In several violent Acts and interludes, with important and incendiary dialogue in (of course) red.
Setting: A world before the Industrial Revolution and capitalism, with countries ruled by kings and assorted other tyrants. To become prosperous, they do not compete with each other to lure inventors who create railroads, assembly-line automobiles, or iPhones – they grab what they can get from each other, in a zero-sum wealth game.
- 1756-1763: Seven Years’ War, known in the United States as the French and Indian War. Letter from Robert Dinwiddie, Governor of Virginia, to the commandant of the French Forces on the Ohio, October 31, 1753:
The Lands upon the River Ohio, in the Western Part of the Colony of Virginia, are so notoriously known to be the Property of the Crown of Great-Britain; that it is a Matter of equal Concern and Surprize to me, to hear that a Body of French Forces are erecting Fortresses, and making Settlements upon that River, within his Majesty’s Dominions. The many and repeated Complaints I have received in these Acts of Hostility, lay me under the Necessity of sending, in the Name of the King my Master, the Bearer hereof, George Washington, Esq; one of the Adjutants General of the Forces of this Dominion, to complain to you of the Encroachments thus made … (from Journal of George Washington, 1753)
To give a sense of the scale of this conflict: at a single engagement, the Battle of Kunersdorf in 1759, some 50,000 Prussians met 65,000 Russians and Austrians on the field. At least 13,000 soldiers died in that one battle. Even the royals who were on the winning side in the Seven Years’ War incurred massive debts as they sent soldiers hither and yon, and quartered, fed, and armed them,
Act I: British Taxation, 1765-1770
- 1765, March 22: Stamp Act. “An act for granting and applying certain stamp duties, and other duties, in the British colonies and plantations in America, towards further defraying the expences of defending, protecting, and securing the same.”
- 1766, March 18: Stamp Act repealed and Declaratory Act passed.
Whereas several of the houses of representatives in His Majesty’s colonies and plantations in America have of late, against law, claimed to themselves, or to the general assemblies of the same, the sole and exclusive right of imposing duties and taxes upon His Majesty’s subjects in the said colonies and plantations … [T]he said colonies and plantations in America have been, are, and of right ought to be, subordinate unto, and dependent upon the imperial crown and Parliament of Great Britain; … [who] had, hath, and of right ought to have, full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever. And be it further declared and enacted by the authority aforesaid, That all resolutions, votes, orders, and proceedings, in any of the said colonies or plantations, whereby the power and authority of the Parliament of Great Britain to make laws and statutes as aforesaid is denied, or drawn into question, are, and are hereby declared to be, utterly null and void to all intents and purposes whatsoever.
- 1767, November 20: Townshend Acts levied taxes on paper, paint, lead, glass, and tea.
Whereas it is expedient that a revenue should be raised in your Majesty’s dominions in America, for making a more certain and adequate provision for defraying the charge of the administration of justice, and the support of civil government, in such provinces where it shall be found necessary; and towards further defraying the expenses of defending, protecting, and securing, the said dominions…”
- 1770, March 5: Boston Massacre. Residents attack British soldiers sent to enforce the Towshend Acts. Captain Preston, the British officer in charge, reported: “On this a general attack was made on the men by a great number of heavy clubs and snowballs being thrown at them, by which all our lives were in imminent danger, some persons at the same time from behind calling out, damn your bloods – why don’t you fire. Instantly three or four of the soldiers fired, one after another, and directly after three more in the same confusion and hurry. The mob then ran away, except three unhappy men who instantly expired.” An anonymous report printed in Boston reported:
THE HORRID MASSACRE IN BOSTON, PERPETRATED IN THE EVENING OF THE FIFTH DAY OF MARCH, 1770, BY SOLDIERS OF THE TWENTY-NINTH REGIMENT WHICH WITH THE FOURTEENTH REGIMENT WERE THEN QUARTERED THERE; WITH SOME OBSERVATIONS ON THE STATE OF THINGS PRIOR TO THAT CATASTROPHE. … Captain Preston is said to have ordered them to fire, and to have repeated that order. One gun was fired first; then others in succession and with deliberation, till ten or a dozen guns were fired; or till that number of discharges were made from the guns that were fired. By which means eleven persons were killed and wounded, as above represented.”
- 1770, April 2: repeal of Townshend Acts, except for the tax on tea.
Act II: The Tea Act and the Boston Tea Party, 1773-1774
- 1773, May 10: Parliament passes the Tea Act, an attempt to help the struggling British East India Company to keep its head above water … oops.
- 1773, December 2: the Sons of Liberty in Boston publish a notice:
“Friends! Brethren! Countrymen! THAT worst of plagues, the detested T E A shipped for this port by the East India Company, is now arrived in this Harbor: the hour of destruction or manly opposition to the machinations of tyranny stares you in the face. Every friend to his country, to himself and posterity, is now called upon to meet at Faneuil Hall at nine o’clock THIS DAY (at which time the bells will ring) to make a united and successful resistance to this last, worst and most destructive measure of administration.”
- 1773, December 16: Boston Tea Party. More on the circumstances surrounding it here – including a poem in urging everyone stop drinking drink tea. In his diary the following day, John Adams writes:
This is the most magnificent Movement of all. There is a Dignity, a Majesty, a Sublimity, in this last Effort of the Patriots, that I greatly admire.”)
- 1774, March 25: Parliament shuts down the port of Boston. Benjamin Franklin, writing anonymously in a London paper, said:
Now, my Lord, if the Port of Boston is to remain shut till the People in that Province acknowledge the Right of Parliament to impose any Taxes or Duties whatever, except for the Regulation of Commerce, it must remain shut till the very Name of a British Parliament if forgotten among them. You may shut up their Ports, one by one, as the Minister has lately threatened. You may reduce their Cities to Ashes, but the Flame of Liberty in North America shall not be extinguished. Cruelty and Oppression and Revenge shall only serve as Oil to increase the Fire. A great Country of hardy Peasants is not to be subdued. In the Grave which we dig for the Inhabitants of Boston, Confidence and Friendship shall expire, Commerce and Peace shall rest together.
- 1774, September – October: first Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, states the rights of the colonists and resolves to boycott British goods.
That the inhabitants of the English colonies in North-America, by the immutable laws of nature, the principles of the English constitution, and the several charters or compacts, have the following RIGHTS:
Resolved, N.C.D. 1. That they are entitled to life, liberty and property: and they have never ceded to any foreign power whatever, a right to dispose of either without their consent.
Resolved, N.C.D. 2. That our ancestors, who first settled these colonies, were at the time of their emigration from the mother country, entitled to all the rights, liberties, and immunities of free and natural- born subjects, within the realm of England.
Act III: Opening Salvos, 1774-1775
- 1774, November: Seabury’s Free Thoughts on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress (“Congress has “ignorantly misunderstood, carelessly neglected, or basely betrayed the interests of all the Colonies”) provokes Hamilton’s Full Vindication of the Measures of the Congress in December (“And first, let me ask these restless spirits, whence arises that violent antipathy they seem to entertain, not only to the natural rights of mankind; but to common sense and common modesty?”) [on both these, see see last week’s post], and then Hamilton’s The Farmer Refuted (February 1775):
The origin of all civil government, justly established, must be a voluntary compact, between the rulers and the ruled; and must be liable to such limitations, as are necessary for the security of the absolute rights of the latter; for what original title can any man or set of men have, to govern others, except their own consent?
- 1775, April 19: Battle of Lexington & Concord. First open armed conflict between colonists and British soldiers: approximately 49 Americans and 73 British are killed.
- 1775, June 17: Congress to George Washington:
We, reposing special trust and confidence in your patriotism, valor, conduct, and fidelity, do, by these presents, constitute and appoint you to be General and Commander in chief, of the army of the United Colonies, and of all the forces now raised, or to be raised, by them, and of all others who shall voluntarily offer their service, and join the said Army for the Defence of American liberty, and for repelling every hostile invasion thereof: And you are hereby vested with full power and authority to act as you shall think for the good and welfare of the service.” [Washington’s reply is here]
Act IV: Attempts at Reconciliation, 1775
- 1775, July 8: Congress sends King George III the “Olive Branch Petition,” drafted by Thomas Jefferson, toned down by John Dickinson (“Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Lee, Mr. Hopkins, Dr. Franklin, why have you joined this… incendiary little man, this BOSTON radical? This demagogue, this madman?” – sorry, different musical). The Olive Branch Petition begins: “We, your Majesty’s faithful subjects … acknowledge Great Britain as “a power the most extraordinary the world had ever known.” We are truly shocked that after all we contributed to the late (Seven Years’) war, Parliament is attacking us. We blame “the delusive pretences, fruitless terrors, and unavailing severities” of your ministers, “those artful and cruel enemies who abuse your royal confidence and authority, for the purpose of effecting our destruction.” We would like harmony restored so we can be happy British subjects for generations to come.
- 1775, August 23: George III, having refused to look at the Olive Branch Petition, responds to the hostilities at Lexington and Concord with the Proclamation of Rebellion. Some in the colonies have proceeded to “open and avowed rebellion,” encouraged by “counsels and comfort of divers wicked and desperate persons.” We decree that civil and military officials in the colonies are to suppress the rebellion and bring the traitors to justice. “Our obedient and loyal subjects” are to inform on any who “shall be found carrying on correspondence with, or in any manner or degree aiding or abetting the persons now in open arms and rebellion against our Government.”
- 1775, October 27: The King elaborates on the Proclamation of Rebellion in a speech to Parliament.
Those who have long too successfully laboured to inflame my people in America by gross misrepresentations, and to infuse into their minds a system of opinions, repugnant to the true constitution of the colonies, and to their subordinate relation to Great-Britain, now openly avow their revolt, hostility and rebellion. They have raised troops, and are collecting a naval force; they have seized the public revenue, and assumed to themselves legislative, executive and judicial powers, which they already exercise in the most arbitrary manner, over the persons and property of their fellow-subjects: And altho’ many of these unhappy people may still retain their loyalty, and may be too wise not to see the fatal consequence of this usurpation, and wish to resist it, yet the torrent of violence has been strong enough to compel their acquiescence, till a sufficient force shall appear to support them. The authors and promoters of this desperate conspiracy have, in the conduct of it, derived great advantage from the difference of our intentions and theirs. They meant only to amuse by vague expressions of attachment to the Parent State, and the strongest protestations of loyalty to me, whilst they were preparing for a general revolt. … [To be a subject of Great Britain is to be] the freest member of any civil society in the known world. … When the unhappy and deluded multitude, against whom this force will be directed, shall become sensible of their error, I shall be ready to receive the misled with tenderness and mercy!”
- 1775, December 6: the Constitutional Congress responds to the king’s August 23 Proclamation of Rebellion.
We, the Delegates of the thirteen United Colonies in North America [look, a move toward a collective name for what had been 13 separate colonies!] … What allegiance is it that we forget? Allegiance to Parliament? We never owed – we never owned it. Allegiance to our King? Our words have ever avowed it, – our conduct has ever been consistent with it. … By the British Constitution, our best inheritance, rights, as well as duties descend upon us: We cannot violate the latter by defending the former.[Damn fine rhetorical flourish!] … We view [the King] as the Constitution represents him. That tells us he can do no wrong. … We will not, on our part, lose the distinction between the King and his Ministers. …[Congress and the people of these United Colonies regret to see] Britons fight against Britons, and the descendants of Britons.
Act V: Independence, 1776
- 1776, January 10: Publication of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. Paine soon added an appendix:
Since the publication of the first edition of this pamphlet, or rather, on the same day on which it came out, the King’s Speech [of October 27, 1775] made its appearance in this city. Had the spirit of prophecy directed the birth of this production, it could not have brought it forth, at a more seasonable juncture, or a more necessary time. The bloody mindedness of the one, shew the necessity of pursuing the doctrine of the other. Men read by way of revenge. And the Speech, instead of terrifying, prepared a way for the manly principles of Independance.”
- 1776, July 4: Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence, drafted by the Committee of Five: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman.
In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776. The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. … (full text here)
Epilogue: King George III
After the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781, King George drafted a letter of abdication. He never submitted it … but he never burned it and stomped on the ashes, either.
His Majesty with much sorrow finds he can be of no further utility to his native country, which drives him to the painful step of quitting it forever. In consequence, His Majesty resigns the Crown of Great Britain to his son and lawful successor George, Prince of Wales, whose endeavours for the prosperity of the British Empire, he hopes will prove more successful.
King George III had bouts of mental instability in 1783, 1788, and 1804. Here he is in 1803, examining that wee upstart Napoleon.
In 1811 George III lapsed into mental instability and didn’t recover. A regent was assigned to rule Great Britain, and George spent the last decade of his life (he died in 1820) in the care of the mad-doctors.
- The Boston Tea Party Opera?!? Yes! Check it out here.
- Portable desk on which Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence. Doesn’t it make your fingers tingle?
- I’ve occasionally added comments based on these blog posts to the Genius.com pages on the Hamilton Musical. Follow me @DianneDurante.
- The usual disclaimer: This is the fifteenth in a series of posts on Hamilton: An American Musical. Other posts are available via the tag cloud at lower right. The ongoing “index” to these posts is my Kindle book, Alexander Hamilton: A Brief Biography. Bottom line: these are unofficial musings, and you do not need them to enjoy the musical or the soundtrack.
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