Independence Day!


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July 12, 2022 by Scott Crosby - Views: 47

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Independence Day!

They were British subjects, but they were living thousands of miles from Britain, in colonies carved out of the wilderness with their own hands, by their own efforts.

In Britain, the noblemen owned the land.  Farmer or merchant, commoners had to pay rent, their whole lives long.  But in America, colonists were landowners themselves, and not beholden to anyone.  

In Europe, the noblemen were always fighting for power among themselves, fielding armies to seize lands ruled by other noblemen.  That kind of conflict culminated in a world-wide war between Britain and France, with Spain, Germany, Prussia, and Austria joining sides as well.  Land and sea battles took place in Europe, North America, the Caribbean Sea, and India.  It was called the “Seven Years War”, but historians now consider it the world’s first World War.  Losing, the French forfeited Quebec and the rest of French North America to Britain.  

The Seven Years War ended in 1763.  Like any war, it was expensive; the British government was drowning in debt.  Britain desperately needed money, and saw the American colonies as subjects who ought to be taxed.  

S370-1.jpgThe British Stamp Act of 1765 required colonists to purchase a government-issued stamp for legal documents and other paper goods.  It met substantial American opposition.  The Stamp Act provoked Americans into organizing their first united front against Parliament, known as the Stamp Act Congress.  That Congress made the statement that Parliament had no right to impose internal taxation on the colonies.  For the first time, the colonists began to view themselves as “Americans” – as a people having more in common with each other than with Britain.

Colonists objected that the Acts were a violation of their rights as British subjects.  The colonists had no representation in Parliament; they had no voice to argue their case.  Each colony had its own legislature, elected by its own electorate, which governed its own affairs.  With no representation in Parliament, the colonists argued that each colony’s legislature was on par with the British Parliament.  In 1768 their protests were summed up by the popular rallying cry, “No taxation without representation!”

Rather than being invited to send members to Parliament, Parliament took the position that even though American colonists did not have representatives in Parliament, the colonies were represented by Parliament as a whole.  That attitude, of course, was rejected by the colonies.  The lack of recognition was taken as an insult and a dismissal of the American colonists.  Unresolved, the issue became a divisive wedge, distancing the American colonies from Britain; it would not be the last.  Britain and the colonies were drifting down divergent paths on separate sides of a widening gulf.  

Relations were strained further with the Townshend Acts of 1767.  The Acts established taxes on glass, lead, paints, paper, and tea, which were imported from Britain.  While most of the taxes were ultimately repealed, the tax on tea was retained, as an explicit demonstration that Parliament held the sovereign authority to tax its colonies.  

The insult did not stop there.  In 1768, four regiments of British troops were stationed in Massachusetts, to support crown-appointed officials and enforce Parliament’s taxation.  Throughout the next two years, increasingly grave incidents occurred between the soldiers and their families, and the colonists.

Matters came to a head on March 5th, 1770, with the Boston Massacre.  British soldiers fired into a mob of three or four hundred, killing five and wounding six.  Reports quickly spread throughout the colonies.  Newspapers included depictions by Paul Revere and others, increasing tensions.

The Massachusetts government was determined to give the soldiers a fair trial.  Their intent was to prevent reprisals by the British, and also to prevent moderates from turning away from the Patriot cause.

Boston attorney John Adams, who would one day be America’s second President, defended the soldiers in court.  One comment by Adams stands out:  the incident demonstrated “the strongest Proofs of the Danger of Standing Armies.”  Adams later wrote, “foundation of American independence was laid" on March 5, 1770.

The British continued to present an unyielding attitude to their brethren in the colonies, denying them the consideration that was the norm for subjects in Britain itself.  Appeals by the American colonists were ignored or expressly rejected.  

The Tea Act of 1773 aggravated relations further.  At that time, more than three quarters of all tea imported into the colonies was Dutch tea, brought in by smugglers.  The British East India company, which shipped British tea to the colonies, was on the verge of bankruptcy; the taxation normally imposed on it was removed, to allow the tea to be less expensive than the smuggled tea.  It was hoped that Americans would buy the cheaper British tea, implicitly accepting the Townshend duties.  

Americans realized that implication, and united in opposition to the British tea.  Their efforts were successful, and prevented the tea from being unloaded from British ships in any of the colonies.  Yet the ships and their cargo still sat in Boston Harbor.  On December 16, 1773, a group climbed aboard the ships, and dumped the tea overboard:  the Boston Tea Party.   

Parliament responded by passing the punitive “Coercive Acts”, also called the “Intolerable Acts”.  The acts took away self-governance and the rights that Massachusetts colonists had enjoyed since its founding in 1624; worse, it triggered outrage throughout the colonies.  The Acts also included shutting down all shipping in Boston Harbor beginning in June of 1774.  Instead of resolving the issues, Parliament had chosen to be harsh disciplinarians.  

In September of 1774, the First Continental Congress was called, staying in session through October.  The colonies’ delegates worked to coordinate their responses and protests against the Coercive Acts and their treatment by the British generally.  They looked for ways to end Parliamentary abuses, and reconcile the colonies and Britain.  That included drawing up a Petition to the King pleading for redress of their grievances and repeal of the Intolerable Acts. The appeal to the King had no effect.  The Congress also called for halting imports and exports with Britain.  As a result, imports from Britain dropped by 97 percent in 1775.

Britain then brought matters to their final conclusion.  On April 19th of 1775, British troops marched from Boston to Concord, to confiscate arms stockpiled there by the colonies.  They met resistance from 400 men of the local militias along the way, in Lexington, and the first shots of the American Revolution were fired.  

America was in a war for its life, against the world’s greatest empire.  The battle in Lexington became “the shot heard ‘round the world.”

The night before, Paul Revere and other riders had brought the alarm that the Redcoats were approaching.  After Lexington, the British continued their march to Concord.  At a bridge on the edge of town, gunfire was again exchanged.  Taking the bridge, Concord was searched, but no arms were found, and the Americans counter-attacked, driving the British soldiers out.  On the retreat back to Boston, the troops suffered constant rifle fire by individuals hidden in the surrounding forest.  The day’s events were unquestionably an American victory.  

On May 10th of 1775, the Second Continental Congress convened.  It served thereafter as the national government.   The Congress adopted the Lee Resolution, which declared independence from Britain, on July 2, 1776, and agreed to the wording of the Declaration of Independence two days later, on the 4th of July, 1776 – Independence Day:  

 

“In Congress, July 4, 1776

“The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness.

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Although there would be many lost battles, victory was ultimately achieved, with American independence won and formally acknowledged by Britain on September 3rd, 1783.

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