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Events That Led To Independence

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

July 4th, 1776--230 years ago today--is the day Americans generally recognize as the day the American colonists signed their names to a parchment declaring once and for all their independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. They wanted the world to know that the American colonies were done being abused by oppressive and tyrannical government. This one act would be viewed by the British Crown as an act of treason and, if captured, the signers would most certainly be hanged.
I thought it would be important to not only celebrate our Declaration of Independence, but to recall some of the events that led the American colonists to declare their independence. With the help of Wikipedia, I've compiled a short list of some of the more notable events. Additionally, if one takes the time to read the entire Declaration of Independence--not just the first two most popular paragraphs--one can really understand where their enumerated grievances sprang from. The abuses they suffered were real and the colonists tried time and time again to resolve these issues peacefully with the British Crown before resorting to such extreme measures.
Without further ado, here's the list (in no particular order):
"No taxation without representation" was a rallying cry of the American Revolutionary War. During the years prior to and during the Revolution, advocates of American independence decried the fact that the American colonies were required to pay taxes to London, yet they had no representatives in Parliament. Therefore, the Americans felt that they were being forced to fund a government into which they had no input.
The phrase was originally coined by Rev. Jonathan Mayhew in a sermon at Old West Church in Boston. A slightly different version, "Taxation without representation is tyranny," is attributed to James Otis.
In reality, the colonists had been offered representation under British rule, but the offer was turned down for the following reasons: (1) colonial representatives would have no way of finding out the will of their constituents, as the fastest message that could be sent home would take two to three months each way; and (2) colonial representatives would remain a minority in Parliament, and would generally have no way of decisively changing the vote.
The British government, as well as Loyalists in the colonies, would have argued that the colonists had virtual representation in their interests. Colonists were unimpressed by this point, and British Prime Minister William Pitt agreed. In an appearance before Parliament on January 14, 1766, Pitt stated, "The idea of a virtual representation of America in this House is the most contemptible that ever entered into the head of man. It does not deserve a serious refutation."
"No taxation without representation!" continued to be a rallying cry of the period.
The Intolerable Acts, called by the British the Coercive Acts or Punitive Acts, were a series of laws passed by the British Parliament in 1774 in response to the growing unrest in thirteen American colonies, particularly in Boston, Massachusetts after incidents such as the Boston Tea Party. Enforcement of the Acts played a major role in the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War and the establishment of the First Continental Congress.
The Coercive Acts included:
The Quebec Act was also passed in 1774, but it was a piece of legislation unrelated to the Coercive Acts. American Whigs, however, were alarmed by the Quebec Act as much as the Coercive Acts, and they labeled it one of the "Intolerable Acts". Their main complaints over the Quebec Act were the protections granted to the Indian territories and to the Catholic settlers in Ohio. These were viewed as attempts to halt expansion into the west and to strengthen a church that many opposed and resented.
The acts had several different effects. They unintentionally promoted sympathy for the revolutionaries in Massachusetts, and encouraged revolutionaries from the otherwise diverse colonies to band together. However, the Quebec Act had the opposite effect among French Catholics in the Province of Quebec, encouraging many of them to either pragmatic inaction or support for the Crown.
The Stamp Act 1765 (short title Duties in American Colonies Act 1765; 5 George III, c. 12) was the fourth Stamp Act to be passed by the Parliament of Great Britain and required all legal documents, permits, commercial contracts, newspapers, pamphlets, and playing cards in the American colonies to carry a tax stamp. The Act was enacted in order to defray the cost of maintaining the military presence protecting the colonies. The Act passed unanimously on March 22, 1765, and went into effect later that year on November 1, 1765. It met with great resistance in the colonies and was never effectively enforced. Colonists threatened tax collectors with tarring and feathering, and few collectors were willing to risk their well-being to uphold the tax. The Act was finally repealed on March 18, 1766. This incident increased the colonists' concerns about the intent of the British Parliament and added fuel to the growing separatist movement that later resulted in the American Revolution.
The Stamp Act of 1765 and the Townshend Acts of 1767 angered colonists regarding British decisions on taxing the colonies with no representation in the Westminster Parliament ("no taxation without representation"). One of the protesters was John Hancock. In 1768, John Hancock's ship Liberty was seized by customs officials and he was charged with smuggling. He was defended by John Adams and the charges were eventually dropped. However, Hancock later faced several hundred more indictments.
Hancock organized a boycott of tea from China sold by the British East India Company, whose sales in the colonies then fell from 320,000lb to 520lb. By 1773, the company had large debts, huge stocks of tea in its warehouses and no prospect of selling it because smugglers such as Hancock were importing tea without paying taxes (import tax). The British government passed the Tea Act, which allowed the East India Company to sell tea to the colonies directly, thereby allowing them to sell for lower prices than those offered by the colonial merchants and smugglers.
On Thursday, December 16, 1773, the evening before the tea was supposed to be landed, the Sons of Liberty, three groups of 50 Boston residents each organized by Samuel Adams, burst from the Old South Meeting House and headed toward Griffin's Wharf, dressed as Mohawks. Three ships — the Dartmouth, the Eleanor and the Beaver — were loaded with hundreds of crates of tea. The men boarded the ships and began destroying the cargo. By 9pm they had opened 342 crates of tea in all three ships and had thrown them into Boston Harbor. They took off their shoes, swept the decks, and made each ship's first mate agree to say that the Sons of Liberty had destroyed only the tea. The whole event was remarkably quiet and peaceful. The next day, they sent someone around to fix the one padlock they had broken.
The Boston Massacre is the name commonly given to the killing of five civilians by British troops on March 5, 1770, which became a cause celebre among pro-independence groups and helped eventually to spark the American Revolutionary War. Colonists were already resentful of the Townshend Acts. Tensions caused by the heavy military presence in Boston led to brawls between soldiers and civilians, and eventually to troops shooting their muskets into a riotous crowd.
The incident began on King Street when a young wigmaker's apprentice named Edward Garrick called out to a British officer, Captain John Goldfinch, that he was late paying his barber's bill. Goldfinch had in fact settled his account that day, but did not reply to the boy. When Garrick remained quite vocal in his complaints an hour later, the British sentry outside the customs house, Private Hugh White, called the boy over and clubbed him on the head. Garrick's companions yelled at the sentry, and a British sergeant chased them away. The apprentices returned with more locals, shouting insults at the sentry and throwing snowballs and litter.
White sent a messenger to the Main Guard for reinforcements. The Officer of the Day, Captain Thomas Preston, dispatched a corporal and six privates, all grenadiers of the 29th Regiment of Foot, and followed soon after. The mob grew in size and continued throwing stones, sticks, and chunks of ice. A group of sailors and dockworkers came carrying large sticks of firewood and pushed to the front of the crowd, directly confronting the soldiers.
In the midst of the commotion, Private Hugh Montgomery was struck down onto the ground by a thrown club. He fired his musket into the air and -- as he later admitted to one of his defense attorneys -- yelled "Fire!" All but one of the other soldiers shot their weapons into the crowd. Three Americans -- ropemaker Samuel Gray, mariner James Caldwell, and a mulatto sailor, Crispus Attucks -- died instantly. Seventeen-year-old Samuel Maverick, struck by a ricocheting musket ball at the back of the crowd, died the next day. Thirty-year-old Irish immigrant Patrick Carr died two weeks later. Six more men were injured. To keep the peace, the next day royal authorities agreed to remove all troops from the center of town to a fort on a harbor island.
Enjoy you Independence, and always remember why we celebrate it.


Blogger Mark said...

The kind of tax imposed by George III, that pissed-off the colonies, amounted to a few pennies on the dollar. Now we have taxes that total up to about 50% of our income. And that's with representation.

The colonials had it wrong. It is taxation itself that is the evil, not taxation without representation. The view, that taxation with representation is OK, is the re-distributionists' justification for tax-and-spend. Too bad they can cite the Declaration of Independence as supporting their view.

5:25 PM  
Blogger Timothy Birdnow said...

Great piece, Don!

A quick point on taxation without representation; only propertied gentlement could vote in merry old England, and the unlanded were considered represented anyway by their respective MP`s. Many Brits couldn`t understand the American claim that they weren`t represented in Parliament for this reason, and the demands for actual representation seemed unreasonable to many.

After the lack of cooperation the Colonies gave His Majesty`s government during the French and Indian War, I can`t really blame the Brits for wanting the Colonies to pay at least some token taxes to support the British garrisons defending the frontier. Of course, I can`t blame the Colonists for being angry at the haughty way these taxes were imposed.

3:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just shitted everywhere

5:12 PM  

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