Your RDA of Irony

Taking Liberties With the American Revolution: Part I

George III spoke English and was faithful to his wife: that drove America to revolution. The American colonists had been spoiled by the first two Georges. They were a father and son team of German princelings, who had inherited the throne of England after Queen Anne drank herself to death. Those two Georges were content to babble in German, occupy themselves with remarkably ugly mistresses, and let the empire alone. Unfortunately, even in the dimmest of royal families, after 46 years of ruling a country, someone was bound to learn the native language.

Worse still, the third George’s marital fidelity left him extra time to run the kingdom. He was the type of man who confused conscientiousness with actual ability. A more assertive Parliament might have diverted George’s energies to opening exhibits on the Industrial Revolution. The Whigs regarded the monarchy as a nuisance and, when in power, limited the king’s responsibilities to being a Protestant. At the time of George’s succession, however, the Tories dominated the House of Commons. These country squires liked the idea of a domineering, swaggering monarch because they could identify with it.

Assured of a servile Parliament, the king turned his attention to the empire to see what he could improve, and he discovered America. Of course, it was a pleasure having those colonies if only to spite France and Spain, but America simply was costing Britain too much money. The British government did not want to get rich off America — it had India for that — but the Crown believed the colonists should pay more taxes. Americans suddenly were confronted with new taxes, more officials to collect the taxes, and more British soldiers to protect the officials, which in turn required more taxes to pay for the soldiers.

Confusing bureaucracy with tyranny, the Americans protested against the usurpation of their rights as Englishmen. The king, however, did not consider a tax-free status one of those rights. Nor, in the Crown’s view, was the right to dress up like Indians and dump tea in a harbor specifically guaranteed by the Magna Carta. The tarring-and-feathering of tax collectors was another uniquely American argument for home rule and full representation in Parliament. Given these provocations, the royal response was remarkably tolerant. Boston, for its antics, endured a naval blockade and martial law; Dublin would have been leveled. America’s lenient treatment reflected the king’s and his ministers’ views on child rearing.

Britain took the role of mother country quite literally, and the colonies were going to be brought up in the best traditions of the Tory nursery. While conception and birth required the presence of at least one parent, a proper British child tried not to be a further inconvenience. The good little Tory would keep a respectful distance and follow either his parents’ example or their advice, whichever was the more reputable. The bad little Tory, however, was not punished; the parents never bothered, and the servants never dared. Any physical or psychological abuse could wait until the daughters married or the sons went to Eton. If this was the proper way to raise a family, it also seemed a proper way to run an empire. The mother country had no compunction about beating the servants (Scotland and Ireland), but those precocious colonies simply needed the guiding hand of more British and Hessian nannies.

A policy of brutal repression might have been more tactful. British condescension spared lives but not egos, and wounded egos were dangerous — especially in Boston. The slight was more than Sam Adams , John Hancock and John Adams could endure: No one patronized a Harvard man! This was war, a revolution to free America from the rule of Oxford and Cambridge graduates. It is unlikely that the farmers of Lexington and Concord preferred Harvard’s imperialism to Britain’s, but Massachusetts felt obliged to support the local team, the other colonies felt obliged to support Massachusetts, and the Continental Congress felt obliged to rationalize the whole thing.

The colonial leaders hoped to justify an armed rebellion before world opinion, history and, in all probability, a British court martial. At the risk of treason and semantics, they asserted their rights as Englishmen to revolt against England. Citing British law and the autopsy report on Charles I, the Americans pointed out that Parliament guaranteed their right to resist tyranny. The one flaw in that argument was that Parliament did not guarantee the right to resist Parliament. Fortunately, Thomas Jefferson came up with a plausible enough reason for American independence: The French said so.

Jefferson had read the works of Voltaire, Rousseau and the rest of 18th century France’s avant garde. The French, themselves, had absolutely no freedom whatsoever, but that never stopped them from being the foremost theoreticians on the subject. Out of envy as well as conviction, the philosophers contended freedom was not an English idiosyncrasy but the natural right of all mankind. To Jefferson, this meant that the Americans did not need an excuse for rebellion: They were free to be free. The Declaration of Independence was to take the liberty of plagiarizing French philosophy. Jefferson even expropriated Rousseau’s quote that “governments derive their consent from the governed.” Man’s inalienable rights apparently did not include copyrights.

  1. Bob Kincaid says:

    And today, of course, England locks down a little tighter every day, as do these United States. A million cameras watching all of the Sceptred Isle still couldn’t catch Mercedes-Benz sedans being loaded with propane tanks and gasoline. “Just a few Muslim docs headed for a pigroast,” thought MI-5.

    Meanwhile, in France, workers riot over the loss of tenured jobs and gladly tell the government to piss-off at the earliest opportunity.

    It’s the triumph of Theory!

    Happy Fourth, Eugene!

    Me, I’m going to go “downtown” and read the Declaration at the Veterans’ Memorial and see how long it takes me to get arrested once I burn it after I’ve read it.

  2. I am surprised that the chest-thumping heirs of the Tories are not proclaiming that the “Doc Plot” is an indictment of British healthcare. I concede that American trained-doctor/terrorists would have caused more expensive damage.

  3. Paul Spence says:

    my understanding is that the taxes were levied by parliament to pay for the expense incurred by our screaming to london to save us from the perilous french and indians. the crown and company did send a few boys over to defend us. even the neo-natal u.s. citizenry wanted the benefit of a robust defense without the headache of paying for it.

  4. Britain indeed raised those “notorious” taxes to pay for the incurred debts of the French and Indian War. However, you underestimate the demanding nature of the American colonists. They wanted more than just protection from the French and Indians; they also wanted the Ohio Valley and Canada. The Americans were eager for a war, and the Virginia militia’s incursions into French territory began the conflict in 1754. Paris and London were the last to know, and they did not officially began to fight until 1756.

    Not all the American colonies were equally aggressive. Virginia and the New England colonies were greedy to expand. New York wanted to be rid of the French across the border. However, Georgia and South Carolina were more concerned about the Spanish than the French. The Quakers of Pennsylvania had a skeptical view of the rationale for the war: “When the French and Indians say it is their land, has thou considered that they might be right?”

Leave a Reply