The Revolutionary War

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What are some ways the colonists were not justified in rebelling against British rule?

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There were reasons to support why the colonists weren’t justified in rebelling against the rule of the British. One reason is that the British established these colonies, and they had the right to govern the colonies as they saw fit. The purpose of establishing colonies is for the colonizing country to benefit.

It is also reasonable to argue that the colonists did benefit from the rule of the British. The colonists had some self-government, and the British provided the colonists with many significant things. The British protected the colonists against attack. The British also helped to provide for an orderly society with their rule. Some people felt it wasn’t unreasonable for the colonists to share some of the costs associated with the benefits they received from being a part of the British Empire.

Some people felt they couldn’t support breaking away from Great Britain because this would be an action against the Church of England. The King of England was the head of the Anglican Church.

Finally, some people believed that the colonists were just as wrong as the British were when some of the violent confrontations occurred. The colonists didn’t treat the British soldiers politely during the events leading to the Boston Massacre. The colonists were yelling insults at the British soldiers guarding the Customs House. They also were throwing snowballs at the soldiers. Additionally, the colonists destroyed a great deal of British property when the Boston Tea Party took place. Because of the actions of some of the colonists, some people felt the colonists were at fault for some of these events.

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Another way to consider the extent to which the colonists were justified in rebelling against King George is to analyze the revolution through the lens of popular philosophy of the era.

Thomas Hobbes was a British philosopher who lived between 1588 and 1679. One of Hobbes's contributions was to define and explore social contract theory. For Hobbes, citizens sign a figurative agreement with their government in which they agree to forfeit certain rights in exchange for certain government benefits. As a result, Hobbes considered it unjust for citizens to break the laws of their government if they received government benefits. The colonists, for example, benefitted from the British government in that they received military protection against France, Spain, and hostile Native American tribes. As such, the colonists' declaration of independence can be considered unjust.

In Hobbes's view, any government—even that of tyrannical monarchy—was better than no government at all.

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It is certainly possible to argue that the colonists were not justified in rebelling against Britain.  Although the colonists portrayed the British government as a tyrannical despotism, it is easy to dispute this portrayal.

The colonists had two main reasons for rebelling. First, they felt that the British government was taxing and regulating them excessively.  We can argue that neither of these is true. The British government did place taxes on the Americans after the French and Indian War.  However, the taxes were not as high as the taxes that British subjects in England paid.  In addition, we can argue that it is not unreasonable for a country to require its colonies to pay some of the costs of a war that benefitted those colonies. This may be grounds for political protest, but surely not for a war.

Second, the colonists felt that they deserved to be represented in the British Parliament.  This seems like a legitimate desire, but we can argue that it was not enough to justify a war.  First of all, the colonists did get to have some degree of self-government within their colonies.  Second, not everyone in England was represented in Parliament either, so the colonists were not being treated worse than all Englishpeople. Finally, we can argue that it is excessive to start a war simply because you want more political power.

Finally, we can argue that the colonists brought some of their troubles on themselves.  Their protests against British taxes and regulation were, we can argue, excessive.  The Boston Tea Party, for instance, constituted the destruction of large amounts of valuable property.  If political rebels burned down a government building or otherwise destroyed property in the US today, we would expect that they should be punished.  We would not think that the punishment was abuse.

In short, we can argue that the colonies were rebelling against a legitimate government that did not abuse them excessively. We can argue that the colonists exaggerated the degree to which the British were tyrannizing them and that British actions were not severe enough to warrant a rebellion.

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