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LIBERTY! THE TIMELINE

1776 to 1799

Two American soldiers prepare for the Revolution

WINNING THE REVOLUTION
LINKING LIBERTY
& PROSPERITY
ATTACKING
SLAVERY

American revolutionaries, who began their struggle as Brits, win a long, hard war, and create a new country with a representative government and citizen rights. In this rambunctious century, a Brit also discovers the connection between freedom and prosperity, and Brits begin the struggle to end the slave trade.

1776 VIRGINIANS PASS BILL OF RIGHTS

On June 12, 1776 Virginians pass a remarkable Bill of Rights. This bill contains the spirit of freedom that will animate the Declaration of Independence one month later (and many of the words) and the freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights more than ten years later.

The Virginians declare "that all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights...that all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people...that government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the people...that the legislative and executive powers of the state should be separate and distinct from the judicative..."

1776 DECLARING INDEPENDENCE

Brits in America dissolve their ties with Britain on July 4, 1776.  In their momentous Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, they affirm 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 to these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a 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.

Of the 56 signers of the Declaration, 55 had been born in Britain or were descended from Brits.  Many others from Europe and Africa will fight beside them to defend the Declaration of Independence. 

Tom Paine

An East Anglia man, Thomas Paine is unexcited about life as a shopkeeper. With the help of Ben Franklin he sails to America, where he becomes a journalist and a vociferous supporter of the American Revolution.

1776 - 1783 FIGHTING FOR A REPUBLIC

In 1776 Tom Paine publishes a bestseller called Common Sense.  George Washington believes that Paine’s pamphlet does more to create support for a republic than any other contribution. “We have it in our power,” Paine writes, “to begin the world anew. . .America shall make a stand, not for herself alone, but for the world.”

As the bitter defeats of 1776 corrode hope, and Washington retreats west across New Jersey, Paine makes notes by the light of campfires. These are, as he will write in The American Crisis, “the times that try men’s souls.” 

In Peekskill, so many men are without shoes “the blood left on the frozen ground, in many places, marked the route they had taken.” Yet, as they retreat across New Jersey from multiple defeats in New York, the Brits who have come to think of themselves as Americans are “battered, weary, ragged as beggars, but not beaten.”

George Washington at Mount Rushmore looks determined, brave, and handsome

   Sounding like Calgacus, the 1st Century British patriot, Washington tells Americans, “Remember…that you are free men, fighting for the blessings of liberty… slavery will be your portion, and that of your posterity, if you do not acquit yourselves like men.”

Carving of George Washington at Mount Rushmore
Photo: CFPhotography@istockphoto.com

Many men and women responded to this call to defend freedom. Virginian George Weedon, a tavern owner, led a brigade at the Battle of Brandywine. Racing across the Pennsylvania countryside he and his men arrived in time to halt the advance of King George III's army. Weedon's Americans deployed at a narrow defile on the Dilworth Road. As American troops who were out of ammunition retreated, they parted ranks to let the retreating troops pass through, then closed up again, halting the pursuing British with volley after volley. At the cost of their lives, they successfully bought time so the American army could escape.

Abigail Adams

Without John Adams the Revolution might never have succeeded. Without his wife, Abigail, John would never have survived. Brilliant, loving, she, like so many other American women, kept the farm going and educated the children as John defied the threat of hanging and drowning at sea to win the support of the French and Dutch for the American Revolution.

A great fan of the British Constitution, John Adams writes the oldest written constitution still in use in the world today (Massachusetts) and helps to establish the principles of the U.S. Constitution.

The Americans would survive the occupation of Philadelphia and a bitter winter at Valley Forge. In 1781, Weedon led his militia in the Battle of Yorktown. They successfully repelled Colonel Banastre Tarleton's feared unit, and thereby closed the one means of escape for the king's army's at Gloucester Point. With success at Yorktown, the American Revolution was won.

1776 ADAM SMITH SHOWS WHY PROSPERITY DEPENDS ON FREEDOM

Adam Smith gazes into the human character and recognises that most of us want the best for ourselves and that this is a character trait that is unlikely to change. One of his brilliant insights is that when we have the freedom to create a living for ourselves within a system of just laws, we will cooperate with others to help ourselves, and our cooperation will be good for both ourselves and others.

For Adam Smith freedom means not only freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but freedom to earn a living, freedom from burdensome taxes and trade restrictions, freedom from excessive government regulations, and the freedom to own and use property.

Adam Smith understands economics mathematically, statistically, psychologically, and morally. He understands how the natural forces of self-interest and freedom combine to create a tide that will lift all boats. Freedom unleashes individual effort and creativity because free individuals protected by just laws create prosperous economies. Free individuals and free markets create the wealth of individuals and nations, while simultaneously raising the standard of living of poor citizens.

A significant modern tendency is to see making money as capitalism and capitalism as evil. Adam Smith writes before the words capitalism and capitalists have been coined. He is interested in how men and women can freely earn a living according to the science of "natural liberty and justice". He denounces the destruction of property rights and free trade in Ireland, which impoverishes the Irish, and makes them vulnerable to famine. He opposes taxes on labour, preferring taxes on luxury consumption because they hurt an economy and people least. His ideas, which we have barely touched on here, have contributed enormously to human happiness.

Nations that observe Smith’s philosophy of free economies attract immigrants. Very few people are migrating to countries that are not free. 

Smith believes government should be limited, but had a contribution to make in the national defence, certain public projects, and education. He has the endearing habit of giving a great deal of his own money to those in need. He believes that creating wealth must be governed by the Christian principle to "do unto others as you would have others do unto you" (Matthew 7:12).

Poverty-stricken mother and child in Africa.  Africans lack property rights, honest governments, freedom for women

The poor desperately need property rights, rights for women, freedom of religion, and just laws. They need economies based on the wisdom and energy of millions of free people. They need honest governments.

Photo: alaincouillaud@istockphoto.com

1776 RICHARD PRICE SUPPORTS AMERICAN REVOLUTION AND REVOLUTIONISES MORALITY, INSURANCE, PENSIONS, AND THE NATIONAL DEBT

In Britain, Richard Price is a dissenting minister with a formidable mind who can explain why he believes reason is the foundation of morality, why the national debt is a bad idea, and how to establish pensions and insurance based on life expectancy. Now almost forgotten, he ardently supports the American Revolution, and publishes two broadsides, Observations on Civil Liberty and Justice and Policy of the War with America, which become bestsellers on both sides of the Atlantic. (Today they are out of print.)

1776 TAKE YOUR CHOICE!

In Britain John Cartwright is inspired by the American argument that taxation should only occur with representation.  He applies it to the electoral system in Britain, and finds that system wanting. 

In Take Your Choice! Cartwright calls for eliminating property qualifications and giving the vote to all men.  He supports a secret ballot that protects every voter’s privacy, and equal electoral districts.  In 1793 he will advocate the vote for women. The excesses of the French Revolution will make Brits suspicious of radical change, but Major Cartwright, plagued by bad health and poor finances, will soldier on.

1778-1782 REPEAL OF UNFAIR IRISH & SCOTTISH PENAL LAWS GETS UNDERWAY

Since 1760 some members of Parliament have been trying to repeal the Penal Laws that discriminate so harshly against Catholics in Ireland and Scotland. Finally in 1778 Parliament passes the First Catholic Relief Act, which allows Catholics to inherit and purchase land.  Despite rioters who oppose the reforms, Parliament gives the Irish Parliament independence in 1782. Still missing from reform is the vote for Irish Catholics. 

1780 BRITS DESTROY OLD NEWGATE PRISON

Two men, John Glover and Benjamin Bowsey, described in newspaper records as 'Black' or 'Mulatto' lead a "riotous and tumultuous assembly" to Newgate Prison "to liberate their honest comrades". They assault the gates, set loose the prisoners, and setting fire to set fire to jail. The destruction of Newgate is against the law, but it is long overdue. It is a horrible, unhealthy place. Glover and Bowsey are pardoned when they agree to serve in the Corps of Footmen.

1782 PARLIAMENT FORCES RESIGNATION OF PRIME MINISTER 

Lord North is Prime Minister when the American colonies gain their independence. In a first for Parliament, MPs force him to resign. Until this date the King had dismissed ministers. Now Parliament is claiming this right.

America's Liberty Bell

"Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof," says the inscription on the Liberty Bell. Cast in London in 1751, the bell rang for liberty in Independence Hall, Philadelphia, until it cracked.

Photo:drbueller@istockphoto.com

1783 BEGINNING THE WORLD ANEW

It has taken Revolutionary Americans eight years (1775-1783) to win their freedom and to assert the original, radical idea that people can be trusted to govern themselves. The war is won because of their courage and ideas; because they had many British supporters; because the French and the Dutch provide money and the French supply weapons, a naval blockade, and troops; because of the bravery and integrity of George Washington, who despite countless defeats refuses to give up; and because, according to Washington, ‘Divine Providence’ lends a helping hand.

Undoubtedly there are other reasons. One British officer remarked that even if they had conquered all the men in North America they would never be able to conquer the women.

1784 JAMES RAMSAY PUBLISHES AN EXPOSE OF THE HORRORS OF SLAVERY

James Ramsay entered the Royal Navy as a surgeon, and served with a fellow Scot, Captain Charles Middleton, on HM Auburn. He is sickened when they encounter a slave ship, and he discovers hundreds of men and women suffering the most appalling conditions in the hold. Two years later, he is injured, leaves the Navy, and takes Holy Orders. He asks to be sent to the Caribbean, so he can minister to slaves.

In 1763 he sails to the island of St. Christopher, now St. Kitt's, becomes pastor to a church and surgeon on several plantations. Horrified by their living conditions and the punishments he begins a fourteen-year-struggle to improve their living conditions, and invites them to attend church. The planters resist, and make life hell for him and his family. Ramsay leaves in 1777, finds his old Captain, Charles Middleton, has risen in the Navy, and he and Lady Middleton are very interested in his account of slavery. With the help of the Middletons, Ramsay writes his expose, and publishes it. His Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of African Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies is a sensation, and contributes to growing public revulsion at slavery.

Horses in pasture

Riding to London, Thomas Clarkson breaks his journey at Wadesmill, Hertfordshire, shown here, and has a revelation
about slavery.

Photo: Blue Tiger

1785 THOMAS CLARKSON'S VISION

While at Cambridge, Thomas Clarkson enters a Latin essay competition on the topic, 'Is it lawful to enslave the unconsenting?' To write it, Clarkson reads everything he can find on his subject, and interviews sailors involved in the trade. He is appalled at what he learns. He wins the Classics prize.

He is 25, and travelling on horseback between Cambridge and London in June, when he stops at Ware, and has what he later calls a spiritual revelation from God: "A thought came into my mind," he wrote, "that if the contents of the Essay were true, it was time some person should see these calamities to their end."

He resolves to dedicate the rest of his life to ending slavery.

1786-1787 CLARKSON PUBLISHES ESSAY; MEETS WITH SHARP, LORD MIDDLETON, AND WILBERFORCE; THEY DECIDE TO ABOLISH THE SLAVE TRADE TOGETHER

Clarkson translates his Latin essay and publishes it as An Essay on the slavery and commerce of the human species, particularly the African. The two young men (Clarkson is 26, Wilberforce is 28) meet with Sharp meet and at the instigation of Lord and Lady Middleton plan a campaign to abolish slavery.

Africa on boy's face

To read about the the Fellowship that abolished the slave trade and slavery.

To 1787

 

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Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008 David Abbott & Catherine Glass