts by the British government to increase revenue through taxing the colonies, the British leadership concluded that British troops were necessary to restore order, maintain order.  In October of 1768, British troops landed in Boston to enforce the Townshend duties, and clamp down on local radicals.  The presence of a standing army in the colonies was already unpopular, but with this new infusion of troops, the local response was volatile.  Street fights began to break out.  In January of 1770, in response to Thomas Hutchinson’s sons indicating they were ready to break the boycott of British goods, a crowd gathered outside the Hutchinson brothers’ shop, and defaced the door with a mixture of human excrement and urine.  In February, when a crowd gathered around a custom official’s home, he panicked and fired a musket, killing a young boy passing in the street.  The Sons of Liberty led the funeral procession, marking it as the first instance of violent death at the hands of the British tyranny.

The following week after the funeral, tension gripped Boston.  On March 5, 1770, after a crowed taunted eight British soldiers guarding the customs house, a clash erupted between the soldiers and the group of colonists, and the evening ended with five dead after someone yelled “Fire!” and some of the soldiers shot into the crowd.  Eleven of the men were hit.

The colonists called the incident the Boston Massacre, and the British called it the incident on King Street.  The regiments of soldiers were immediately removed from Boston to an island in the harbor, and the captain, and his eight soldiers, were jailed for their protection.

John Adams, and Josiah Quincy, defended the eight soldiers in the ensuring trial.  The two attorneys had ties to the Sons of Liberty, but Adams indicated he was willing to defend the soldiers because even unpopular defendants deserve a fair trial.  Samuel Adams, John’s cousin, approved of the decision by John Adams to defend the soldiers, seeing it as an opportunity to show that Boston leadership was not lawless, and that they were defenders of British liberty and law.

All defendants were acquitted except two soldiers, who were convicted of manslaughter.  They were branded on their thumbs, and released.  To this day the reality of who yelled “Fire!” remains unknown.

The new British Prime Minister, Frederick North, recognized that the boycott by the colonists against British goods was hurting trade, and recommended repeal of the Townshend Duties.  North was able to persuade Parliament to remove all duties, except the tax on tea.  For two years, tensions calmed.  Some viewed this as a long awaited peace, while others considered it the calm before the storm.

Tea Party

In 1772, a Royal Navy ship, Gaspee, was burned off the coast of Rhode Island while pursuing suspected smugglers.  Though there were no arrests, the British investigating commission announced that if the suspects were found, they would be sent to Britain for trial of charges on high treason.  The ruling was not taken lightly, for it was in direct opposition of the English right to trial by a jury of one’s peers.  A link was established to inform all of the colonies of the alarming news by Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and Richard Henry Lee.

Later in 1772, Lord North proposed paying the salaries of the superior court justices out of the tea revenue.  The colonists recognized this would make judges more likely to obey their new payers, and again a vital message was circulated to ensure the colonies all knew the news about what the British government was doing.  The communication circulated in December of 1772, and claimed this was an attempt to undermine traditional liberties, while supporting unjust taxation, military occupation, and a subversion of justice.

By the Spring of 1773, revolutionary language was rising up in Massachusetts.

The Tea Act passed Parliament May 10, 1773, and served the final spark that would ignite a revolutionary movement in Massachusetts.  By the fall of 1773, news of the Tea Act reached the colonies.  The law was designed to ensure colonists bought taxed British Tea, and squelch the smuggling of Dutch tea into the colonies.  The goal was to raise revenue, and to further control the colonies.  The Tea Act was a reminder of the Parliament’s claim to have full authority over the colonists, in regards to their power to tax and legislate for the colonies.

The tea trade was too lucrative to enable a boycott, so the Sons of Liberty pressured tea agents to resign.  Without agents, tea cargoes would have to land without paperwork, or return home.  However, Governor Hutchinson cleared three ships in November of 1773 to unload their cargoes, but not the tea they were carrying.  The merchants were not allowed to unload the tea without paying the tea duty, but they could not return home in their ships without paying the tax, either.  If they remained in the harbor too long, twenty days, the duty had to be paid, or the local authorities would confiscate the tea.

During the twenty days the tension in Boston built.  Daily meeting informed the people of what was going on, and energized the citizens.  On the final day, Hutchinson refused clearance for the ships, and a meeting at the Old South Church failed to come up with a resolution.  But immediately following the meeting, over 100 men disguised as Indians, boarded the ships and dumped thousands of pounds of tea into the water.  A crowd of 2,000 watched as the event took place.  John Adams called the Tea Party, “. . . bold, so daring, so firm, intrepid and inflexible, and it must have so important consequences.”

Lord North’s response to the Tea Party was the Coercive Acts, also known as the Intolerable Acts.  First, the Boston Port Act closed Boston Harbor to all shipping as of June 1, 1774, until the destroyed tea was paid for.  The Massachusetts Government Act altered the colony’s charter, giving Parliament full authority, without question, over Massachusetts.  All judges, sheriffs, and officers of the court would be appointed by the royal governor.  The elective body lost all powers.  Town meetings were outlawed, without the governor’s approval, and every agenda item required prior approval by the governor.

The Impartial Administration of Justice Act, the third coercive act, stipulated that any royal official accused of a capital crime would be tried in a court in Britain.  This act suggested that cases regarding instances like the Boston Massacre could happen, but the colonies could not try the captain, or soldiers.  Justice was taken out of the hands of the local jurisdictions, regarding royal officials.

The Quartering Act was then amended, permitting military commanders to lodge soldiers wherever necessary, regardless of the location, which meant that soldiers could even be lodged in private households, irregardless of the opinion of the homeowner - placing Massachusetts under military rule.

The final coercive act, the Quebec Act, though it did not directly have any connection to the other four acts, confirmed in Quebec a continuation of French civil law and government form, as well as Catholicism, which was an affront to Protestant New Englanders who were now being denied their own representative government.  The Quebec Act also took control of land throughout the Ohio Valley away from the American colonies, and gave it to Quebec.

News of the Intolerable Acts spread like wildfire through the colonies.  If the British government could do this to Massachusetts, they could do it to any of the colonies.  No liberties were secure.  Delegates would arranged to convene in Philadelphia in September of 1774 to respond, bringing together the first Continental Congress.  The plan was a unified front.  A boycott of British goods throughout all of the colonies, in a single concerted effort under an agreement that would bring together the colonies into a union for the first time.  The document is known today as the Articles of Association, the first of the four founding documents.

Copyright: Douglas V. Gibbs, 2014

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