Despite what the so-called experts want you to believe – the American Revolution was not the War for Independence. And the root cause wasn’t merely “taxation without representation.”
Understanding the history of colonial opposition and resistance to the largest government in history – can provide us with a foundation to advance liberty against the same today.
Writing to Thomas Jefferson in 1815, John Adams asked, “What do We mean by the Revolution? The War?”
The answer, of course, was that the Revolution happened before the War for Independence:
“That was no part of the Revolution. It was only an Effect and Consequence of it. The Revolution was in the Minds of the People, and this was effected, from 1760 to 1775, in the course of fifteen Years before a drop of blood was drawn at Lexington.”
Jefferson, for his part, seemed to agree. In a letter to Henry Lee, he noted that the object of the Declaration of Independence was “not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject.”
He called the Declaration an “expression of the American mind,” that was based on “the harmonizing sentiments of the day.”
That’s similar to how Adams described the “real American revolution” as well:
This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.
While some might point to the Stamp Act as the spark, this radical change can be traced back to James Otis, Jr’s powerful 1761 speech against the Writs of Assistance.
Here, Otis railed against broad-reaching “general warrants,” and argued that the only legal warrants were “special” warrants to search houses or places specially named.
Otis also rejected the notion of government holding sovereignty, or final authority. Instead, he pointed out that “an act against the constitution is void.”
Think of it like this. If government has final authority – then government gets to decide if it has gone beyond its limits.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
On the other hand – the foundation from Otis – that some other entity holds sovereignty. Years later, Thomas Paine described it this way:
“A constitution is a thing antecedent to a government, and a government is only the creature of a constitution. A constitution is not the act of a government, but of a people constituting a government.”
So the start of the “controversy between the colonies and Great Britain” included a view that the people hold final authority.
And that’s just how George Mason put it in 1775:
All power was originally lodged in, and consequently is derived from, the people. We should wear it as a breastplate, and buckle it on as our armour.
An essential question, of course – if the people hold final authority and government power has limits, what must be done when government goes beyond those limits?
Patrick Henry gave us the answer in his 1765 Virginia Resolves against the Stamp Act, the people “are not bound to yield Obedience.”
Months later, John Dickinson made the same case, noting that compliance with the act would establish “the detestable precedent” for more and more power in the future.
It was obvious to the Old Revolutionaries that government had no reason to withdraw from enforcing unconstitutional acts – if the people merely complied.
He continued, all caps and emphasis in the original broadside:
THE Stamp Act, therefore, is to be regarded only as an EXPERIMENT OF YOUR DISPOSITION. If you quietly bend your Necks to that Yoke, you prove yourselves ready to receive any Bondage to which your Lords and Masters shall please to subject you
This is the same argument that Otis had made a few years earlier, “So long as people will submit to arbitrary measures, so long will they find masters.”
We find the same principles carried forward to the Suffolk Resolves of 1774, which called for non-compliance, disobedience to courts, tax resistance and more. In writing the resolves, Joseph Warren used the same language, “no obedience is due” in response to the Coercive Acts.
Later in 1774, the First Continental Congress unanimously supported this position. Starting with opposition to the unlimited centralized power of the Declaratory Act of 1766, which claimed power over the colonies “in all cases whatsoever,” it went on to list a number of ways Parliament exercised this claimed power, including taxes.
John Hancock also made this point, that “taxation without representation” was just a result of this claimed power of parliament. In his Massacre Day oration, he made this clear:
They have declared that they have ever had, and of right ought ever to have, full power to make laws of sufficient validity to bind the Colonies in all cases whatever. They have exercised this pretended right by imposing a tax upon us without our consent
Back to Congress. At the end of their Declaration and Resolves, they endorsed the approach of Henry, Dickinson, Otis and many others, “To these grievous acts and measures, Americans cannot submit.”
Months later, when Gen. Gage marched on Lexington and Concord to enforce a gun control plan, the colonists bravely held the line, as promised.
After just under 2 months of conflict, Gage made an offer of amnesty and peace. Lay down your arms, and you will get a full pardon. Everyone – except Samuel Adams and John Hancock, that is.
So, in response to a message of “give up your guns and give up your friends” – the Second Continental Congress, with Hancock as president – passed the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms on July 6, 1775.
Authored by Thomas Jefferson and John Dickinson, the Declaration asserted “our attachment to no Nation upon earth should supplant our attachment to liberty.”
And how about that offer from Gage? No deal.
In our own native land, in defence of the freedom that is our birth-right, and which we ever enjoyed till the late violation of it; for the protection of our property, acquired solely by the honest industry of our forefathers and ourselves, against violence actually offered, we have taken up arms. We shall lay them down when hostilities shall cease on the part of the aggressors, and all danger of their being renewed shall be removed, and not before.
To understand the “real American revolution,” Adams continued in his letter to Jefferson, we must understand what happened from 1760 to 1775.
The records of thirteen Legislatures, the Pamphlets, Newspapers in all the Colonies ought be consulted, during that Period, to ascertain the Steps by which the public opinion was enlightened and informed concerning the Authority of Parliament over the Colonies.
In just these few short passages above, we can quickly locate some of the core principles underlying the “radical change” in the views of the people. They include:
- Sovereignty – final authority with the people, and power from the people
- Liberty – as the primary object
- Opposition to unlimited, centralized power
- A line in the sand – noncompliance and resistance as the strategy to keep government in check.
Once-again facing a government that essentially claims federal supremacy in all cases whatsoever, patriots of today should follow the approach of those before us – and put a heavy emphasis on these foundational principles.
As Hancock put it, “Remember, my friends, from whom you sprang.”
Going from the largest government in history to a true “land of the free” won’t be quick, and it won’t be easy. But as Samuel Adams put it, “The truth is, all might be free, if they valued freedom, and defended it as they ought.”
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