On this day, 241 years ago, fifty-six delegates from thirteen of Britain’s North American colonies huddled in the sweltering heat of Pennsylvania’s State House in Philadelphia. Calling themselves the Second Continental Congress, they were, on that day, still a voluntary association of thirteen separate British colonies.
The day before, on July 2, the delegates had voted unanimously but provisionally to commit treason against their King and declare their colonies independent. As Ben Franklin quipped after the vote, “we must, indeed, all hang together, or, most assuredly, we will all hang separately.”
On 3 July, the delegates edited Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence. The next day, they would approve the edited version, officially declare the thirteen colonies independent of Britain, and then send the edited version of the Declaration of Independence to the print shop. Congress directed that two hundred copies be printed. which they sent out on horseback and by ship to the thirteen colonies, to the Continental Army, and to all of the capitals of Europe.
How did these men come to be together in Philadelphia on this July 3 of long ago? Rather than give a dry, academic explanation, let me instead give several chapters of a work of historical fiction that perhaps may explain it in more interesting fashion. The first two chapters occur in Charleston, SC in 1773. My understanding is that all of the people named in the work below are actual historical figures but for the York family and a British officer, Alfred Smith.
9 October 1773
Great Hall, Royal Exchange Building, Charleston, S.C.
. . . [We being] connected with Great Britain by the strongest ties that can unite societies, and deploring every event that tends in any degree to weaken them, we solemnly assure your Majesty, that we . . . most ardently desire the former harmony between her and these colonies may be restored.
— Olive Branch Petition, from the Continental Congress to King George III, 1775
The Royal Governor of South Carolina, Lord Charles Montague, sat on a wide, high backed chair at the front of the conference table in the Great Hall. A thin, handsome man in his mid thirties, he was dressed in all the finery befitting his office. He took a moment to look around the room before speaking.
“Gentleman, thank you for coming today. I am sure that you know why I’ve asked you here. The colony seems again to be approaching the same level of discontent and civil unrest that we’ve not seen here for near a decade. As I know you are all aware, Parliament has drastically reduced the taxes on East India tea and ordered that it be shipped to the colonies on consignment. The end result is that the price of the tea is now so low that you’ll not be able to buy any cheaper” he said, throwing a glance at Dr. York, the colony’s major purveyor of smuggled Dutch tea.
“True,” the governor continued, “this low price includes a very small tax, but need I remind you that the people across these British colonies are bearing only a tiny fraction of the amount of taxes to which the people in Britain are subject.”
Henry Middleton, a wealthy, aristocratic looking man of fifty years, stood up slowly, “- I am sorry, but I must interrupt, Lord Governor. I have heard that same claim bandied about, and when you consider everything in context, it’s just patently false. We pay far more than a fraction. We may well be paying more in toto.”
The Governor looked at Middleton quizzically, and Middleton continued. “Under the trade laws, many of the items we import have to come from Britain. So when I pay for, say, a new pair of boots crafted in Britain, I am paying Britain’s leather tax – its built into the price. And when I purchase a book printed in Britain, I am paying the British stamp tax. When you consider that Britain keeps our manufacturing in check, thus making us dependent on Britain for many finished goods, and when you consider that Britain keeps the balance of trade grossly in its favor – I think the number I saw for 1770 alone was a trade imbalance of near a million pounds. . . . if someone were to sit down and run the math, I am sure that they would find that our burden is, at a minimum, comparable to that imposed on the British people in the motherland BY” Middleton emphasized, “their duly elected Parliament – and that, Lord Governor, is before Parliament imposes any tax directly on the colonists’ internal commerce, such as what they are trying to do now with tea.”
“That is the first time I have heard that argument, Mr. Middleton. I will consider it. Are you done?” the Governor asked politely. Most of the people at the meeting liked this Governor, as they liked their long serving Lieutenant Governor, John Bull, a native of South Carolina not present at today’s meeting. And while the Governor liked most of them in return, there was no pretending at the fact that they stood on polar opposite sides of what was becoming a dangerously acrimonious issue. Their relations were becoming ever more strained by the day.
Middleton nodded his head and resumed his seat. The Governor continued.
“Understand, this nominal tax on tea is not a punishment upon the colonists,” said the Governor. “Cheap tea for you with some small revenue going to the Crown is a good for both the colonists and Britain. Need I remind you that Britain bore great expense to defend these colonies during the French and Indian War just a few short years ago.”
“And yet, . . . and yet, I met a few days ago with Mr. Ronald Daniel, the consignee of the shipment of Tea from the East India Company that just recently left London headed for this port. He tells me he had a riotous crowd that identified itself as the Sons Of Liberty” he said, glaring at Charles Gadsden, “in front of his house, threatening him with violence if he accepts the shipment of tea. They burned him in effigy on his own lawn. His poor wife is in tears from fear. This is –
“Your Lordship – ” began Charles Pinckney from a seat near the rear of the table.
“Please do not interrupt me right now, Mr. Pinckney. I promise, you shall have your chance to speak. As I was about to say, this – is – intolerable. And it is far from the only act threatening good men and women of this colony who dare to speak out in support of the King.”
Lord Montagu paused for a moment. Mr. Rutledge chimed in, “Yes,” he said , “violence is deplorable. But Governor, you know we are all still completely loyal to the King. Each of us, even those of us born on these shores, still has our ties to Britain. But the King must see reason –“
“See reason?” interrupted the Lord Governor, incredulously. “See reason when there is a flouting of his authority. See reason when you circumvent his taxes with smuggling. See reason when, after great expense to defend the colonies against the French and Indians, the colonies refuse to help bear the expenses?”
John Rutledge now spoke. “I realize that your Lordship did not arrive here until after the conclusion of the French-Indian War. But your Lordship must know that we bore much of our own expense in that war.” Looking around the room, he said “And, true, we did have a regiment of the British Army take part in our war here in Carolina with the Cherokee, but most of the people in this room and more of the locals than the British Army fought that war. We bore that burden. And as the volume of trade with the colonies, the trade policies being what they are, is of great economic benefit of Britain. . . . What I am trying to say is you simply can’t have both the mercantile trade policies and,” he said with emphasis, “British taxation of the colonies. It has to be one or the other, or it would cripple our economy, and with it, Britain’s.”
“Regardless” said the Governor, “we all have a responsibility to support the Crown, and that includes paying for the benefits this colony has received.”
“Let us stop the charade” said Charles Gadsden angrily. “Spare us this fairy tale. Nothing gives Parliament the right to lay taxes on us. Moreover, the Seven Years War was Britain’s War for its colonies across the globe, not just those in America. Yet it seems to me that America alone is being asked to bear the burden. And the taxes the Crown would levy on us now are to pay for a standing army, an occupation force in our colonies not to defend us, but to subjugate us, And the rest of the taxes are being used to buy the loyalty of our civil servants so that they are no longer responsible to the colonies. Oh, and lest I forget, . . . home rule here is nothing but a facade. We were promised it, but every law that we pass has to be sent to the Board of Trade in Britain for approval or veto – and they care not a wit for this colony beyond the gold they can squeeze from us. All of that, Lord Governor,” said Gadsden, his voice dripping with indignation, “is the real outrage.”
“Thank you, Mr. Gadsden, for your opinions” said the Governor, the sarcasm clearly audible. The Royal Governor had a visceral dislike for Charles Gadsden, whom he saw as the chief malcontent in the colony. It wasn’t, the Governor thought, that Gadsden’s views weren’t shared by the other colonists, but rather that Gadsden always expressed them so stridently.
“Governor, let’s take all that you say as true,” said Henry Laurens. “The King is not asking us to help bear a burden. He is imposing it – ”
The Governor interrupted him. “And it is his right to do so. May I remind you that it is only through the benign acts of the King that these colonies exist and prosper. It was the Crown that planted the colonies, it was the Crown that nourished these colonies, and it is the Crown that has protected them.”
Anne was unable to help herself. She looked at her father, shaking her head. Dr. York could tell she wanted to speak. ‘Gwen and I have raised a formidable daughter,’ he thought to himself, as he looked at Anne with pride. With a bare hint of a smile, he nodded to her his assent.
9 October 1773
Great Hall of the Royal Exchange Building, Charleston, S.C.
Caesar had his Brutus; Charles the First, his Cromwell; and George the Third –“
[“Treason!” cried the Speaker]—
“– may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it.”
— Patrick Henry, Speech at the Virginia Convention, 1765
“This is too much sir,” said Anne, standing now and speaking loudly enough for her voice to fill the room.
The Governor took notice of her for the first time. “Miss York, a pleasure to see you as always, but why are you here at this meeting?”
“I am here at my father’s invitation, Sir, and I would be heard –”
“You should not be here, young Miss” said the Governor, not unkindly. He leaned forward in his chair and looked to Dr. York with a quizzical expression.
“Anne speaks for me, Lord Governor” came the doctor’s terse response.
Lord Montagu shook his head. Addressing Dr. York, he said firmly “I will not have – “
He was interrupted by several men at the table murmuring “Let her speak.” Some, such as Charles Gadsden and Francis Marion, did so because they knew Anne and knew what to expect. Others, such as Henry Laurens, did so out of their abiding respect for Dr. York. As to the others at the table who would otherwise have agreed with the Lord Governor about the outrageousness of having a woman address their gathering, they now kept silent, waiting to hear Anne out of sheer curiosity.
The Governor, seeing he had no support, sat back in his chair. Crossing his arms, he turned his attention back to Anne, his scowl bidding her to have her say.
And she did.
“You say we were planted by the King. Your history is wrong, sir. Most of us came on the voyage to this land to escape the religious tyranny of the Stuart Kings, whether it be the Congregationalists on my father’s side, the Quakers in Pennsylvania, the Papists in Maryland, or on my mothers side, the Scots-Irish Protestant Dissenters, many of whom are in the Carolinas. We know what happens when the King strips our British rights from us.”
“You say we were nourished by the King. The truth is that we have cut and clawed to make our own way in this land with no help asked or given. The reality is that the majority who have come to this land have arrived here penniless or with modest means at best, seeking only a chance to build a life through their own hard work and the grace of God.”
“And indeed, you turn reality on its head sir. These colonies have flourished not through the nourishment of the Crown, but through a century and a half of neglect by the Crown. Now the King would enforce all of the mercantile laws to restrict our trade to his benefit, he would stifle our manufacturing to keep us wholly dependent on Britain, and he would use the fruit of our labor to enrich his cronies in London and Barbados. He -”
“Your father, young Miss, seems to have found a way around many of the trade restrictions to which you refer” interrupted the Governor dryly.
Anne said “I and my brother are running our shipping business now, sir, and if you are suggesting that we are smugglers -” she paused and took a deep breath. She had been about to say that he should bring that up in court, but her good sense immediately told her not to issue so brash a challenge to a man who was well disposed to her family and, more importantly, who actually could make smuggling much harder.
“ – I would only say that the King has made of the American colonies, and indeed, Britain itself, nations of smugglers with his ridiculously high taxation and unfair restrictions on trade. Do I need point out that smuggling is the reigning form of commerce along the British coast all the way from the mouth of the Thames to Land’s End in Cornwall. Were all the trade laws and duties now in law ever to be successfully enforced on either side of the great pond, it would make paupers of us all, the King included. The King will be far the richer if he ever figures out that trade with reasonable duties and few restrictions, if any, are what will create wealth. And it’s only growing private wealth that will, in any sort of sustained way, grow the public purse.”
“Just to remind you of the figures, Lord Governor, at the turn of the century, Britain’s trade with the entire world was valued at five million pounds, less than five hundred thousand of which was with the American colonies. Last year, Britain did trade valued at five million pounds with the American colonies alone, that being over a third of Britain’s trade with the entire world. And Britain is many times the richer because of it”
The governor seemed ready to speak, but she cut him off, saying “But all of that is secondary, Sir, to this one simple truth.” Her voice rising, she exclaimed, “We colonists did NOT give up our rights as British citizens when we crossed the ocean to this land.”
“There is not a one among us, sir, that is not fiercely proud of our British heritage, nor for our part, still fully loyal to Crown and country. But I suggest to you that our Hanoverian King, George III, does not know the history of the land over which he rules, for he is certainly not showing the reciprocal loyalty necessary for a King of Britain. He is not respecting our rights as British citizens – and those rights, sir, are written in the blood of our ancestors. Those rights were earned through our refusal since time immemorial to accept tyranny. It is, sir, our British liberty that sets us apart from the beasts of this world – the papists and the French.”
Alfred barely stifled a laugh; others in the conference room made no effort to stifle theirs. Being British, hatred for both the French and the Catholics had been fed into Smith with his mother’s milk. France and Britain had been at war with constant regularity since the Norman conquest of Britain in 1066 over seven centuries ago. Just over the past seventy-five years, Britain had fought in three wars against the French. Their most recent, The Seven Years War, or as it was called in America, the French and Indian War, had ended only a decade ago. And the antipathy the British felt for the French was very much reciprocated.
As to the Catholics, the Reformation in Britain, spurred on by Henry VIII’s libido, had left British Protestants with a visceral hatred of Catholicism that went well into the irrational. It was a hatred founded upon differences in religious dogma, the brutal religious wars of 16th and 17th century Europe, and the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, an attempt by Guy Fawkes and a small group of fellow Catholics to blow up the British Parliament. The English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution, both of the 17th century, where caused in part by the Stuart Kings’ Catholic relations and even a mere suspicion that they would lead a Catholic restoration in Britain.
That distrust of Catholicism had traveled with the British to the New World. Even in cosmopolitan Charleston of 1773, where religious freedom flourished, where many different Protestant sects as well as the largest number of Jews in the colonies made their home, Catholics alone were banned.
Anne, the ghost of a smile on her face, glanced across the table to Francis Marion, a family friend in his mid-40’s who now wore a look of mock reproach. Marion was a French Huguenot – a Calvinist sect brutally persecuted by the Catholic kings of 17th century France. The Huguenots were given sanctuary in Britain, and some eventually came to the colonies, a number of whom arrived in South Carolina where they prospered north of Georgetown along the Santee River.
“No disrespect intended to our Huguenot kin,” said Anne, “who, as enemies of the King of France and adoptees of Britain are full heirs to British rights. And, of course, no disrespect meant to the glorious memory of Simon de Montfort” she said, referencing the transplanted Frenchman who, in 13th century England, led a bloody revolt that first introduced the idea of extending democracy to ordinary citizens.
With a bow of his head, Marion indicated his acceptance of Anne’s clarification.
“Does our King,” Anne asked, “not know of the Magna Carta? Has he not heard of the Petition of Right? Does he not understand why we cut off the head of his predecessor, Charles I? And what of the Glorious Revolution and the English Bill of Rights of 1689? Every single thing I’ve mentioned, and in total, define our rights as British citizens -”
At this, the Governor sighed and crossed his arms. “Miss York, I really don’t need a history lesson –“
“ – Sir, I am not finished.”
The governor went momentarily slack jawed, shocked into silence at this woman’s impertinence. His initial thought was to order her forcibly removed from the meeting, but he quickly reconsidered. The meeting would become a riot. Better just to let her have her say and be done with it.
In his corner, Alfred, despite his dispassionate expression, was thoroughly enjoying himself.
“This is not a history lesson. This is not some academic argument about a point of history, Sir. The power to tax is the power to destroy. It is so important that one hundred and thirty years ago, our ancestors fought in a civil war largely over this issue. It cost the lives of a quarter million people and a King before it ended.”
“It took our ancestors ten years of bloody sacrifice in that war to win the rights that they bequeathed to us, the first of which was that no tax would be laid without the approval of our elected representatives. Better that my blood and the blood of everyone else here today be shed on this land so that we may still pass on those rights to our children. Better that than to squander our children’s most precious inheritance and doom them to life under a tyranny, all for a cheap cup of tea.”
“And that is what is at stake. This tax, nominal though it may be on the tea destined now for this shore, is a predatory lion posing as an innocent lamb. If we accept this tea, we give up on our British rights. It would create a precedent that would allow not merely unrestricted taxation on any and all of our property without our vote, but it would allow the Parliament to strip us of each and every one of our rights as British citizens at its whim.”
“We’ve already seen Parliament try to strip us of our rights to be free of search without suspicion with the Writs of Assistance. We’ve already seen Parliament toss out our right to a jury trial and a presumption of innocence with the Admiralty courts. We’ve already seen Parliament try to negate our control over our own government by taking away our control of salaries for the King’s appointees. We’ve already seen Parliament impose a standing army on our lands and force us to house and feed them without our approval. And now we see Parliament trying yet again to make us bow down like sheep and accept being taxed from thousands of miles away by a body in which we have no representation.
“No Lord Governor, we will not have it. We are British citizens and proud of it. Upon our lives, we will not yield the barest morsel of the rights our ancestors have given us.”
With that, to a smattering of claps and nods of approval from the assembled colonists, Anne York resumed her seat. Charles Gadsden, nodded and exclaimed “Well said, Anne, well said” while Dr. York gave his daughter an approving, tight-lipped smile and patted her knee.
Alfred smiled and joined with a small clap of his own. The Lord Governor glared at him before audibly exhaling. Turning his attention to Reverend Tennent, the Governor said “I would be curious to hear your position on all of this, Reverend.”
Rev. William Tennent, a tall, thin middle aged native of New England and a graduate of both Princeton and Harvard, had come to South Carolina early in 1771 to take over the Congregationalist Meeting House in Charleston. He had quickly established himself as the leading clergyman in the city. A vibrant speaker and a deeply pious, thoughtful man, he was completely dedicated to the Patriot cause. He now stood to address the Governor.
“I thank you for your invitation to attend this meeting, Lord Montagu, though I must confess, I’m not sure why I’m here. I am not a political leader in this colony.”
The Governor nodded and said, “Yes, I know that, but you are the leading Congregationalist minister in Charleston, and I understand you have expressed opinions on this subject.”
Reverend Tennent allowed himself a rare smile. “I thank you for the compliment, Sir, though I think it debatable. And yes, Lord Montagu, I have expressed opinions on this subject, privately, publicly and from the pulpit. That is certainly no secret. I will be happy to repeat them now before you if that is your wish.”
The Reverend inhaled deeply and closed his eyes for a moment, gathering his thoughts. He exhaled audibly, then said “The people of my faith and our brothers, the Scots-Irish Presbyterians, have all experienced the heavy, oft times deadly hand of persecution by the King and Parliament in the past. As Miss York so ably pointed out, we understand all too well what is at stake here. I see the cause of vindicating our rights today the same as the cause of the reformation against popery. It is the cause of liberty against arbitrary power, of benevolence against barbarity, and of virtue against vice. I see it, sir, as the cause of justice and integrity against venality and corruption. In sum, Lord Governor, I see the opposition to accepting this tax on tea as nothing less than the cause of heaven against hell.”
The depth of the feelings espoused by Anne and now the Reverend shocked Alfred to his core. Whether they were right or wrong in their beliefs, there was no doubting their sincerity or passion. It stunned Alfred to recognize that these were not mere strident complaints among family members. These were the fang bared growls of a wolf, warning that sudden, bloody violence was imminent if the transgressor didn’t stand down. And, Alfred thought, if these feelings are common throughout the colonies, then he had arrived here in the midst of a dangerous tempest indeed.
Those two chapters give the sum of the colonists’ complaints against Britain on the eve of the decision by Lord North to send discounted tea to America with a nominal tax on it. The tea was turned back in Charleston, Philadelphia and New York. Only in Boston did the Royal Governor, Thomas Hutchinson, he and his sons having a financial interest in the tea, refuse to turn back the shipment of tea. There, the Sons of Liberty famously boarded the British ships and dumped the entire shipment of tea overboard in what later became known as the Boston Tea Party.
Britain’s response galvanized and unified the thirteen colonies and made the Revolution all but inevitable. Britain passed a series of laws known as the Coercive Acts, though in the colonies, they were popularly known as the Intolerable Acts. The following chapter from the same piece of historical fiction deals with both the Intolerable Acts and the situation with France as it stood in the summer of 1774, less than a year before the first shots of the Revolution were fired. The two men, Robert and Henry York, are fictional:
8 July, 1774
The Carolinian Print Shop, Cumberland Street, Charleston, S.C.
The Americans have tarred and feathered your subjects, plundered your merchants, burnt your ships, denied all obedience to your laws and authority; yet so clement and so long forbearing has our conduct been that it is incumbent on us now to take a different course. Whatever may be the consequences, we must risk something; if we do not, all is over.
– Prime Minister Lord North, Speech to Britain’s Parliament urging passage of the Intolerable Acts, 1774
Robert was working his printing press when he heard the door to his shop open. His back turned towards the door, Robert said over his shoulder, “Be with you in a moment.”
“Take your time, brother printer” said Henry York.
Henry York, twenty-five years old, brown haired and gray eyed like his father, was a muscular man of nearly six foot tall. He was less than an hour off a York ship that brought him back from Britain, where for six years he had been attending college, first at Oxford, and then, for law, at Middle Temple.
Robert stopped and turned, a huge smile on his face. “Oh my word, he lives!“ exclaimed Robert, pulling off his ink stained leather apron and moving quickly towards his brother. They embraced.
“Henry,” he said, taking a step back from his brother and looking him up and down. “It’s lucky I remember the sound of your voice, for I wouldn’t have recognized you otherwise. You’ve filled out brother. Apparently Britain is still a boon for some colonists.”
“I’m just off the boat and, yes, about forty pounds heavier. Lots of competitive rowing. Got so good at it that, if the Captain had given me some oars on the trip home, I could have gotten us here in half the time.” said Henry. Breathing deeply, he added, “I kissed the sand when I got here. It is so good to be home, Robert. I haven’t even been to the house yet.”
“Well, Mother and Father have been waiting your arrival. You have a King’s welcome to look forward to.”
“Hah. Then what am I doing wasting time here with the likes of you,” Henry said with a smile. “I stopped in the warehouse as soon as I got off the boat. Old Billy was there, but I didn’t see Anne.”
“Oh, she might well be off running around with her love. Didn’t Mother write you about this? Anne’s been like peas in a pod with, believe it or not, the commander of the Royal Guard here for the better part of a year.”
“What?” said Henry, shocked. “I knew Anne was being courted, but no one told me it was by a British officer. Our Anne?”
“It’s true and more. I must admit, as much as I want to dislike this fellow, I can’t. You’ll like him too, I’ll wager. Even Father does.”
“So is Anne now become a Loyalist?”
“No, no, no . . . Good God, no. She’s as sharp tongued a patriot as ever.
“That does not bode well” said Henry. Robert merely shrugged his shoulders, then handed Henry a copy of his latest edition of the Carolinian just off the press.
“Here. You can read Anne’s letter signed ‘Cicero’ on the front page. She writes better than I can. Whenever I want a good bit of work to help keep the patriot fires burning, I just call upon her. Read while I clean up. When my apprentice finally gets back from his meal, we’ll stop by and get Abby, then go to the house.”
Robert walked over to a water basin and began to clean off what ink he could from his hands. After years of working in the print shop, his hands were permanently stained. Talking over his shoulder, Robert said, “You’ve come back at an interesting time, Henry.”
Henry half leaned, half sat on the window ledge and gave an ironic laugh. “That’s ominous,” he said. “The worst of all curses is ‘may you live in interesting times.’” Henry began to read.
The Intolerable Acts Laid By A Tyrant’s Hand
All deceits have been laid bare and the true nature of our government exposed as Lord North now seeks, with a tyrant’s hand, to force all colonists to meekly relinquish our rights as British citizens. Through a series of legislation, now known collectively as The Intolerable Acts, Lord North seeks to punish the colonists of Boston and Massachusetts for standing up for their rights as British citizens, and by way of that example, to intimidate the rest of us in this land into ceding our own rights.
The Intolerable Acts are in response to the actions of those hundred or so colonists in Boston, a city of over fifteen thousand, who took part in destroying East India tea sent to the colony from Britain. Lord North sent that tea with a nominal tax on it to establish the precedent that Parliament could lay taxes on us without our consent. On that basis, the people of Boston refused to accept the tea – as did the people in Philadelphia, New York and here, in Charleston. The people of Boston peacefully asked that the tea be returned to Britain. But when Massachusetts’s Royal Governor Hutchinson pushed the people of Boston to the last extremity, they stood firm and unyielding on their ancient right not to be taxed without representation. They threw the tea into Boston’s harbor rather than see it sold in the town and our rights as British citizens extinguished. We should all thank God for their bravery and steadfastness.
And now comes the hand of the tyrant. The first of the The Intolerable Acts is the Boston Port Act. It is an act of war, using the British Navy to blockade the Port of Boston until, ostensibly, the East India Company has been paid for the destroyed tea and the Government paid its tax OR the King is satisfied that “order has been restored” to Boston. Lest anyone think that reasonable, you must focus on the “or.”
Let there be no mistake, more than one private merchant has already tried to defuse this conflict by offering to reimburse the East India Company and the British government in full for the tea destroyed as well as the taxes on the tea, but Lord North has refused to accept. Lord North and Parliament will not be satisfied with mere payment in specie. They want their pound of colonial flesh and, with it, complete surrender of our rights. Blockading and closing the port is meant to starve and impoverish every single one of the over fifteen thousand colonists who live in Boston.
Can anyone imagine anything more violative of our rights than this mass punishment. We, each of us, as set forth in the Bill of Rights of 1689, has a right to a fair trial by a jury of our peers. Only one hundred men destroyed the tea in Boston harbor on 16 December last. Yet Lord North is brutally punishing with imminent poverty and starvation every single one of the fifteen thousand colonists in Boston, almost all innocent, without a chance for any one of them to be heard at trial. This is not the act of a government whose power comes from the people. It is the act of a vindictive tyrant unrestrained by law or conscience.
Equally troubling for all of us should be the second of the Intolerable Acts, the Massachusetts Governing Act. With a stroke of his quill, Lord North has laid waste to self government throughout the entire colony of Massachusetts. Now all positions in their colony’s government are to be filled by appointees of the Crown. Town Meetings, the foundational institution of democratic self-government, are banned throughout the colony unless expressly approved by the Crown’s appointed Governor. The ancient right of the people in the colony to freely elect their representatives and to govern themselves has been crushed. And does anyone think for a moment that if the Crown can do this to Massachusetts, that it couldn’t or wouldn’t do the same to any other colony?
The third of the Intolerable Acts is the Administration of Justice Act. If anyone employed by the king commits a crime in the colony of Massachusetts, no longer will they have to face justice there. The Royal Governor can direct that any trial of a servant of the crown be held in Britain. The only recompense to be paid any witness is travel expenses. No person but the richest of us could possibly afford the months that it would take to travel to Britain, wait for a trial, testify as a witness to a crime, then return. This act is virtually a license to murder, rape and plunder for every British official in Massachusetts.
The fourth of the Intolerable Acts is The Quartering Act. Each colony must now be prepared to house soldiers of the King’s Army, whether we consent to their presence or not, and at our expense, on public lands, in commercial buildings, and now, even on private property. History has shown that there is little more destructive than to be occupied by a standing army, and that evil multiplies greatly when the people are forced to allow soldiers to be housed on their private property. Freedom from occupation by a standing army without our consent, just like freedom from taxation without our consent, is a right guaranteed us in the Bill of Rights of 1689. The forced billeting of soldiers on private property is an evil of such magnitude that it appears in the Petition of Right and was one of the causes that led to our English Civil War.
And although not a part of the Intolerable Acts, it is of note that the equally odious Quebec Act is nearing passage as we speak. By that Act, our British government is favoring the French Catholics in the province of Quebec to the injury of her British colonists. Most outrageously, Lord North has granted Quebec control over vast territories to its south, lands that stand to the West of our colonies and all of which we conquered during French-Indian War. Our people have already begun to colonize those lands. Good British citizens are building new communities there. Yet now they are to be evicted in favor of the Catholic French, the enemy we defeated?
These are ominous developments indeed. Britain, once our protector, is now our persecutor. Britain, once the source of our rights, is now the extinguisher of them. It’s as if Charles I had retaken the throne.
Lord North seems to believe that if he can but extinguish the flame of British liberty in Boston, that the flame will fade throughout our lands. He is sorely mistaken. That flame is burning brightly everywhere across our colonies, from Charleston to Williamsburg, from Baltimore to New York, from Boston to Savannah. Lord North’s draconian punishment of Boston and the colony of Massachusetts will only serve to add fuel to the fire, turning that flame of liberty into a conflagration and marching all of the colonies lockstep towards a conflict not a colonist wants, but from which not a patriot will shirk. Our loyalty to the King is beyond question, but greater still is our resolve to protect our ancient rights as British citizens.
“Marching towards conflict, eh? This reads like a call to war. Is it as bad as Anne writes, do you think?”
Robert gave a tight-lipped nod of his head. “That’s what it looks like from this side of the pond. What did it feel like to you in Britain?”
Henry said, “The dumping of the tea in Boston has our British cousins livid. Most of the editorials I saw were portraying the colonies as rebellious children in need of a good hard slap. I think . . . I think that at least half, if not a majority of Brits, are sympathetic to the colonies. The problem is with Parliament. It is dominated by a lot of arrogant lords who think we are a bunch of uneducated savages.”
“Anyway, I’ve been traveling for over two months. I missed the passage of several of these acts. These are, as you said brother, interesting times indeed. So much for starting my legal career. I think I need to dust off my rifle and start practicing my marksmanship.”
Henry had just put down the Carolinian when he spied an article that piqued his interest, France’s King Louis XV Dies After A Reign Of 64 Years. He picked the paper back up to scan the article.
“The French King died?”
“Yes,” said Robert absently, concentrating on washing what ink he could get off his hands. “Small pox took him two months ago.”
That ought to teach the French to variolate,” Henry said. “Did you write this article or is it a reprint?” Reprinting news articles was so ubiquitous in the colonial era press, particularly of articles coming out of Britain, that printers often would not bother to give attribution to the article’s source.
Robert said, “It’s out of a London paper that arrived on one of our ships last week.”
Henry nodded as he read. The author was critical of the deceased King, accusing him of wanton overspending of his country’s wealth, as well as leading France into two costly, failed wars, The War of Austrian Succession in the 1740’s, and then the disastrous Seven Years War a decade ago. The author dwelt on how thoroughly Britain had humbled France in the latter war, decimating the French Navy and forcing France to give up many of its colonies to Britain as the price of peace. The author noted that King Louis XV had placed importance on maintaining peaceful relations with Britain in the war’s aftermath, adding a wish that the new King will be so similarly disposed. The author identified the new King as Louis XV’s grandson, the nineteen year old Louis Auguste de France, who was now awaiting coronation as King Louis XVI.
“Bad news for King George, that,” Henry said.
“How so?” asked Robert.
Henry said, “The French don’t do “humbled” well. Louis XV may have learned his lesson about fighting Britain, but I’ll bet the new king comes to the throne itching for a chance to even the score. It’s the same game we and France have been playing for the last seven centuries.”
Robert thought about that for a moment, then nodded in silent agreement.
And that concludes the excerpts from the book.
The Intolerable Acts were a powder keg in search of a match. That match would come on April 19, 1775, when the British marched to Concord, Massachusetts in order to disarm the colonists. Along the way, British soldiers fired upon some local colonial militia at Lexington. The alarm bells sounded, and thousands of American militia mustered. The British found themselves marching through a gauntlet of fire on the twenty mile march back to Boston, and thereafter found themselves surrounded. Two months later, the British forces planned an offensive to break out of Boston, but the colonials learned of it and took the initiative. In the dead of night on 16 June, the colonials occupied and dug in on Breeds Hill, overlooking Boston. The British had no choice but to attack. In what would later be called, incorrectly, the Battle of Bunker Hill, the British won a Pyrrhic victory. They ultimately dislodged the Americans, but only after suffering horrendous casualties, leaving their forces in Boston too weak to attempt another breakout.
And yet, it was by no means clear, until July 2, 1776 that the colonists would declare themselves independent of Britain. When the Second Continental Congress convened in May, 1775, the colonists still saw themselves as loyal citizens of Britain and their individual colonies. They had no desire to permanently join together the thirteen colonies. The colonies united simply for defense. Their goal was not independence, but a return to the pre-1761 relationship that the individual colonies enjoyed with Britain.
That didn’t begin to change in any appreciable way until Thomas Paine made the ideological case for declaring independence in a pamphlet published in January, 1776, Common Sense. It was, relative to population, the greatest selling piece of literature but for the Bible in all of our nation’s history before or since. Incredibly influential in moving public opinion towards accepting the creation of a new and independent America, it timely set the stage for the Second Continental Congress to consider the issue in June, 1776.
When the Congress took up the issue, the strongest argument for declaring independence was purely pragmatic — the colonists needed allies and assistance if they were to win, or at least not be conquered, in a war with Britain. France, Britain’s greatest enemy, was the most likely candidate for an alliance, but France would never ally with the colonists if the colonists’ intended to return to the British fold. In June, 1776, the Virginia delegation submitted a resolution to the Second Continental Congress, stating that Britain had severed all ties with her colonies and declared war, and that the colonies should declare themselves independent. The resolution met with opposition from five colonies and the motion was tabled, though a committee of five, and ultimately Thomas Jefferson himself, was tasked with drawing up a Declaration of Independence for consideration. The purpose of the document was not merely to declare the colonies independent of Britain, but to justify and explain to the world why this declaration was necessary.
Deciding to approve this Declaration of Independence came with extreme personal risk for the members of the Second Continental Congress. They were among the richest and most successful men in the colonies. They were virtually assured of being executed if the revolution failed — and the odds of the revolution succeeding were not great. When they wrote, as the last line of the Declaration of Independence, that, “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor,” that was not fluff. And Britain’s punishment for treason at the time was not mere hanging, but the gruesome torture of being hung, drawn and quartered.
On July 1, 1776, the Continental Congress again voted on whether to declare independence. This time, only two colonies voted against it, South Carolina and Pennsylvania. After a day of debates, a vote was held again on 2 July, 1776, and the colonists agreed unanimously – but for New York whose delegates were still waiting on their orders – that independence should be declared.
On the third of July, the delegates were still busy making what would be, by the next day, over ninety edits to Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence. And all of that was the prologue to their acts of July 4, 1776.