Abigail Akin

Religion 319 - Prof. Westblade

5 October 2015

Liberty or Death: 1770s

            Leading up to the 1770s, questions concerning the relationship between the colonies and Britain began to circulate. The Stamp Act of 1765 passed by Parliament and accepted by King George III, was pivotal in making the colonies question whether their ruler was a tyrant. The fear of tyranny escalated and by the end of the 1770s Great Britain and America were deep in war.

            The opening of the 1770s saw the Boston massacre with 5 Bostonians killed.[1] John Adams, a lawyer who was later known for signing the Declaration, desired justice for the soldiers, so he volunteered as their defendant in court. His actions laid the foundation for his renown and thus enabled his later activities. Fear lessened within the colonies as the year progressed, however, on the anniversary of the massacre people remembered it with solemnity.[2] A slight lull took place during 1771, but in Massachusetts frustrations with Lieut. Governor Hutchinson escalated. In 1772 Samuel Adams (John Adams older cousin) created an organization called the Committee of Correspondence enabling communications to circulate between the colonies, thus unifying them together against Great Britain. These years were the lull before the storm. The idea of Britain as the tyrant was shaping within the minds of those in the colonies and only confirmed by 1773.

            May 10, 1773 the Tea Act was passed through Parliament; the far reaching consequences of that decision would not be realized until the winter of 1773. The Tea Act gave a monopoly on the trade of tea to the East India Company;[3] those in Philadelphia created a resolution which said “That the duty imposed by parliament upon tea landed in America, is…a direct tendency to render assemblies useless, and to introduce arbitrary government and slavery.”[4] On November 28, the Dartmouth sailed into the harbor of Boston.[5] Samuel Adams gathered with 5,000 others to plan a way to send the ship back to England. Governor Hutchinson, the most “detested” man in Boston, attempted to unload the tea but was unsuccessful because of the patriots in Boston.[6] On December 16, 1773, about a million and a half dollars’ worth of tea was dumped into the bay. When parliament found out in late January 1774, they believed that only a fraction of Boston was involved and dismissed the full extent of fervor amongst the whole coast of the Americas. Parliament believed that only through direct interference would the colonies be put back into order. Thus, against the British constitution, Parliament on March 14 passed the Boston Port Bill without representations from the colonies. [7] This bill closed the port of Boston from any incoming or outgoing ships, essentially closing off trade to Boston and the surrounding area. Some of the colonialists saw the justness of the Boston Port Bill, yet Parliament had not finished. During the following months, Parliament passed what was to be known in the colonies as the Coercive Acts to punish the rest of Massachusetts.

            The Coercive Acts consisted of laws to punish and reinstate order. In the minds of the colonialists, it meant tyranny and slavery. The new laws required colonialist to house military in their homes and only have meetings with the approval from British officials or the governor. These acts went too far for those in the colonies, so they sent letters to England petitioning for the constitution of Britain to be upheld, that “…our chartered liberties are annihilated; and by the third, our lives maybe destroyed with impunity. Property, liberty, and life, are all sacrificed on the altar of ministerial vengeance.”[8]  Instead of stopping, Parliament passed the Quebec Act.  In this Act, Quebec was officially a “Catholic” state, the protestant wording in the oath of allegiance were taken out. When the colonialists heard of this, everything that they believe about Britain being tyrannical was confirmed. If England could determine what religion Quebec practiced, what would stop them from doing the same in the colonies?

            On September 5, 1774, Philadelphia hosted the first Continental Congress. Some of those in attendance were Samuel Adams, John Adams, Patrick Henry and John Dickinson. The outcome of this meeting was to send an appeal to England requesting justice, and to set a time for them to meet again. The sentiment against England was not just those active in politics, but sermons also were preached against the tyranny of Great Britain. One such sermon was preached in December by William Gordon who said “Upon the principles which the British Legislature have adopted… I see not how we can be certain of any one privilege, nor what hinders our being really in a state of slavery to an aggregate of masters, whose tyranny may be worse than that of a single despot.” [9] This sermon was just one in many that were preached across the Americas during this time against the tyranny of England. During the beginning of 1775, Parliament was debating what they should do concerning the rebellion of America. Many argued for coercion that would ultimately be “merciful” others argued for peace and reconciliation. [10] Two such advocates for reconciliation was Franklin and Burke. Yet, while Parliament debated, the colonies were waiting for a reply to their requests.

            With the dawning of 1775, the militia in the colonies were forming and beginning to stash away ammunition. One such place was in Concord. General Gage heard of the stash and decided to confiscate it in a secret military expedition; however, those in Concord found out about it and decided to defend their stash. Thus, on April 19, 1775 the first shot was fired. The battle of Concord and Lexington was the first battle fought for the liberties of the Americans. On May 10th, the Second Continental Congress met. They decided to put George Washington as commander and chief, they also wrote a constitution, and issued orders for the training of a military. By June, George Washington took command of the Continental Army. In July, Congress sent the Olive Branch Petition written by Dickinson and Franklin to King George III. In October and November, Congress ordered for a navy and marines to be established and trained. By June of 1776, Congress ordered 5 men to write a declaration of independence; on July 2nd the final version was finished with a few minor changes still needing to be changed. On July 4th 1776, the Continental Congress ratified the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

            The understanding that tyranny was not something to be tolerated was preached throughout the land during the whole of the war.  One example was Samuel West who preached “…when a people find themselves cruelly oppressed by the parent state, they have an undoubted right to throw off the yoke, and to assert their liberty… by the law of self-preservation, which is the first law of nature, they have not only an undoubted right, but it is their indispensable duty…”[11] and as he says later in his sermon “…there cannot remain a doubt in any man, that will calmly attend to reason, weather we have a right to resist and oppose the arbitrary measures of the King and Parliament.”[12] Liberty from tyranny was something so ingrained within the minds of Americans that they were willing to die in order that they and their children might be free. Battles continued for the next seven years but in the end, liberty from tyranny was what Americans succeeded in accomplishing.

Bibliography

 Beeman, Richard R. Our Lives, Our Fortunes and Our Sacred Honor: The Forging of American             Independence, 1774-1776. New York: Basic Books, 2013.

Ramsay, David, and Lester H. Cohen. The History of the American Revolution. Vol. I. Indianapolis:          Liberty Classics, 1990.

Thornton, John Wingate. The Pulpit of the American Revolution: Or, The Political Sermons of the             Period of 1776 With a Historical Introduction, Notes, and Illustrations. New York: Burt        Franklin, 1970.



[1] Richard R. Beeman, Our lives, Our Fortunes and Our sacred honor: The forging of American independence, 1774-          1776 (New York: Basic Book, 2013), 71.

[2] David Ramsay, The History of the American Revolution, Vol. 1. Edited by Lester H. Cohen. (Indianapolis:          LibertyClassics, 1990). 85.

[3] Beeman, 22.

[4] Ramsey, 91.

[5] Beeman, 23.

[6] Ramsey, 23.

[7] Beeman, 28.

[8] Ramsey, 101.

[9] John Wingate Thornton, The Pulpit of the American Revolution or, the Historical introduction, Notes, and         Illustrations. (New York:Burt Franklin, 1970).  201.

[10] Ramsey, 149.

[11] Thornton, 280.

[12] Thornton, 304.