July 8, 2018


How the Townshend Brothers Accidentally Sparked the American Revolution (PATRICK GRIFFIN, MAY 31, 2018, What it Means to be American)

Americans normally see our Revolution as the culmination of a long period of gestation during which a free people finally threw off their colonial shackles and became what they were destined to be. On the Fourth of July, we commemorate a moment in 1776 that encapsulates all that we as Americans were, are, and hope to be. We consider ourselves a nation bound together by God-given rights and a pact with each other and with our government that we will stand as a free people. The ideas laid out in the Declaration are, then, widely said to mark us as Americans.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I don't say this to act as a "myth-buster"; rather, to put that moment in a more accurate context so that we might understand it better. In the years just before 1776, Americans did not consider themselves "American" in any substantive way. They regarded themselves as Britons living in America.  [...]

 In 1767, [Charles Townshend, as Chancellor of the Exchequer] introduced duties on select goods to fund an American administration that could serve as the basis for a centralized empire.

It did not seem at the time to be a high-risk tax policy. Americans, after all, considered George III to be, in an expression of the period, "the best of all kings." They reveled in their lives, liberty, and property, rights that were guaranteed to them as British subjects.

But in crafting his idea of empire, Townshend set off a backlash--not because the British subjects in America were somehow different, but because they were so similar in outlook.

Charles Townshend's policies placed the British Americans in a bind, one that would lead to 1776. When Bostonians and others up and down America's Atlantic coast contested Charles' duties, they did not think they were declaring independence. Far from it. They pushed back in hopes of holding onto a loosely federated understanding of empire that would allow them to retain their traditional liberties while continuing to profit from the Atlantic trade.

It would have been better for everybody if George had demanded that we be granted representation in the British Parliament or else he'd recognize a parliament of our own, with him as sovereign.

Posted by at July 8, 2018 1:06 PM


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