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The United Empire Loyalist Settlement at Long Point, Lake Erie
Chapter II. Political Aspect of the Revolution

The Acts of the Imperial Parliament by which direct taxes were imposed on the American colonies are to be regarded as the culmination of the series of causes which brought on the revolution.

In this series of events the most important is, no doubt, the renewal of the restrictions on colonial trade, enforced soon after the third George began his reign. Under the old “navigation laws” and “laws of trade” the colonial produce had to be exported directly to Britain, and thence by British vessels only, carried to its destination. Similarly, goods for the colonies had to be brought to Britain and thence to the colonies in British ships. The American colonies were not allowed to trade even with other colonies directly. For nearly a century these odious Acts had been evaded by an organized and well arranged system of smuggling. The revenue officers of the Crown were lax in their enforcement of the letter of the law; consequently the merchants of various states, and chiefly those of Massachusetts, had grown rich by the illicit traffic, and were exasperated beyond measure by the attempts of the revenue officers, under fresh orders, to enforce the laws. Fourteen of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were engaged in trade which was affected grievously by these restrictions. At the time of the Declaration of Independence John Hancock was a respondent in suits of the Crown to recover £100,000, or over, for alleged infractions of the trade laws. Thus the questions relative to trade and commerce are to be regarded as a primary cause of the revolution.

Another primary cause was the fact that colonial industry and manufacture were restricted. The colonists were denied the use of natural advantages, such as waterfalls; they were forbidden the erection of sundry kinds of machinery, particularly spinning and weaving machines; the king’s arrow was placed on trees in the forest, which were two feet or over in diameter, at a height of twelve inches from the ground; the manufacture of sawn lumber, except for home consumption, was interdicted; the market for dried fish was cut off. the commerce in sugar and molasses was rudely interrupted; the most important and profitable avenues of trade were closed to them. Hence one of the aims of the revolution was to take oft the shackles which bore heavily on the rising colonies.

The explanation, or excuse it may be called, for these impositions lies of course in the opinion held by all Imperial governments at that time, that colonies existed for the benefit of the Mother Country only. The world has at last outgrown that doctrine, and we are to-day reaping the benefit of the removal of restrictions which was accelerated by the shock of the loss of half a continent. But all nations and governments are to be judged according to the general standard of enlightenment at the time of the events under consideration. It is easy to criticise a public policy when the result of a chain of events has demonstrated it to be wrong. Before the issue, its wisdom or foolishness is for the most part a matter of opinion. Had we been a member of Lord North s Government we would have, no doubt, thought the existing colonial policy a natural and necessary one; had we made a fortune smuggling tea, wine, or molasses, we would have, no doubt, thought that same colonial policy vile and inhuman. Living as we do with a century and a quarter of added experience, we neither commend its wisdom nor criticise too harshly its application. Let us be merciful. If we cannot be merciful let us be fair, and give the devil, on both sides, his due.

We now come to that question which, as an apple of discord, was rolled around the parliamentary table for ten long years, and at last plunged the nation into warfare and led to the dismemberment of the empire: “ Has the British Parliament power to tax the colonies without giving them representation in the Imperial Parliament?”

This question may be considered: Firstly, from a purely legal aspect; secondly, from the standpoint of expediency; and thirdly, from the moral and ethical side.

As a matter of abstract right, the Mother Country has never parted with the claim to ultimate supreme authority of legislation on any matter whatever. This has always been acknowledged by constitutional lawyers. If the Imperial Parliament were to resign this ultimate right, the tie that binds the empire would be dissolved, and the colonies would forthwith become independent states. It is that right which, along with the acknowledgment of a common head, makes us a part of the British Empire of which we are so proud The question of the abstract right of taxation was never disputed; simply that of taxation without representation. Yet we must remember that the theory of <f no taxation without representation was not settled at the time of the Revolutionary War. Many of the important cities of the United Kingdom, and the large manufacturing districts were not represented for fifty years after this time; for example, Bristol, Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. Yet they did not resort to arms. Their burdens were heavy, but with the patient loyalty of true Britons they bore them until the good sense of the present century gave them a share in the government. Not so the colonies. They enforced their demands by an appeal to arms.

It would seem, moreover, as if the moving spirits of the revolution had seized the enforcement of taxation as an excuse for the unfilial demand of absolute separation from the Mother Country. On what other supposition can their haste and violence be accounted for? To what else can their action be attributed?

Secondly, let us discuss the action of Britain from the standpoint of expediency. Viewed in the light of the actual result—the loss of the southern half of this continent—it would seem as if the Stamp Act and the tea duty were inexpedient. Yet it may be questioned, if, as the writer is convinced, the question of taxation was used as an excuse for the Declaration of Independence, would not the leaders of the revolution have made some other act of the Mother Country the basis of their agitation ? The actions of these men at the close of the war did not show that rigorous adherence to right and justice which they had insisted on so strenuously before the revolution. The following chapters will prove this point.

But even allowing that the taxation was inexpedient in the light of the result, was it a fair demand ? For nearly two centuries the colonies had been watched over by Britain. They had been defended alike from the encroachments of home enemies and of foreign foes. For years the French and the Indian had been repulsed and kept in check. The constant fear of sudden attack and merciless massacre had been removed. The New England colonies were in a state of safety and prosperity they had never known before. Under the superintendency of Sir William Johnson, the Six Nation Indians and their affiliated tribes lived in a marvellously friendly state with the white settlers. They had nothing now to fear from their dusky allies. Their enemies, the French and the tribes of Canadian Indians, were at this time under the same British rule. The protecting arm which Britain now extends around the world was furnishing to the colonies that security in which they contentedly flourished. Even John Otis, one of the most violent agitators of independence, said in 1763, in the course of a public speech at Boston, “The true interests of Great Britain and her colonies are mutual, and what God in his providence hath joined together let no man put asunder.”

Now, on the other hand, the burden on the Home Country was enormous. For nearly thirty years England had been fighting the combined armies of France and Spain, and at times the allied forces of Europe. The tale of British conquest in India and in America, is also the tale of the wonderful endurance and courage of her people. The national debt had been doubled. The people of the United Kingdom were taxed to the utmost, and still there was deficit. In this strait she turned to the colonies and levied a duty on imports, a tax on law stamps, and a tax on tea—the latter being only one quarter of the rate of revenue duty on tea at home. The colonists refused to import the taxed articles ; they burned the stamp office, and a mob of Bostonians forcibly boarded the tea ship Dartmouth and emptied eight hundred and forty boxes into the sea. Such was the response of the New England colonies to the request for help of the hard-pressed Motherland.

Lastly, let us consider the moral aspect of the case. It was no doubt an assertion, by force of arms, of the “Right of Rebellion.” It seems also to have been a triumphant assertion of the “Right of Advantage”— the right to take the controlling power in a tight predicament; the right to enforce consent to their demands at a time when the Mother Country could not fairly defend itself.

The Americans were successful through a combination of circumstances unfavorable to Britain, chief of which were: The terrible pressure of the war in the East; the incompetent Ministry in power at the time; ignorance as to the real state of affairs in the colonies and as to the methods of colonial warfare ; and, of course, the insufficient and imperfectly equipped forces sent to America.

In some cases there may be a distinct “Right of Revolution,” but surely it is only, as in the case of the English revolution of 1688, after years of patient waiting for some great fundamental right, which has been long withheld, and whose accomplishment there seems no outlook of peacefully gaining.

It seems as if the United States has been reaping the fruit of this doctrine of the right to rebel against law and the settled constitution of the land. The sins of the fathers were visited upon the children in that terrible deluge of blood in the sixties, which swept from South to North. In this case the Southern States who wished to withdraw from the Confederacy were the rebels. In 1776 the secessionists had been the patriots. Assuredly nothing under the sun is constant, not even the opinions of American politicians. Within the last two decades there have been over 23,000 separate struggles of labor against capital, in most cases accompanied by force and violence, and the attempted subversion of lawful authority. “And it doth not yet appear what there shall be.” Truly, from the seed of dragon’s teeth sown in the war of rebellion there have sprung up armed warriors in a great and limitless host, who continue to advocate the same principles of mutiny and insurrection that fired the hearts of the revolutionists of the last century with the lust of forbidden power.

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