Our country turns 243 years old today. Today, I’ll celebrate Independence Day in the fashion that is most appropriate for me: I’ll consider our history and write about it’s influence on our country today.
In 1607, long before the American Revolution, King James I sponsored a settlement of Englishmen along the banks of a river that would later be called the James River. This settlement would become known as Jamestown, the historical starting point for all of the North American Anglosphere https://www.history.com/topics/colonial-america/jamestown.
The territory claimed by ” Great Britain” ( the new name of the politically united Kingdoms of England, Wales and Scotland) north of Spanish- held Florida was named for King James’ predecessor, the ” Virgin Queen” Elizabeth I. That name was Virginia, a name still carried by a historically significant state in the American Union http://www.theus50.com/virginia/history.php.
In 1620, as the English and Scottish planters and indentured servants were establishing themselves in the Chesapeake area, a ship known as the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth, England. These Puritan colonists that we call Pilgrims today arrived in Massachusetts with a specific religious mandate that favored Puritanism and what became the Massachusetts Bay Colony became a refuge for Puritans persecuted by the authorities of the Church of England https://historyofmassachusetts.org/history-of-the-massachusetts-bay-colony/.
Early Colonial Governance
In the very beginning, Virginia was governed by a president and a seven member council chosen by King James I. The first two administrations of this colony were distracted by sickness, hunger, Indian attacks and squabbles related to class conflicts. The third administration, led by Captain John Smith, proved to be the stabilizing force that the colony needed to survive. More settlers were sent in from Britain by the Virginia Company, thus incurring a debt that the Company was ill- prepared to repay.
Investors were getting desperate, so they adopted desperate measures to induce patriotic Englishmen and Scotsmen to (a): invest in Company shares in the name of national pride and patriotism and (b): leave the comforts of home and try their hands in the wilderness of the New World. They met with some success in their public relations program, but infighting and increasing debt led King James I to rescind the Company’s charter and make Virginia a royal colony in 1624, to be led by a royally appointed governor. In 1627, royal approval was granted to the Virginia Assembly to work in concert with the governor to oversee the affairs of the colony https://www.nps.gov/jame/learn/historyculture/the-virginia-company-of-london.htm.
In Massachusetts Bay
King Charles I in 1629 confirmed the Massachusetts Bay Charter, which granted the rights of native born Englishmen and limited self- government to the settlers of the Bay Colony http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/documents/1600-1650/charter-of-massachusetts-bay-1629.php. As the Colony grew, the Puritan culture was ( as intended) preeminent and little toleration was afforded to members of other faiths, be they Catholic, Quaker or Baptist https://historycollection.co/the-harsh-and-humiliating-religious-persecutions-in-colonial-new-england/2/.
During the era of Oliver Cromwell and his Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was largely left to its own devices, favored as it was by the Puritan government of England. That changed in 1664, when King Charles II sent a commission to New England to evaluate the condition of the Colony. The Massachusetts colony cherished the independence that it had been granted and chafed at the newly restored king’s efforts to bring the colony under more direct royal rule https://mises.org/library/english-crown-vs-massachusetts.
Here It Comes
New England was always rather set apart, beginning as it did as a refuge for Puritans with a specifically theocratic mandate. Anglican Virginia, on the other hand, was quite content to be English, at least at the beginning. Other colonies that were established were the colonies of Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The Dutch colony of New Netherland was taken by the British crown and renamed New York, while New Sweden became Delaware http://www.celebrateboston.com/history/carolinas.htm, http://www.celebrateboston.com/history/maryland.htm, https://www.americanheritage.com/new-amsterdam-becomes-new-york, https://www.thoughtco.com/key-facts-about-the-pennsylvania-colony-103879.
Scots- Irish and Germans Join the Party
Around the turn of the eighteenth century, the Anglicans and Puritans were joined by Presbyterians from Scotland and Ireland, along with German Reformed, Amish, Mennonites and Lutherans from Southwestern Germany and the Germanic areas of Switzerland. The Stuart dynasty fell before the incoming Hanoverians who by the mid- part of the eighteenth century kept Britain and her colonies under a tighter leash than the Stuarts had formerly https://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2014/10/13/migration-to-america-in-the-1700s/.
Salutary Neglect and its Consequences
Salutary Neglect was the British policy of loose enforcement of its trade regulations and permissive attitude toward internal self- government by the American Colonists. It prevailed from the beginning of the eighteenth century to the end of the French and Indian War ( 1754- 1763), when the British Parliament thought to recoup its debts by taxing the American Colonies and asserting direct control over the region. The Townshend Acts of 1767 marked the end of the policy of Salutary Neglect and made British rule felt more directly by the American Colonists, who resented the erosion of their freedoms https://www.britannica.com/topic/salutary-neglect.
With the enforcement of the Navigation Acts and the presence of a British occupying Army on American soil, things got tense and in Boston, things reached a head in 1773 with the Boston Tea Party. People disguised as Indians threw a few thousand pounds’ worth of tea into Boston harbor and inspired the British Parliament to enact further repressive measures meant to cow the American colonists into submission. Of course, all that did was rally the other Colonies on the Eastern Seaboard in support of their brethren in Massachusetts http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/timeline/amrev/rebelln/.
1775: It Begins
The Revolutionary War started when a vastly outnumbered Patriot militia in Lexington confronted British troops charged with capturing Patriot leaders and appropriating a Patriot arsenal. It looked to be a bluff on the part of the Patriots because they did begin to disperse peacefully on the orders of Major Pitcairn, who commanded the British force. Some random shot rang out and the incident ended with eight Americans dead and a war begun that would encircle the globe https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-american-revolution-begins.
It did not take long for other discontented Colonists outside of New England to rally around their Northern brethren. In Virginia, the gentry deeply resented what they saw as unwarranted British interference in their lives through taxation levied to finance an occupying army in their colony. As a result of this, they played a leading role, militarily, diplomatically and politically, in throwing off British rule. In point of fact, the Declaration of Independence was penned by a Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, while Patrick Henry ( another Virginian) was the ” Revolution’s Orator” and George Washington ( of Virginia) took to the field as the General of the Continental Army http://discerninghistory.com/2013/10/patrick-henry, http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com/thomas-jefferson-declaration-of-independence.html, http://www.ushistory.org/valleyforge/washington/george2.html.
Independence Day, July 4, 1776
After a lot of haggling and editing, the Continental Congress finally approved the final draft of the Declaration of Independence, on the fourth day of July, 1776, finally severing the Thirteen Colonies from the rule of King George III https://www.loc.gov/item/today-in-history/july-04, http://www.ushistory.org/Declaration/document/.
It took another seven years to bring open war between the United Colonies and Great Britain to a formal conclusion with the Treaty of Paris in 1783. It took another war, the War of 1812, for Great Britain to finally acknowledge American sovereignty. Those who chose to remain British subjects either moved to Great Britain or went North to Canada, the tenor of the local populace having overwhelmingly turned to the Patriot cause.
243 years later, here we are, a free and sovereign people under a Republic that has never been conquered, despite the best efforts of disruptive influences at home and abroad to rob us of our freedom and shame our proud citizens into silence. Many of our fellow citizens have been inured to the erosion of our rights and identities by social conditioning conducted through a media narrative.
This narrative affirms the rights and dignity of every cultural group that has entered the United States except for the founding ones. The founding groups ( the Anglo- Americans, Scots- Irish and German- Americans), subsumed under the appellations of hillbilly, redneck, white trash and white oppressor are recast into the role of the social villain against which cultural and racial prejudice is not only approved, but celebrated by current society.
Many of our ancestors fought in the War of Independence to affirm our sovereignty and dignity as a people. We were at one point highly regarded and respected as a people. What happened? A movement was launched that demonized the majority while uplifting minority groups, encouraging multiculturalism on the one hand, while spewing contempt on the founding cultures on the other.
When our nation declared independence, we were in the middle of a war. Divisions in today’s society and hostility between entire groups of people has led to a similarly violent reaction. Class divisions exist on a starker scale today than they have before, with the demise of the middle class and the unwavering course toward destitution our economy is leading us. The wealthy keep their wealth secure and the poor scramble desperately to make ends meet from week to week, dignity forgotten, pride a distant memory.
When a group of Colonial farmers, merchants, ministers and politicians found their integrity being compromised by British intrusions, they rose and physically drove out the strongest army in the world at that time, with the help of French, Spanish, Dutch and German allies. How do we fight something that has so insidiously attached itself to our national consciousness? Do we fight or follow the course of the Continental Congress, by attempting to reason with our opponents first and using violence only as a last resort?
The Declaration of Independence continues to serve as an inspiration to patriotism, but I might think that the lesson behind this Declaration might be just as valuable. Wars are sometimes waged when all other options have been exhausted and something more important than life or wealth is on the line. The scruffy warriors of the eighteenth century felt increasingly violated as a nation until they finally rose up, strong in their convictions that they were actually right.
They believed that their way of life and their hard work on the frontier were things that were worth protecting. They weren’t willing to compromise with people who refused to listen to their grievances or respect their views. They felt that they were born to the freedom that they were willing to defend to the last drop of their life’s blood. Their convictions and sacrifices were ( until recently) celebrated and honored by their descendants and by the nation as a whole.
Today, we honor the birthday of our nation, set in writing by a man, formerly revered, named Thomas Jefferson. Today, he is vilified as a slave- owner and sex fiend, his ideals set to the side. Statues of British kings were torn down by Revolutionaries and yet we remember that once we consented to be governed by them.. until we withheld that consent.
Americans can tolerate a lot, but we can only be pushed so far before we remember our heritage of individualism and self- reliance, before we fight back. Let’s remember today that like our people those many years ago, we are faced with a choice.. to continue down an increasingly dark path or to break out into the light and forge a new path. May we make the sensible choice.