If you were a member of the British Parliament tasked to write a response to the Declaration of Independence at the time it was written, what counterpoints would you write in reply?

If I were a member of the British Parliament tasked to respond to the Declaration of Independence at the time it was written, I would note it was an exaggerated propaganda piece. I would argue that the British are not exercising "absolute Tyranny." I would focus on the grievance about taxes and point out that the colonists are very wealthy by world standards and that it is only fair they help pay for the French and Indian War.

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Historical accuracy and diplomacy both militate against fiery rhetoric in this assignment. The famous reference to liberty in the second paragraph, and to freedom throughout the Declaration, could easily be countered by the argument that people in England, regardless of race, had more freedom than those in the colonies. Slavery,...

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Historical accuracy and diplomacy both militate against fiery rhetoric in this assignment. The famous reference to liberty in the second paragraph, and to freedom throughout the Declaration, could easily be countered by the argument that people in England, regardless of race, had more freedom than those in the colonies. Slavery, in particular, had never been authorized by statute within England, and was explicitly declared illegal in 1772. However, a British member of parliament would not have been likely to make such an argument. In 1770, the prime minister, Lord North, moved from the Whig Party to the Tories. This faction was the more conservative party in the British Parliament, and the member selected would certainly have been part of it. He might well have been supportive of slavery and the slave trade.

The first question to answer is the purpose of your response. Are you merely rebutting the arguments as a matter of form, or are you really trying to change the minds of the colonists? This will make all the difference to the tone of your reply. In either case, you should begin by appealing to their patriotism. Since the Declaration signals the birth of the republic, most colonists would always have been used to thinking of themselves as Englishmen, who had civilized a barbarous land in the name of the British crown. The Declaration refers repeatedly to British institutions, particularly in the areas of legislation and the administration of justice. The member of parliament would point out that these institutions are unique in the world, far more liberal than those in most mainland European countries. When the colonists complain, for instance, of being deprived of the benefits of trial by jury, from where did they derive those benefits in the first place?

Whether or not the responder admits the justice of some of the colonists' claims, he will characterize the Declaration of Independence as a tremendous overreaction. To do this, it is best to select a few representative complaints. To attempt to deal with too many would be a rhetorical and strategic mistake, as well as being massively time-consuming. It would be best to take some points from each end of the scale, the most trivial and the most serious. In the former case, for instance, one might respond to the accusation:

He has called together Legislative Bodies at Places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the Depository of their public Records, for the sole Purpose of fatiguing them into Compliance with his Measures.

This is an imputation of bad faith, to which you might say that the motive is imaginary, and the inconvenience was a matter of necessity. This can then be juxtaposed with the most serious charges:

He has plundered our Seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our Towns, and destroyed the Lives of our People.

This makes the former accusation seem even less serious by comparison. The member of parliament can then ask for evidence of the depredations alleged in the latter allegation, say that these actions took place without royal or official assent, and suggest that the matter might be resolved in the British courts.

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If I were a member of the British Parliament, I would characterize the Declaration of Independence as an absurd overreaction to British actions.

I would note that Jefferson is accusing the British of establishing or trying to establish "absolute Despotism" and "absolute Tyranny" over the colonies, and that this is simply not true. What he writes is a gross exaggeration of what is going on, a propaganda piece meant to inflame sentiments in the Colonies, incite rebellion, and gain sympathy among European nations that are Britain's enemies.

For example, I might focus on the grievance that Britain is allegedly tyrannous for imposing "Taxes on us without our Consent." In fact, I would note, there are no democracies in Europe: all people are taxed without their consent all the time by top down, monarchial governments. Nobody likes paying taxes anywhere, anytime.

I would note, the colonists, especially in places like Boston and Philadelphia, are the richest people in the world, per capita. The British have not vacuumed out all their wealth or forced them to concentrate it at the top: they have allowed them to spread it widely among the citizenry. The colonial experience has been supremely successful for the colonists, who, unless they are slaves, have greatly prospered.

In addition to being able to afford Britain's taxes, I would mention that the taxes being imposed are to help pay for the French and Indian War, a very costly endeavor that primarily benefitted the colonists. It seems only fair, not tyrannous, that the colonists help pay their fair share.

As for other issues, such as making it difficult to assemble, I would state that these hardly rise to the level of "absolute Tyranny." The colonists can and do assemble. These are all issues that can be worked out, I would argue, in a reasonable way. However, the colonists first must stop being irrational and responding to reasonable governance in a half cocked way.

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The Declaration was essentially an assertion of the right of revolution, and its rationale was based on the idea that the American colonies had borne such a "long train of abuses" by the British that they could no longer remain British subjects. Of course, most politicians in Britain denied that their colonists could do such a thing. It should also come as no surprise that members of Parliament and King George III himself issued public responses to the Declaration, as did countless editorialists in British newspapers. In a speech to Parliament on October 31st, 1776, the king described the "daring" and "desperate spirit of those leaders [of the Revolution] whose object has always been dominion and power." So your essay might, as King George did, question the motives of the revolutionary leaders in an effort to discredit their cause. Another possibility would be to observe, as the famous writer Samuel Johnson did, that the supposed idealism of the colonists was meaningless when one considered the existence of slavery in their midst. Johnson asked rhetorically: "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes?" The Americans, one might suggest, forfeited any claims to be a bastion of liberty by their ownership of enslaved people. Finally, a member of Parliament might have pointed out that the colonists were among the wealthiest people in the world, and that they owed their prosperity in no small part to the protection of the British Empire. If this protection were withdrawn, the Americans would be at the mercy of Spain, possibly France, and various Native American peoples on their borders. Each of these arguments either were made or could have been made in response to the Declaration of Independence.

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