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The Causes of American War of Independence
Causes of American War of Independence
Causes of American War of Independence
Reminiscing the American War of Independence: A fictional conversation between Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson by Michael M. Nakade
Benjamin Franklin was born in 1706 and was a famous newspaper magnet and a scientist in Philadelphia by the time young Thomas Jefferson met him in 1775. Jefferson was born in 1743 and was only 33-years-old when he was designated by the Continental Congress to draft the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Benjamin Franklin was 70-years-old, a ripe old age in those days.
TJ: I was just a kid when you attended the Albany Congress in 1754 to suggest that all 13 colonies should unite for the purpose of common defense. I remember seeing your newspaper, a Pennsylvania Gazette article with a picture of a snake, saying “unite or die.” That drawing made a lasting impression on a kid like me in Virginia.
BF: I saw with my own eyes how several Indian tribes were united to protect their self-interests in 1753. When I heard that there would be a congress in Albany, New York in 1754 for all 13 British colonies, I represented my home colony of Pennsylvania and wanted to suggest that all 13 colonies be united under one central government like those Indians were united.
TJ: Colonies were united when the British fought against the French in the Ohio Valley and the Great Lakes regions during the Seven-Year-War, right?
BF: Yes. At the time, we all thought of ourselves as British subjects. Virginia Colony sent a capable young man named George Washington to battlefields. He fought bravely against the French and the Indians. By and large, all 13 colonies were united against the French from 1754 to 1763.
TJ: I remember feeling very proud to be British when the war ended with a victory. The French lost all claims over Canada as a result. I was 20-years-old then.
BF: Then hell broke loose. The British government had so much debt as a result of a long war against the French. More than 50% of their national budget went toward paying for interest on accumulated debt. They figured that British subjects living in America would be willing to help pay off some of the national debt. They may have a point since the war against the French was fought in America to protect the interests of Americans.
TJ: But that was the biggest miscalculation. They began taxing us without asking us first.
BF: That’s right. All these years, the British government left us alone. They called it “Salutary neglect.” Then, all of a sudden, they began regulating our trades and industries to raise funds for themselves. I knew right there and then that it would be ugly.
TJ: I was reading up on John Locke’s work on Two Treatises of Government and became a supporter of Locke’s theory on government. The main thing was that the British Parliament in London was making decisions regarding taxation in the North American colonies without asking us what we thought. Locke taught me that the government is legit only when it derives its just authority from the consent of the governed. The British government didn’t bother to receive colonists’ consents regarding taxation, and therefore, I deemed that government not legit.
BF: That’s right. The biggest mistake on their part was that they underestimated us Americans. We were geographically separated by over 3,000 miles, but we were not intellectual backwaters. We knew what the British knew in terms of arts, science, history, and philosophy, or whatever. We could argue with the best of them when it came to the issue of how to run a country.
TJ: No doubt about it. We fought the British government’s taxation policy with the slogan, “Taxation without Representation is tyranny.” North American colonies did not send any representatives to the British Parliament, but the Parliament decided what to do with British North Americans. We resisted British policy on the ground of principle.
BF: The British government was creative with taxation. They came up with the Sugar Act, Stamp Act, Tea Act, and the Townshend Act. The last one was to tax on America’s imported goods. It was a form of tariff. But, it met with so much resistance. Customs agents were harassed constantly. Nobody in America wanted to pay extra money on goods that came from other nations. Besides, smuggling was a very common thing at the time. It felt very strange to stop smuggling and begin paying taxes on those oversea goods coming to America just because one day in 1767 that the Townshend Act was passed faraway in London.
TJ: In addition to that, the British passed a new law that allowed their government officials to seize and check our private possessions without our consent. That felt like a violation of our liberty.
BF: Speaking of liberty, the group called the Sons of Liberty in Massachusetts was pretty radical. They physically attacked customs agents and resisted British attempts to restrict our liberty in America. The Boston Tea Party was their doing, you know. The British gave the financially troubled East India Company an exclusive right to import tea to America. Americans were to pay tax on tea so that the British could raise tax revenue. But, we didn’t want the British government to decide which company’s tea to drink. We were willing to pay a higher price because we wanted to have the freedom to decide which tea to buy.
TJ: Yeah, and those Sons of Liberty guys dressed up like the Mohawk Indians and threw away the East India Company tea into the Boston Harbor. When I heard the news, I thought it was a bit over the top. After all, they were destroying someone else’s property. But, they deserve a credit for agitating for the American independence shortly after the Boston Tea Party incident in 1773.
BF: Everything snowballed from there. The British were determined to show who the boss was and passed the Coercive Act in 1774 and punished Massachusetts. We the people of colonies, with the exception of Rhode Island, were united and got together in my home city of Philadelphia for the first Continental Congress in September 1774. We decided to boycott British goods and petitioned the King to reconsider the Coercive Act. For the most part, 1/3 wanted to reconcile with Britain, 1/3 wanted the outright independence from Britain, and the remaining 1/3 didn’t know what they wanted.
TJ: I was elected to the Second Continental Congress in May 1775. By then, the first shot in Concord, Massachusetts had been fired. The war had begun. I was both excited and fearful at the same time. We the Americans were fighting the mighty British Red Coats. There was no guarantee that we would win the war. If we lost the war, Americas would be subjugated by the British and would have remained second-class citizens for a long, long time.
BF: The public opinion turned toward the Independence when Thomas Paine’s brilliantly written pamphlet called The Common Sense appeared in January 1776. Did you know that I was responsible for arranging his emigration to Philadelphia from England? Anyway, his work had lots of John Locke’s ideas of government, and it really swayed the public’s sentiment toward the creation of the American Republic.
TJ: By the summer of 1776, we had reached the point of no return. The Second Continental Congress decided to create an official written statement regarding America’s intent to seek independence from Britain. The Congress appointed me to draft the declaration. I was only 33-years-old back then, but had the honor.
BF: I was in my ripe old age of 70. I knew what a good writer you were. You did a great job of drafting, and we all got together and edited your draft. I suggested that we edit out the word “sacred” and use the phrase “self-evident” for the statement, ‘We hold these truths to be ‘self-evident.’
TJ: Yeah, I created the draft, but it was just a draft. Lots of people in America think that I wrote the whole thing totally on my own. The finished product that everyone in America knows is a lot different from the one I had drafted. Sometimes, I feel that I got too much credit.
BF: Well, Thomas, you did a good job of coming up with the first draft. You deserve the credit. As for me, after the declaration was read on July 4, 1776, I was getting ready to go to France as America’s first official diplomat. My job was to win the support of Britain’s archenemy, France.
TJ: I think you are the unsung hero of the American Revolution. You did such a great job of winning the French support in 1778. It was the turning point in our war effort. There was no way that we could defeat the British without the help from the French.
BF: Well, the biggest credit goes to Gen. George Washington. He was the glue that kept our green American troops known as the Continental Army together. Although he lost far more battles than he won, he kept fighting and didn’t quit. The longer the war went on, the better our chances became. It was all because of Washington’s leadership.
TJ: I agree. Gen. Washington was a great man. He was the unquestioned leader. He also kept America together after the Articles of Confederation failed. He un-retired from his Mount Vernon Plantation to chair the Constitution Convention in 1787. I was in France at the time, but Madison wrote to me and kept me posted. But, Mr. Franklin, you did your part in 1783 when you went to Paris to sign the Treaty of Paris to officially end the Revolutionary War. America got pretty much everything from the British government through the treaty that you negotiated.
BF: Thank you for mentioning it. I did lots of negotiation during the Peace treaty process. I was getting up in my age. Living away from America was getting harder and harder. Thomas, you later took over my job as a diplomat to France.
TJ: When I arrived in Paris in 1784, I was greeted by the French foreign minister with the remark, “Are you the one who replaced Benjamin Franklin?” I said, “No, I cannot possibly replace Mr. Franklin. I’m merely succeeding him.” You were a tough act to follow in Paris. That was for sure.
BF: Oh, thank you. As I look back, I experienced many things in life. I had such a rich and full life. I’m most proud that I served my country for many years and saw that my country became independent during my lifetime. I didn’t live long enough to see you become the president, but I knew you would someday become the president. You were one of the smartest young men I ever met.
TJ: Thank you, Mr. Franklin. I did become the president, but it wasn’t that much fun. Party politics got really nasty. Like you said, I’m glad that I was able to serve my country during my lifetime. I really wasn’t a politician type. I am naturally a philosopher and a scientist. I enjoy putting my ideas and observations into words. I should have been a scholar, really.
BF: Well, you still made it on Mount Rushmore. I know you did well. It has been good talking to you about the beginning of our American Republic.
(Information in this work came mainly from “The Revolution,” a 13-PART DVD series showcasing the Personal Stories behind America’s fight for independence by the History Channel in 2004.)