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I live 15 minutes from the Conference House, where a last ditch effort was made to consider alternatives to war. In 1776 this area was primarily loyalists (tories) and as a result have wondered if I lived then which side would I be on. Would I embrace Thomas Paine's Common Sense or be swayed by public pressure? It's a hard call, however I'd like to believe that given my independent personality I would have sided with the Patroits...
An interesting approach you could take on this would be to compare the Patriots' take on Colonial Freedom, of which The Declaration of Independence would be essential to analyze. Then, analyze the Loyalists' point of view. There were some in the Colonies believed that there should be loyalty to England. Some of these were economic in nature, while some believed in the "home country" of England. Analyzing their document, "The Olive Branch Petition" provides some interesting rationale behind why some Colonists were against going to war. If you compare both sides and their documents, you can create a better understanding about which side you felt would be more compelling.
I'm sure no sane person in the Colonies wanted to go to war, and Colonial leaders tried hard to avoid it. Patrick Henry made that clear in his "Speech in the Virginia Convention," citing the numerous ways the Colonists had sought redress from England. But human nature doesn't change. Even in 1776, people could be pushed only so far before they drew a line and dug in. When war began and it came time to choose up sides, those who still felt "English" and those whose personal financial interests lay in England fought against the Revolutionary forces. Those who had separated emotionally from the mother country, who identified themselves as "a new breed," as Crevecoeur wrote in "Letters from an American Farmer," joined the Revolution.
I would have joined the patriots, just as my grandfather did in North Carolina when push came to shove, and probably for the same reasons. (I'm happy to report he wasn't my immediate grandfather, but you know what I mean.) He was a farmer who loved his land and took care of his wife and children. I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing he was too busy planting and reaping to engage in a lot of political philosophy. I do know that he came from Europe as a little boy in the hold of a ship with his father, and neither one of them ever wanted to go back. When war broke out, he was an American determined to protect his home, and for that he was killed by a Tory neighbor one evening while sitting on his porch. I, too, would have supported the patriots. England would have been far too far away to call home, even if I had been born there. The American immigrant experience may not have framed the Revolutionary War, but it surely played an important role in wining it.
In July 1776, about one third of the colonists were indifferent, about a third were for independence, and about a third were for remaining loyal. If current day Americans were thrust back into that famous month and year, you'd probably see the same breakdown. Those interested in independence at the signing of the Declaration prevailed because the confict, once the Declaration was adopted, then became a colony-wide shooting war. As the British invaded, the colonists fought back, and de facto became "freedom fighters." For almost all colonists, the Declaration and subsequent fight had nothing to do with political philosophies, but everything to do with repelling invaders who would destroy your business, home, or farm and kill you and your family.
I like to think that, had I lived at the time, I could have seen and understood both sides to the problem. But I would probably still have been a Patriot rather than a Tory. The problem wasn't simply taxation but the underlying reasons for the taxation and the specific legal cause of resistance to the taxes.
After the French and Indian War the cost to Great Britain of naval and land military forces needed in the New World went up tremendously. The holding of the enlarged territory won during the war necessitated more troops and all that entailed. The new gains were of great value to Britain, especially to merchants and shipping firms. But since the direct beneficiaries seemed to be the colonists, the British government felt it was right for the colonies to pay their fair share of the increased costs.
On the other hand, the colonies had their own legislatures, and had been subject only to the Crown, not to the British Parliament. Of course in the century and a half of colonisation things had changed on both sides of the Atlantic. The British government had a legitimate complaint about the need for tax revenues from the colonies for their defense, but at the same time the "Americans" realized that the British victories in the New World were largely dependant on their contributions in the field. They felt that they did not need the Mother Country in the way they had before, and were not legitimately subject to legislative action by a Parliament in which they had no representation and no voice. In addition, if the rich in England had been paying their fair share instead of the poor 50% of the population paying almost all the taxes, the British government would not have needed more tax revenues from the colonies. I can see both sides, but the Revolution was an idea whose time had definitely come.
If I had been a colonist during the years proceeding 1776 struggle for independence from Britain I would have been a patriot. The British Government and the King of England tried very hard to control the expansion, or lack of expansion of the colonies. They also created tax after tax on imports and exports for the colonies. We had no real representation in the British government and had no one speaking up for the people of the colonies. The British homeland was trying to pay for their army from taxes assessed against the colonies. We had no recourse but to fight or have the King and his Representatives continue to rule us and tax us from across the ocean.
"British government decided to maintain a 6,000-man standing army in North America to protect its newly obtained territory between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. The colonists, suspicious of the new army, were outraged by the prospect of paying a share of its maintenance cost. American discontent continued throughout the 1760’s as Parliament enacted laws to regulate or tax the colonies. Among the most offensive laws were the Currency Act of 1664, the Sugar Act of 1764, and the Quartering Act of 1765."
There was also a tea tax, stamp tax and other types of taxes assessed. The Colonist simply got fed up and decided to declare independence.
I believe that it would have depended to a certain extent on my social status in the colonies during that time. Despite the Patriot's democratic ideals, the Revolutionary War was not a commoner's war. Colonial elitists such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington came from wealthy families and could afford the educations that they received. Intellectuals, not farmers, led the revolution, and considering how a great majority of colonists were farmers, there is certainly a chance that I would have been in the less fortunate majority rather than the advantaged minority.
Assuming that I had heard about the revolution at all and lived in a place that the war often reached, I believe that I would have supported the patriots. The Revolutionary War was fought for economic as well as political reasons. The British economic policies toward their American colonies limited the colonies' economic growth and the colonists' prosperity. I would probably have been annoyed by the British policies that kept me from getting richer, gotten swept up in anti-British propaganda, and joined the revolutionaries.
I'd like to think that I would have joined the colonialists. Although, it probably would have mattered what i was doing at the time. I hate to think I might have been one of the 40% who was initially indifferent to the war. If I was a simple commoner, I would have joined the militia and not the regular army to fight the enemy on my own terms.
I would always prefer independence over its alternatives. However, to different people of America in 1776, independence might have meant different things. I am sure there were many people in America who had migrated from England, and had deep sympathies with that countries. Perhaps, they saw themselves not as subject of America under the rule of Britain, but as a subject of large Britain of which America was a part.
I believe, initially Benjamin Franklin also looked upon British rule of America in this positive light. However, as things turned out to be, It does not appear that Britain considered America as an equal part of that country, and in view of that it is good for Americans, and I believe, rest of the world that USA declared its independence and managed to overthrow British rule.
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