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LIBERTY! THE TIMELINE

1765-1775

Boy throwing snowball

In Boston, in 1770, boys and men gather around eight soldiers, and throw snowballs. The frightened soldiers fire back, killing five. The event hardens colonial feelings, and is an important crossroads on the road to revolution. For Brits and Americans freedom has always been about their children.

Photo: graytown@istockphoto.com

BRITS IN AMERICA
OPPOSE
UNJUST LAWS,
FIGHT FOR FREEDOM
AND EQUALITY

American revolutionaries protest taxes without representation and unjust laws
that contravene the British Constitution.
Two brave Brits fight against slavery.

1764 'FAMILY' FEUD ERUPTS OVER MONEY AND RIGHTS

Brits in America and in Britain feel connected by language, culture, blood, and trade, but a vast ocean and wilderness experiences separate them. In America Brits are angered when the Government curbs their westward expansion; shocked when Parliament prohibits them from issuing legal paper money (an action that destabilizes their economy); and outraged when Parliament levies taxes on the sale of sugar, coffee, and wine to help pay for the French and Indian War.

Some MPs have qualms about making decisions for people who live thousands of miles away, but others, supported by George III, insist that Parliament can tax every Brit wherever he is and despite his lack of representation. William Pitt the Elder passionately urges Parliament to allow Brits in America representation, independent judges, and jury trials, and warns that America cannot be conquered by military force.

At a meeting in Boston, James Otis charges that contrary to their rights, British citizens in America are being taxed without representation. He urges a united response.

WILLIAM BLACKSTONE

William Blackstone is a modest jurist and professor who publishes four volumes that will dramatically influence the defenders of freedom.

1765-1769 BLACKSTONE'S COMMENTARIES ON COMMON LAW AND MAGNA CARTA BECOME FIERY DEFENCE OF FREEDOM; OUR 'HOME IS OUR CASTLE'

Blackstone describes the history of Common Law and explains its meaning. The framers of the U.S. Constitution will rely on his commentaries. Twenty-first century U.S. Supreme Court justices base their decisions on his rulings . Blackstone explains the precedents and protections of Common Law very clearly, and makes a blazingly clear case for the right to self-defence.

“The rights or. . .liberties of Englishmen. . .consist primarily in the free enjoyment of personal security, of personal liberty and of private property. . . To vindicate these rights, when actually violated or attacked, the subjects of England are entitled, in the first place, to the regular administration and free course of justice in the courts of law; next, to the right of petitioning the King and parliament for redress of grievances; and lastly, to the right of having and using arms for self-preservation and defence”.

Blackstone defends the presumption of innocence. He bases his remarks on those of Lord Hale who in 1678 says: ". . . it is better five guilty persons should escape unpunished than one innocent person should die" (2 Hale P.C. 290).

He confirms that Common Law protects the right to property, and the right to be free from attack or search in our homes with the memorable line that a man's home is his castle. (Book IV, Chapter 16) Later in the century, William Pitt the Elder will declare in Parliament, "The poorest man in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail, its roof may shake, the wind may blow through it, the storm may enter, the rain may enter, but the King of England cannot enter. All of his forces dare not cross the threshold of the ruined cottage."

1765 SONS OF LIBERTY COMBAT THE STAMP ACT

Parliament insists on passing the Stamp Act, which will tax every piece of printed material in America, including newspapers, bills, legal documents, and playing cards. Journalists in America are livid, and merchants are worried the Act will wreck commerce.

The Sons of Liberty, an obstreperous and freedom-loving group of Brits in America, organize in every colony, and force Stamp Act agents to resign. A Stamp Act Congress convenes in New York, and sends a petition to George III arguing that taxation without representation violates their English civil rights.  When the Stamp Act goes into effect November 1, legal transactions in America grind to a halt, and riots break out.

1765-1766 INFAMOUS QUARTERING ACT DENIES BRITS IN AMERICA THEIR RIGHTS

In Britain the 1628 Petition of Right outlawed the quartering of soldiers on civilians, but Parliament passes a law requiring colonists in America to house, supply, and transport troops. The New York Assembly agrees to house and transport 1100 men, but probably foreseeing an expensive liquor bill, declines to pay for their daily rum and hard cider.

Parliament retaliates by declaring all the acts of the New York Assembly null and void. Violence breaks out between British soldiers and armed colonists, among them members of the Sons of Liberty.

1767 - 1768 TOWNSHEND ACTS ENRAGE COLONISTS; SAM ADAMS CALLS FOR PROTESTS

After withdrawing the Stamp Act and imposing the Declaratory Act (which states that Parliament has the power to legislate any laws governing the American colonies in all cases), Parliament imposes the Townshend Acts – new taxes on glass, paper, and tea.  To the dismay of colonists in America the tax money does not go to the soldiers who are supposed to protect them, but into the pockets of the colonial governors. Withholding the salaries of unreasonable governors had been an effective defense against their abuses. Now Parliament has summarily removed this protection.

Joseph Warren, a young Boston doctor, protests the Acts in the Gazette. The Government prosecutes the newspaper for seditious libel, but the grand jury refuses to return an indictment.

Warren’s friend Sam Adams publishes a Circular Letter that calls on all Brits in America to resist taxation without representation. The Circular (think group email) is rushed to every colonial assembly.  The Government in London orders the assemblies not to endorse Adams’ Circular, but New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Massachusetts do just that. Trade boycotts and coordinated resistance spread.

Joseph Warren will die fighting in the front lines on the 17th of June at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Before he died, he told his fellow Americans -

Our country is in danger, but not to be despaired of. On you depend the fortunes of America. You are to decide the important question upon which rests the happiness and liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves!

A farm in Pennsylvania. It's winter. Corn husks in the foreground; field and woods in background

American Farm
Farming requires common sense, and is not for the weak of heart. Farmers, so often deemed conservative, may have radical souls.

Photo: Lissart@istockphoto.com

1768 'FARMER' LIGHTS A WILDFIRE

John Dickinson lives on a farm near Wilmington, Delaware, where he manages to spend most of his time in his library reading about Constitutional issues. Aroused by what he considers the Mother Country's injustice, he writes the Farmer's Letters. His 12 letters spread like wildfire in colonial newspapers, and create a sensation. They deny Parliament’s supremacy, and suggest the colonists can govern themselves.

In both Britain and America, the intellectual foundations have been laid: for the unalienable natural rights of every person, guaranteed by Nature's God to be free of compulsion; for freedom of religion and freedom from religion; for limited, representative government; and for the rule of just law.

1769 – 1770 VIRGINIA OPPOSES TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION; JURY TRIALS IN NON-LOCAL JURISDICTIONS

At the Virginia House of Burgesses, 37-year-old George Washington presents a set of resolutions calling for Virginia to oppose taxation without representation and Parliament's plans to try American protestors in Britain where they will be denied a jury of their peers.

1770 EDMUND BURKE ADVOCATES MORE POWER FOR VOTERS

British philosopher Edmund Burke is known for his conservative views. In his early forties, when he is a member of Parliament, Burke urges that voters become more active in the defence of their powers, and advocates that the British Government respond positively to the demands of Brits in America.

In 1774 he will say,

"The only liberty I mean, is a liberty connected with order; that not only exists along with order and virtue, but which cannot exist at all without them."

1770 WILLIAM THE PITT THE ELDER DEFENDS WILKES' RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH

John Wilkes' career in Parliament is turbulent because he insists on criticising the Government. He is expelled from Parliament in February 1769; re-elected in the same month by the citizens of Middlesex who are outraged that he has been booted out; expelled and re-elected in March. In April, having been expelled again, Wilkes wins re- election again, but Parliament declares his opponent the winner.

The Society for the Supporters of the Bill of Rights campaign for him, and William the Pitt the Elder, among others, succeeds in convincing Parliament to allow Wilkes to sit, asserting, "Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it; and this I know, my lords, that where laws end, tyranny begins." The law gives Wilkes the freedom to speak his mind in Parliament.

1771 BESTSELLER DECLARES RESISTANCE IS THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT OF BRITS 

Leaving Switzerland and becoming a British citizen, J.L. de Lolme writes a book called The Constitution of England, and points out that the liberties of the people are “feeble defences against the real strength of those who govern.”  If a ruler decides to ignore his people’s rights and property, what can they do?  De Lolme answers:  Resist: The Laws of England look upon resistance “as the ultimate and lawful resource against the violences of Power.” His book becomes a bestseller in America.

1772 AN UNLIKELY HERO FIGHTS SLAVERY

In London, Granville Sharp sacrifices his social life to teach himself Hebrew and New Testament Greek. He becomes a Christian evangelical, an unpopular position at that time. He is 30 when a young African slave, Jonathan Strong, pistol-whipped almost to death by his master, is brought to Sharp's brother, a surgeon, who saves him.

The Sharp brothers save Jonathan, and fight his slave owner for his freedom. Granville is galvanized by these events, and begins reading law to discover legal support for the prohibition of slavery. His research persuades him that human dignity and freedom are grounded in both Scripture and Common Law. 

He notes the Common Law precedent of Cartwright (1569) which explicitly stated slavery could not exist in England. This was confirmed in Shanley v Hervey (1762) when the court ruled, "As soon as a man puts foot on English ground, he is free: a Negro may maintain an action against his master for ill usage, and may have a Habeas Corpus, if restrained of his liberty." It was asserted again in Smith v Brown and Cooper (1765), when Chief Justice Holt ruled, "As soon as a negro comes into England, he becomes free: one may be a villein in England, but not a slave."

Since these rulings were being ignored, Sharp publishes his analysis in 1769, and in 1772 brings a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of James Somerset, an escaped slave who has been recaptured and is lying in chains on a ship bound for Jamaica. The suit to free him is heard before William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, Chief Justice of the King's Bench.  Murray is the clear-headed judge who established the fundamental principles of British mercantile law.  He considers slavery a legal fact.

Though not a member of the bar, Granville develops the legal strategy to free Somerset.  The representing barristers make Granville's precedent-based arguments, and Judge Mansfield makes a 180° turn.

He rules that slavery is odious and that James Somerset's servitude is not supported by law and he must be freed.

man pretending to be Indian warrior

The Boston Tea Party is not the King's cup of tea.

1772 – 1773 WATER, FIRE, AND TEA

In 1772 a customs schooner responsible for collecting taxes runs aground off Rhode Island. Brits in America attack it, and after setting the crew ashore, burn the ship.

Anger over taxes and the seizure of ships (rightly or wrongly accused of smuggling) inflames tempers. Bostonians boycott East India Company tea so successfully, the Company has tons of unsold tea in its warehouses, and is about to go belly up.

In 1773, Parliament gives the East India Company preferential treatment so it can undersell American tea merchants and smugglers.  In November, three East India ships loaded with tea sail into Boston Harbor. In mass meetings Bostonians decide to send the ships straight back to London. The governor refuses to allow the ships to leave until import duties are paid. Eight thousand Bostonians protest. On the night of December 16, 150 activists disguised as Red Indians board the ships, and dump over 200 tons of tea into the drink.

1774 FURIOUS GEORGE III AND PARLIAMENT COERCE BRITS IN AMERICA; RESISTANCE GROWS

Furious about the Boston Tea Party, Parliament passes a series of Coercive Acts (called Intolerable Acts in America).  The Acts shut down all commercial shipping in Boston until the tea steeping in Boston Harbor is paid for, and they establish a new Quartering Act that requires Brits in America to house British troops.

General Thomas Gage is a conflicted personality. He arrives with four regiments to enforce the Acts, but is unenthusiastic about depriving fellow Brits of their freedom. In response to the Acts and Gage's arrival, the colonials organize a congress, and women join men in refusing to buy British goods, an action which shocks London.

Granville Sharp

1774 GRANVILLE SHARP SUPPORTS FELLOW BRITS IN AMERICA

Granville Sharp is outraged by Parliament’s treatment of the American colonists, and publishes a pamphlet called "A Declaration of the People’s natural Right to a Share in the Legislature, which is the fundamental Principle of the British Constitution".  When Benjamin Franklin arrives in England that summer, Sharp gives him a copy. Franklin reads it, and sends it by ship to America the same day.

It is reprinted in America (one press in Boston prints 7,000 copies) where its impact is immediate. Later, Granville Sharp's ideas and language will be heard in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

1774 COLONIALS HOLD FIRST CONTINENTAL CONGRESS

In September and October delegates from every colony but Georgia meet in Philadelphia at the First Continental Congress. Sam and John Adams, George Washington, Patrick Henry, and John Hancock, among others, attend. Congress develops a programme with a hard and a soft line. 

Brits in America were angry that they did not have any say over the amount they would have to pay in taxes and they were angry about how much they had to pay.

They wanted to keep the bulk of what they had earned for themselves and their families. They realized some taxes were counter-productive, and would destroy everyone's well-being. This idea was supported two centuries later by a paper prepared for the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress in 1998 -

American economist James Gwartney irrefutably demonstrated the direct relation between tax burden and economic growth: The higher the level of taxation, the lower the growth rate. Higher taxes mean lower incentives and more resources flowing from the productive sector to inefficient government.

The First Continental Congress declares that the intolerable Coercive Acts are “not to be obeyed” and issues a Declaration of Rights that affirms the right to “life, liberty and property”. It also calls for a trade embargo and support for local militia units. Congress forwards a petition to Parliament respectfully requesting that the Acts be rescinded. 

More boldly, the Continental Congress creates the Continental Army. It is intended to be a defensive army of citizen-soldiers.

Parliament contemptuously rejects the petition. Army officers speak scornfully about colonial militias, apparently forgetting that Brits in America learn how to shoot muskets and rifles when they are children, and are excellent shots.

1775 REBELLION SMOULDERS IN NEW YORK AND VIRGINIA, AND LEAPS INTO FLAMES IN MASSACHUSETTS

New Yorkers write London's Mayor that they are "born to the bright inheritance of English freedom". They insist they will fight for that bright inheritance if they have to.

Patrick Henry faces a Virginia Convention afraid to break with Britain. Though he risks jail for speaking, 39-year-old Henry tells Virginians that ten years of pleading and argument have led nowhere.  He asks, “Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?” He answers, “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” His words dispel doubts, and Virginians prepare for armed resistance.

Parliament secretly orders Governor Gage to enforce the Coercive Acts. In April, in Boston, Gage orders 700 soldiers to destroy the colonists’ weapons depot in Concord, Massachusetts.

Doctor Joseph Warren hears of the plan, and sends riders, including Paul Revere, to warn Concord and Lexington. As they sound the alarm "in every Middlesex village and farm," church bells peal and drums beat, calling militias into action.

Battle at Lexington that begins American Revolution

At dawn on April 19th, fifty militiamen face the British advance guard on Lexington Green. They are fathers and sons. The youngest is 18. The oldest is 63. It is reported that the British commanding officer rides up and shouts, “Lay down your arms, you damned rebels, or you are all dead men. Fire!”

Detail of print by A.H. Ritchie
Image: US Government Archives

The "shot heard 'round the world" ignites the American Revolution. British rifle fire and bayonets leave eight Americans dead and ten wounded. At Concord, the Americans stand their ground, then break with military convention, and sharp-shoot "from behind each fence and farmyard wall," forcing British soldiers into a bloody retreat.

Riders gallop the news to every colony. Thirteen thousand volunteers assemble to lay siege to Boston.

1775 PLEDGING THEIR LIVES, THEIR FORTUNES, & THEIR SACRED HONOUR

On June 14, 1775, the Second Continental Congress creates the Continental Army, and on June 15, the elects George Washington Commander in Chief.

On June 17, in Boston, General Gage orders his troops to storm Breed and Bunker Hills. The Americans unload deadly volleys at the British troops, but are forced to retreat when they run out of ammunition. Dr. Joseph Warren, fighting as a private in the front lines, is killed along with 400 other Americans.

Determined to make, or at least appear to make, every effort to avoid war, on July 8, the Second Continental Congress sends the ‘Olive Branch Petition’ directly to George III, appealing one last time for his help in achieving reconciliation. The King refuses to look at the petition, and issues a proclamation declaring America in open rebellion.

George Washington accepts command of the Continental Army from Congress although he knows he will be hanged if the rebellion fails. Always a man to look at what is, rather than what he wishes it were, and always prepared to fight on, despite bullets and shrapnel flying around him and horses shot out from under him, Washington intends to defeat the best-trained army in the world.

On November 10th, 1775, the Marine Corps is born as the Continental Congress raises the first and second battalions of American Marines. Their motto will be Semper fidelis.

To 1776-1786

 

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