Friday, January 12, 2018

Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms, Part VII: American Ego, contd.

Not only does the text of the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms appear to support this somewhat paradoxical interpretation of America’s place within the contemporary British Empire – at once an enthusiastic member of the whole and a fundamentally separate people – but it seems to align rather closely to the position taken by one of the authors of that selfsame document in a treatise published the previous year. Thomas Jefferson’s A Summary View of the Rights of British America – discussed at length many moons ago in this very series – indeed proposed that the manner by which the colonies that comprised British America were founded entitled their later inhabitants to a degree of autonomy somewhat at odds with the plainly observable facts. In attempting to first establish the basis of his claim that the inhabitants of British America were a wholly sovereign and autonomous people, for instance, Jefferson declared that,   

America was conquered, and her settlements made, and firmly established, at the expence of individuals, and not of the British public. Their own blood was spilt in acquiring lands for their settlement, their own fortunes expended in making that settlement effectual; for themselves they fought, for themselves they conquered, and for themselves alone they have right to hold.

As with his and Dickinson’s later Declaration, the circumstances of the colonial founding were restated in such a way as to valorize individual initiative and omit any explicit mention of private enterprise or official patronage.

While it was most certainly true that the British public did not fund the establishment of any of the colonies for whom Jefferson professed to speak in 1774, nor were the individuals whose “fortunes” were “expended” in the process solely those who participated in the project as migrants. A number of these selfsame colonies were, as aforementioned, the product of joint-stock ventures by which individual shareholders staked their investment upon the possibility that the settlement of North America would generate a significant dividend. The involvement of these financiers was certainly of a different quality than that of the colonists themselves – they did not spill their blood, for instance, nor suffer the countless hardships with which the American wilderness abounded. They were, nevertheless, a vital element of the process as a whole. Their financial contribution, after all, is what made the transportation of peoples from Britain to the New World possible and further provided for the material support of the transplanted settlers during the often strained circumstances of the opening phase of colonization. For Jefferson to have claimed of the founding colonists that, “For themselves they fought, for themselves they conquered, and for themselves alone they have right to hold [.]” thus represents an oversimplification very much in keeping with those previously cited in his and Dickinson’s 1775 Declaration. While the 17th century architects of the Jamestown or Plymouth settlements may have believed with all sincerity that they were indeed laboring for their own personal or communal benefit, the owners of Virginia Company stock may have understood with equal candor that these same migrants were enduring toil, disease, starvation, and death for the purpose of increasing the average share price. While the former conception is far nobler – and far easier to adopt as the basis of a robust socio-cultural identity – the latter is no less accurate.

A further parallel between the self-perception of American autonomy represented in Jefferson’s 1774 A Summary View and his and Dickinson’s 1775 Declaration can be found in their shared – though qualified – admission of the benefits America derived from its association with the British Empire. The latter, in attempting to affirm both the solidity of the Anglo-American relationship and define the manner by which it had become strained, described the,

Harmonious intercourse [that] was established between the Colonies and the Kingdom from which they derived their origin. The mutual benefits of this union became in a short time so extraordinary, as to excite astonishment. It is universally confessed, that the amazing increase of the wealth, strength, and navigation of the Realm, arose from this source [.]

Note the use of the phrases “mutual benefits” and “the Realm.” Rather than explicitly acknowledge the various advantages that the inhabitants of British America derived from their close association with one of the wealthiest empires in human history, Jefferson and Dickinson styled the dividends of the Anglo-American relationship as being either reciprocal or having strengthened Britain itself. The implication of this phrasing would seem to be that Britain derived greater advantage from its continued involvement in North America than the colonists themselves and/or that the only reason Britain continued to offer support to the American colonies was out a desire for mutual gain.

While expressed more overtly and more harshly, A Summary View gives voice to essentially the same perspective on the same topic. In likewise discussing the significance of the aid Britain had recently extended to the American colonies during the course of the Seven Years War (1754-1763), Jefferson made a point of remarking that,             
    
Not a shilling was ever issued from the public treasures of his majesty, or his ancestors, for their assistance, till of very late times, after the colonies had become established on a firm and permanent footing. That then, indeed, having become valuable to Great Britain for her commercial purposes, his parliament was pleased to lend them assistance against an enemy, who would fain have drawn to herself the benefits of their commerce, to the great aggrandizement of herself, and danger of Great Britain. 

As with his and Dickinson’s later Declaration, A Summary View seeks to establish the motivation behind Britain’s continued investment in North America as having been purely economic, strategic, or otherwise self-interested. While not half so kind as describing the benefits of the Anglo-American relationship as being mutual, Jefferson’s assertion that America received active aid as a result of it “having become valuable to Great Britain for her commercial purposes” would seem to amount to essentially the same thing. Britain, both documents affirmed, did not seek to protect or to assist the people of America out of a sense of kindness, charity, or fellow feeling, but because the former believed that there was sufficient advantage to be derived from doing so. Likewise, as Jefferson and Dickinson’s 1775 Declaration ascribes to the Anglo-American relationship an “amazing increase of the wealth, strength, and navigation of the Realm,” so A Summary View assigned British support for the American colonies during the Seven Years War to an essentially defensive measure intended to prevent some rival power from drawing to themselves “the benefits of their commerce [.]” Again, though via markedly different language, both documents characterized British support for the American colonies as being primarily mercenary. It was a desire for gain rather than any sense of justice that brought forth British generosity, it seemed, and Americans would have done well – in 1774 as in 1775 – to recognize the fact of it.

            The significance of these cited parallels to the discussion at hand – having to do with the somewhat contradictory nature of the position put forward by Jefferson and Dickinson in their 1775 Declaration – would seem to pivot upon the notion of mythology as identity. As cited above, the premise that the inhabitants of the united colonies were the beneficiaries of a philosophical and material legacy wrought solely by their virtuous and long-suffering forbears – to the extent that armed resistance became justified when that legacy was actively threatened – represents a gross oversimplification of the forces and mechanisms that gave rise to the English colonization of North America. The 17th century colonial founders did not live, and toil, and die in a vacuum, they were not constantly under siege by hostile indigenous peoples, and their successes were not wholly the product of their own perseverance. Jefferson’s stated belief to the contrary, therefore, represents faith in a story whose veracity was questionable but whose emotional or psychological appeal would have been difficult to deny.

There would seem to be little glory and less satisfaction to be derived from an acknowledgment that large swathes of British America were settled in consequence of corporate enterprise or royal patronage. A people would thus be better inclined to locate their origins – indeed, the meaning of their existence – in a narrative of repression, exodus, personal sacrifice, and eventual triumph, particularly when it appears to confirm the things they already know about themselves. Americans were an isolated people, and by necessity had developed habits of autonomy and self-reliance. They practised a number of religious faiths among them, many of which were subject to official persecution in Britain proper, and they were often subject to attack by native peoples whose martial traditions could be quite harsh and unforgiving. Jefferson’s theory of the colonial founding – as represented in both A Summary View and his and Dickinson’s 1775 Declaration – gave significance to these observations by tying them to a narrative that inspired pride and encouraged fidelity. The people and polities of British America were not merely by-products of the growth and evolution of an increasingly complex global empire, he asserted thereby, but the living manifestation of the dreams and aspirations harbored by a band of tireless seekers after personal, political, and confessional liberty.

Stirring though this conception of what it meant to be American might have been, however, Jefferson’s intention to deploy it in his and Dickinson’s 1775 Declaration would seem to present something of a contradiction. As written, the document in question appears to both celebrate the Anglo-American relationship as a way of allaying accusations that the united colonies hoped to break away from the British Empire and affirm the sanctity of American liberties as a way of vindicating a resort to armed resistance. Forgoing the latter – establishing the official justification for war between Britain and the united colonies solely upon the basis of loyalty, affection, and the amelioration of momentary disagreements – would surely have been the simpler course, and more likely to succeed in convincing British authorities that revolt was not the aim of their fellow subjects in America. That Jefferson, Dickinson, and their colleagues in the Continental Congress declined to do so – that they all approved of openly declaring that the people of British America identified the source of their rights as something other than their status as British subjects – accordingly speaks volumes about the strength of the contemporary American national identity and the unwillingness of colonial leadership to sublimate the same while seeking to resolve a particularly volatile political crisis.

As noted previously, the notion that the colonies of British America were founded wholly via the initiative and endurance of the settlers themselves – and absent any aide from official sources in Britain – represents a fairly egotistical understanding of why and how the British colonization of the New World came to pass. Just so, an insistence upon this founding narrative as the source of American liberties and the justification for an armed defence of the same by the delegates to the Continental Congress within a text otherwise assertive of American membership in the contemporary British Empire would seem to present a similar quality of socio-cultural vanity. When pressed, it seemed – when confronted by something on the order of an existential crisis – the representative body of the united colonies could not help but assert that Americans were an essentially sovereign people and that the rights they were willing to die to defend had been sanctified by the suffering of their forefathers. Again, simply acknowledging the pride and affection with which most Americans continued to regard British law, British culture, and British institutions would have seemed a surer method of achieving reconciliation. There were no guarantees, of course – arguing that America opposed certain policies, governments, or officials rather than Britain itself was bound to irk those who failed to see a distinction between the nation proper and its various appendages. That being said, assertions of the exceptional nature of American liberties – i.e. anything that described them as being separate from or differently derived than the rights supposedly possessed by all British subjects – could not have but met with even greater consternation. It was one thing, after all, to argue that the aggrieved colonists were not being granted the respect and consideration due to them as subjects of the Crown, and quite another to declare that contemporary British authorities had failed to recognize the significance of the legacy left to the colonists by their settler ancestors. One was most likely to arouse sympathy, the other to generate suspicion.  

Jefferson, Dickinson, and their fellow delegates, however, appeared unwilling or unable to grant this premise. Forced to explain – to their fellow countrymen as well as to the contemporary British government – why it was they had determined to undertake a campaign of armed resistance against British authority in America, it was evidently beyond their collective ability to forego an expression of national autonomy in favor of a successful reconciliation. They were too proud of themselves, it seemed, or too haughty, or perhaps too sensitive of the dishonor they would visit upon their ancestors by failing to acknowledge the importance of their legacy. Jefferson had done as much in his capacity as a private citizen – Americans derived their autonomy from the circumstances of the colonial founding, he argued in A Summary View, and attributed the value of their rights and liberties to the suffering that the founders themselves had endured. Whether this proved a particularly influential doctrine or the treatise in question had simply given voice to what most Americans already understood to be true, its inclusion within a statement of public policy arguably represented a turning point in the history of American national identity.

Having endured a decade of British government attempts to tax the colonies, to regulate their trade, to alter the nature of their governments, and to affect a permanent military presence therein, the authorities which laid claim to the government of British America seemed no longer able to offer the patient reassurance that the sum total of what they desired was the recognition of their accustomed status as British subjects. By June of 1775, in the midst of open warfare between the Continental Army, the British garrison in North America, and their respective civilian supporters, something about the struggle at the heart of the Anglo-American crisis had changed. Americans remained exceptionally fond of their British cousins, reciprocated the affection they were shown by figures like William Pitt and Edmund Burke, and made known their desire to remain a vital part of Britain’s ever-expanding global empire. But now they joined their praise with a caution and a claim. What was at stake in the present conflict, they appeared keen to assert, was not merely their rights as British subjects, but the sanctity imparted to those rights by the blood and treasure expended by the founders of British America. And while the Continental Congress and the colonial governments it represented were doubtless willing to go to some lengths to see further conflict between Britain and the united colonies averted, they were now making clear – via Jefferson and Dickinson’s Declaration – that there were some things that they collectively valued more than the prospect of reconciliation. In so doing, they effectively made the distinction between being British and being America something more than a set of practical circumstances or the pet theory of a gentleman philosopher. That Americans were a people of distinct derivation from their fellow subjects of the Crown was now a matter of public record. Not only were the inhabitants of British America now prepared to argue this fact in public, but, as the text of the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms made clear, they were willing to die for it.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms, Part VI: American Ego, contd.

Returning to the cited passage from the second paragraph of their 1775 Declaration, further evidence of Jefferson and Dickinson’s rather mythologized presentation of the colonial founding can be located in their assertion that the “wilds of America” were, “Then filled with numerous and warlike nations of barbarians.” Aside from what would now most often be referred to as a blatant example of cultural insensitivity or political incorrectness, this obvious implication of this statement – i.e. that the settlement of British America succeeded in spite of the presence of exceedingly hostile indigenous peoples – quite simply fails to correspond to the plain facts of early colonial history. Granting that war – or at least some form of armed aggression – between the residents of the colonies and their various indigenous neighbors did ultimately become an endemic condition of existence in British America, native peoples more than once saved the lives of entire communities of English settlers during moments of crisis in the opening phase of the colonial project. The founders of the Plymouth Colony, for instance, were provided with a vital source of valuable animal furs for resale in Europe by the local Wampanoag people during the early years if the coexistence in the 17th century. Representatives of this same tribe also taught the settlers various agricultural techniques that helped increase their food production and enhanced their ability to survive New England’s harsh winters. This crucial early assistance was subsequently repaid in the 1620s when the Wampanoag requested and received the protection of the Plymouth settlers from their regional rivals the Narragansett.

The early interactions between the Powhatan Confederacy and the inhabitants of the Jamestown colony followed a similar trajectory. The newcomers, acknowledging the importance of cultivating strong local allies, sent an expedition up the James River in 1607 for the express purpose of contacting and establishing relations with the native settlements there. While the subsequent diplomatic contacts were not always entirely harmonious – given as the English settlers were to look upon the Powhatan in a rather patronizing manner – trade and cultural exchange allowed the Jamestown plantation to establish itself upon firmer footing than would otherwise have been possible during its first perilous years. The early inhabitants of Maryland found even more enthusiastic allies in the local Yaocomico people, a branch of the populous and powerful Piscataway. Not only did the Yaocomico first encountered by the Maryland colonists sell them the land upon which they founded their first settlement, St. Mary’s City, in 1634, but they also shared with them various agricultural practices and taught them where they could harvest foods like oysters and clams. As with the inhabitants of Plymouth and Jamestown, it is accordingly debatable whether or not the Maryland settlers would have survived without this assistance, isolated as they were and unfamiliar with local conditions. Indeed, far from being “warlike” or otherwise behaving in a manner that would justify the moniker of “barbarians,” the indigenous nations first encountered by early colonists of what would become British America were often quite welcoming and cooperative.  

All that being said, it bears acknowledging that in none of these instances did early bilateral cooperation lead to sustained and sustaining relationships between indigenous and migrant peoples. Between the 1630s and 1670s, for instance, the inhabitants of the Plymouth Colony and the Massachusetts Bay Colony pushed the bounds of their respective settlements deeper into indigenous territory, became increasingly involved in local power struggles between rival tribes, and ultimately found themselves allied to or engaged in hostilities with seemingly every local native polity in southern New England. Former enemies the Narragansett, for example, became their allies against the Pequot in the 1630s, who in turn found common cause with the English against their former patrons the Wampanoag in the 1670s. Over the course of these conflicts whole nations of indigenous peoples were devastated, scattered, or destroyed while the colonies of New England managed to shoulder their own casualties while continuing to expand apace. The early inhabitants of Jamestown proved similarly caustic to their Powhatan hosts. After fumbling through a series of disagreements over territory, control of resources, and strategic intentions over the course of the years 1608 and 1609, the starving colonists closed out 1610 in a state of war with the natives at the behest of the belligerent Lord De La Warr (1577-1618) and his long-overdue relief expedition. While that particular conflict ended in a peace settlement in 1614, subsequent Anglo-Powhatan conflicts in the 1620s, 1640s, and 1670s left the once powerful nation relegated to a series of reservations and bound by treaty to acknowledge the supremacy of the English Crown. The founding settlers of Maryland were only slightly more generous to their Yaocomico allies, managing to maintain peaceful – and mutually beneficial – relations with them through the 1650s. Thereafter, however, conflicts between the Yaocomico and the migrating Susquehannock, the further expansion of the colony’s borders, and deliberate efforts to remove the entire Piscataway nation from their ancestral homeland left them a scattered, weakened, and much reduced people.

Notwithstanding Jefferson and Dickinson’s assertion in their 1775 Declaration that the forebears of the contemporary population of British America, “Effected settlements in the distant and inhospitable wilds of America, then filled with numerous and warlike nations of barbarians [,]” the truth would seem to be far less flattering to the image of redoubtable colonists laboring against seemingly insurmountable odds. The indigenous nations first encountered in the early 17th century by the founders of such colonies as Plymouth, Jamestown, and Maryland were certainly capable of making war, had been doing so for generations against regional rivals, and were hardly adverse – in the immediate – to the introduction of European weapons. And it also bears acknowledging that their intentions and actions during the early phase of the English colonial project were not infrequently hostile – unannounced incursions into their territory were often met with force and followed by raids that involved hostage taking and executions. Nevertheless, the customary nature of the English response to such behavior was almost always far harsher, more aggressive, and more definitive than any offered by the relevant indigenous peoples. Granting that the Wampanoag, the Powhatan, and the Yaocomico in particular were generally inclined to cooperate with the European newcomers with the intention of leveraging their presence and their technology to their own advantage against their regional rivals, they arguably never went so far as to seek the utter destruction of the settler colonies or the enslavement of their inhabitants. In this sense, recalling the generosity offered by the tribes mentioned here and the fates to which their generosity ultimately led them, it would seem fair to instead characterize Jefferson and Dickinson’s hallowed forefathers as the particularly warlike or barbarous people within the narrative of the colonial founding. Within the context in which this narrative was offered, of course, the truth was of limited worth.

The purpose of Jefferson and Dickinson’s 1775 Declaration was to demonstrate and affirm the legitimacy of the decision rendered by the united colonies to pursue and support a course of armed resistance against the British political and military representatives at that time operating in North America. Key to this objective was the sanctification of the rights and liberties for whose protection the aggrieved colonists claimed to have taken up arms. While acclaimed by the relevant text as being British in origin – as embodied by the British Constitution – to which every British subject could lay a legitimate claim, Jefferson and Dickinson also seemed keen to attribute the appropriate sense of sacredness to these rights by representing them as a form of personal inheritance bequeathed to the contemporary population of British America by the founders of the various colonies therein. It was thus not simply a matter of the colonists seeking to defend something to which all British peoples – be they Scottish, Bermudian, or Quebecois – could lay claim, but rather an attempt on their part to validate the specific hardships suffered by their forefathers in the process of forging the various colonies out of a supposedly primordial wilderness.  For the resulting sense of legacy and duty to have the appropriate effect, of course, the aforementioned hardships would need to be portrayed as having been suitably severe. A narrative of settlement characterized by mild winters, rich land, and ready support from private and public sources, for instance, would hardly have validated – let alone galvanized – the sense of urgency with which the united colonies represented their position as the ongoing Anglo-American crisis entered its most destructive phase yet.

Just so, a nuanced understanding of the relationship between the early colonists and indigenous peoples during the colonial founding would surely have failed to provide any such reassurance as to the sanctity of the Patriot cause or the moral imperative that it claimed to embody. For the evident violations of American liberties committed by British officials to acquire personal significance – indeed, for the burgeoning sense of American exceptionalism to have any value at all – the liberties being threatened required an illustrious legacy of heroic sacrifice that contemporary Americans could feel as though they were being called to validate. Clearly, an accurate retelling of the fates of peoples like the Wampanoag, the Powhatan, or the Yaocomico at the hands of the founders of Plymouth, Jamestown, or Maryland would not have served this purpose. Not only does history record the crucial aide that these nations rendered to the English migrants – effectively giving the lie to any claims of self-sufficiency – but it further attests to their eventual victimization at the hands of aggressive colonial expansion. The collective ego of the contemporary American peoples – centered on a core belief in the providential nature of the colonial project – surely had no use for these unfortunate truths. To Jefferson and Dickinson, their fellow delegates to the Continental Congress, and the millions of people they claimed to represent, America was something special. Its inhabitants were mainly British in origin, of course, and located the genesis of their rights in the history and traditions of those islands. But the experience of colonization had changed them, they often affirmed, made them into something more than another variety of British subject. The hostility of the North American environment – its climate, its wildlife, and indeed its native inhabitants – was central to this narrative, forming the backdrop of antagonism against which the great heroes of the colonial founding labored and fought. And in so laboring and fighting – in blessing the soil with their blood – they accordingly sanctified the rights to which they laid claim as British subjects to a greater degree than any person living in any other region of the British Empire could possibly understand.  

This particular conception of the rights and liberties claimed by the inhabitants of British America in 1775 – in evident defence of which these same inhabitants now found themselves at war – is undeniably an egotistical one. In addition to embracing a rather warped understanding of the mechanisms and means by which the various colonies were founded – individual initiative as opposed to a mix of labor, capital, and patronage, or via struggle against hostile indigenous peoples rather than in cooperation with or through exploitation of the same – it would seem to attribute a degree of moral superiority to the contemporary American people incapable of being claimed by any of their fellow subjects of the British Crown. Certainly, Jefferson and Dickinson asserted in the 1775 Declaration, the inhabitants of the united colonies were proud to be British, and would have loved nothing more than to continue to be so. Unfortunately, as a result of errors and transgression committed by corrupt and ambitious individuals who would claim to act with official sanction, the rights for which the founders of British America had shed blood to see established in the New World had been dangerously threatened. Claims by Parliament, successive governments, and the Crown notwithstanding, Americans understood and valued their rights better than anyone could, and knew that armed resistance to any attempts made to bring them to heel was the only valid course of action. 

Friday, December 29, 2017

Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms, Part V: American Ego

            Though much of the content of Jefferson and Dickinson’s 1775 Declaration appears constructed in such a way as to make explicit the loyalty and affection that the people of British America continued to feel for Britain proper’s legal and cultural customs – while simultaneously assigning blame for their burgeoning campaign of armed resistance upon certain individual ministers, magistrates, or military officers – a few notable passages appear to present an altogether different motive. Rather than portray the united colonies as having been – and endeavoring to continue as – enthusiastic members of the British imperial community whose resort to military confrontation represented only a momentary response to a set of very specific grievances, they instead seem to represent a quality of separateness and exceptionalism as forming a key characteristic of the American colonial project. Despite the fact that these sections occur quite infrequently over the length of the text – at no point, rest assured, do they significantly overpower or threaten the success of its overarching message – their significance ought not to be discounted. Not only do they indicate that the sense of identity and community nurtured by certain members of the various colonial populations was not as Anglo-centric as their public pronouncements would otherwise show – that there was, in their minds, a difference between being American and being British – but they also make clear the degree to which the authors of the 1775 Declaration were either inclined or permitted to bring their own personal philosophies to bear upon the task of crafting the official language of colonial resistance.

            As to the relevant passages themselves, their content, and their meaning, the first occurs at the beginning of the second paragraph of Jefferson and Dickinson’s 1775 Declaration. Though it is a lengthy one, it shall be excerpted here in full for the benefit of later comparison. “Our forefathers,” it reads,

Inhabitants of the Island of Great Britain, left their native land, to seek on these shores a residence for civil and religious freedom. At the expense of their blood, at the hazard of their fortunes, without the least charge to the Country from which they removed, by unceasing labor, and an unconquerable spirit, they effected settlements in the distant and inhospitable wilds of America, then filled with numerous and warlike nations of barbarians. Societies or Governments, vested with perfect Legislatures, were formed under Charters from the Crown, and a harmonious intercourse was established between the Colonies and the Kingdom from which they derived their origin.

Granting the difficulty in attempting to sum up the founding of British America – a project which began in the 16th century and was arguably not completed until the 18th century – in so few words, this exceedingly condensed chronicle nevertheless appears to omit details in a manner that has more to do with national myth-making than the needs of narrative concision.

Interpreted plainly, phrases like “religious freedom,” “At the expense of their blood,” “unconquerable spirit,” and “the distant and inhospitable wilds of America” would seem to conjure an image of self-sufficiency, righteousness, and perseverance. As Jefferson and Dickinson would accordingly have it, the colonies of British America were founded by individual seekers of personal and confessional sovereignty who braved the most profound hardships and carved out stable, prosperous communities for themselves – wholly unaided by the government they had left behind – through sheer grit, determination, and force of will. Whatever Americans possessed, therefore – both their personal properties and the liberties that sustained them – were owed as more to the individual industry of their forebears than whatever protection or assistance successive British governments may or may not have provided. This conception of “Americanness” – i.e. membership in a distinctly American cultural community – was later affirmed in paragraphs twelve and fifteen.

In the former, while accounting for the decision of the Continental Congress and the colonies it represented to embrace the course of armed resistance begun by the Massachusetts militia at Lexington and Concord in April, 1775, Jefferson and Dickinson declared that, “Honor, justice, humanity forbid us tamely surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us.” The latter made use of somewhat different language while seeking to express a very similar sentiment. “For the protection of our property,” it declared, “Acquired solely by the honest industry of our forefathers and ourselves, against violence actually offered, we have taken up arms.” In both instances, note the affirmation of the supposed inheritance of liberty by the people of the united colonies from their familial predecessors. In spite of any affirmations to the contrary, it would seem – i.e. assertions made in the Letters to the Inhabitants of Canada asserting the possession of traditional British liberties by the Quebecois simply by virtue of their being British subjects – the membership of the Continental Congress were at the very least sympathetic to the belief that the rights possessed by British Americans were the earned possessions of a sovereign people rather than the attributes of membership in an larger socio-political community.  

There is, of course, a great deal that these reflections upon the circumstances and significance of the colonial founding fail to acknowledge. Turning again to the particularly lengthy passage cited above, a number of arguably calculated omissions present themselves for further consideration. The statement, for instance, that the, “Inhabitants of the Island of Great Britain, left their native land, to seek on these shores a residence for civil and religious freedom [,]” makes no mention as to the specific mechanisms by which much of would become British America was colonized during the 17th and 18th centuries. Taken at face value, the excerpted phrasing would seem to indicate that the migrations which ultimately gave rise to the various colonies were the product of individual initiative and grounded solely upon the desire of their founders for administrative and/or confessional autonomy. In point of fact, however, though the promise of religious freedom for members of dissenting churches in 17th century Britain was indeed a common motivation among early colonists, the means by which charters, land grants, trans-Atlantic passage, and logistical support were secured was often far less noble. The Virginia Company of Plymouth and the Virginia Company of London, for example, were a pair of joint-stock ventures chartered by James I (1566-1625) in 1606 and funded by merchant-investors for the purpose of extending British sovereignty in North America, extracting valuable natural resources, and ultimately enhancing the wealth and prestige of both the holders of company shares and the Crown itself. In spite of initial failures – the Popham Colony on the Kennebec River and the first shaky years of the Jamestown Colony – both of these ventures ultimately succeeded in planting the seeds of full-scale colonization in New England – in the form of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Plymouth Colony – and the Chesapeake Bay – in the form of the Province of Virginia. 

While the sincerity of the colonists who took part in these ventures, the hardships they endured, or the initiative they demonstrated ought not to be discounted, it similarly cannot be denied that their presence in North America was in large part the result of official patronage and mercantile enterprise. The Calvinist founders of the Plymouth Colony, for instance, most certainly believed that their exodus to the New World represented an escape from the corruption and oppression that dogged them in 17th century England, and their success in building a functioning society was undeniably a direct result of their shared sense of solidarity and determination. That being said, they and their neighbors in Massachusetts Bay did not pay for their own passage across the Atlantic Ocean, often sought material relief from company investors, and keenly understood the security and stability that royal favor promised to provide. The Virginia Colony was no different in this sense, though its founders were not religious refugees, while the proprietary colonies of Maryland, Carolina, and Pennsylvania functioned based on a very similar relationship of capital, patronage, and labor.

Maryland, for example, was the personal project of Cecil Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore (1605-1675), a Catholic aristocrat who parlayed his father’s relationship with Charles I (1600-1649) into a land grant for the founding of a settlement in North America wherein other persecuted Catholics might find freedom from molestation. Admirable though this may sound, however, successful tobacco harvests are what kept the venture afloat and justified the continued attentions of the Lords Baltimore. The territory later comprising the Province of Carolina – and later still North Carolina and South Carolina – was also granted by a monarch as a return on a personal favor. Specifically, in exchange for their aid in seeing him restored to the throne in 1660, Charles II (1630-1685) awarded the eight Lords Proprietors deed and title to tens of thousands of miles of un-colonized wilderness between Virginia and Spanish Florida in 1663. Not only did this serve to justify the loyalty these eight men felt for their sovereign during the first years of his rule, but it served the vital purpose of shielding the productive interiors of Virginia and Maryland from encroachment by Spaniards venturing northward. As with the shareholders of the Virginia Company and the Lords Baltimore, the Carolina Proprietors encouraged rapid settlement by offering very generous terms to potential migrants – religious freedom, grants of land, low or delayed rents, etc.

While it again bears noting the degree of suffering and hardship endured by the founding settlers of these various colonies, and the degree to which success depended upon their industry and endurance, the circumstances cited above under which certain colonies came into being would seem to indicate that the narrative of individual sacrifice put forward by Jefferson and Dickinson in their 1775 Declaration represents but one aspect of what was in fact a very complex process. However hard the first colonists worked – however much blood and fortune they sacrificed in creating homes and governments “In the distant and inhospitable wilds of America” – their presence in the New World was often indisputably the result of private enterprise or noble patronage. The much-mythologized Pilgrims of Plymouth did not – could not – physically transport themselves to the site of their famous landing in Massachusetts, nor were the inhabitants of Jamestown capable of surviving that settlement’s first tumultuous years without the aide expeditions dispatched by the Virginia Company in 1607, 1608, and 1609. Just so, the settlers of Maryland or Carolina would not have been given the opportunity to take possession of and work their individual grants were it not for favors owed by the reigning British monarch to certain members of the landed gentry, the high market value of the crops they raised, or the strategic significance that their settlements enjoyed within the institutional conception of Britain’s expanding presence in North America. In short, while often seeking the autonomy that Jefferson and Dickinson cited, these hardy homesteaders were in fact moving and acting within a framework of capital, patronage, and labor that made little allowance – if any – for truly autonomous behavior. Indeed, while likely little intending it, their endeavors on behalf of confessional isolation, self-sufficiently, or personal wealth arguably helped to found the increasingly centralized British Empire with which their descendants would be forced to contend.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms, Part IV: Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner, contd.

The other specific figure against which Jefferson and Dickinson directed their ire – in the twelfth paragraph of their 1775 Declaration – was the sitting Governor of the Province of Quebec, one Guy Carleton (1724-1808). While, like Gage, Carleton was for all intents and purposes a fairly typical British official in the contemporary mold – i.e. career military, blessed with certain influential allies, and practically-minded – his assignment as chief administrator of British Quebec was arguably bound to make him an object of suspicion in the eyes of British America’s more quarrelsome residents. Having been ceded by France to Great Britain in the aftermath of the Seven Years War (1754-1763), Quebec was something of an oddity within the contemporary British Empire. Possessing a population of over ninety percent French-speaking Roman Catholics and subject to minimal English Protestant immigration, its inaugural British governors – James Murray (1721-1794) and Carleton himself – were quick to point out the necessity of accommodation rather than assimilation – i.e. recognition of existing conditions rather than a concerted attempt to change them. This need became increasingly acute into the late 1760s and early 1770s amid the social and political unrest then unfolding in neighboring British America. Fearing that the popular discontent of the Americans would spread to the restive Quebecois, Murray and Carleton both strongly advised Parliament to allay whatever anxieties their constituents may have been feeling under English Protestant rule by firmly securing their accustomed faith, legal traditions, and territory.

The result, in 1774, was the Quebec Act, by which the borders of the province were expanded threefold over their previous extent, Roman Catholics were permitted to hold civil office without renouncing their faith, the primacy of French law was affirmed in civil cases, and the seigneurial system of land distribution and management was restored. For reasons practical, moral, and philosophical, these measures met with resentment and indignation among the population of British America. Frontiersmen from colonies like Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York had already laid claim to lands that fell within the boundaries allotted by the Act to Quebec, the vast extent of which appeared to them to have been designed specifically to hem in the continued expansion of Britain’s American subjects. That this territory was also to be governed directly by the Crown and peopled by Roman Catholics was further cause for alarm, seeming as it did to secure an immense reserve of land in the interior of the continent for a religion and a style of government – i.e. one lacking in legislative oversight – fundamentally antithetical to the culture, laws, and traditions of Britain’s various American dependencies. As one of the authors of the Act, and the administrator of the resulting colonial polity, Carleton naturally became a focus for these and other fears, anxieties, and reservations as to the purpose and significance of Quebec within the dynamics of Britain’s North American empire.

Bearing all of this in mind – as well as Jefferson and Dickinson’s noted attribution of acts otherwise unfavorable to American interests to certain elements within the British Parliament rather than to Parliament itself – the nature of the claims made of Carleton within the text of the 1775 Declaration were very likely grounded in existing feelings of personal antipathy. Consider, to that end, the relevant passage of the twelfth paragraph therein. “We have received certain intelligence,” it began, “That General Carleton, the Governor of Canada, is instigating the people of that Province, and the Indians, to fall upon us; and we have but too much reason to apprehend, that schemes have been formed to excite domestick enemies against us.” Note the identification of Carleton as the sole named author of this particular conspiracy against the efforts of the united colonies. Like Gage, his actions evidently warranted specific recognition. Perhaps this was a consequence of the nature of his rule in Quebec and the enormity of the threat he theoretically posed to the efforts of the Continental Congress to secure a redress of grievances on favorable terms. Unlike the governors of the various colonies that comprised British America –each of which possessed an elected legislature – Carleton’s authority in British Canada was largely unchecked and absolute. That this ran counter to the norms and traditions held dear by the peoples of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, etc., and that it was furthermore the result of Carleton’s own attempts to reform the government of Quebec was doubtless cause enough for concern. That he should then have used this authority to rally the French-speaking, Roman Catholic inhabitants of the province as well as the native peoples thereof in an attempt to quash the campaign of armed resistance then solidifying in British America surely represented an almost existential affront to the efforts of the united colonies and the ideals to which they laid claim.

Granted, Guy Carleton was not in truth the autocrat or intriguer Jefferson and Dickinson described. While he did, upon receiving word of the capture of Fort Ticonderoga and Fort Crown Point in May, 1775 by a combined force of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont militias, attempt to raise a force from among the Quebecois to see to the defense of Britain’s newest colonial acquisition, his efforts to this effect were neither particularly successful nor wholly without cause. Not only were the French-speaking inhabitants of Quebec unenthusiastic about the notion of undergoing militia duty in service of the British Crown, but they had already been subject to concerted efforts by the First and Second Continental Congresses to seek their cooperation in the ongoing Anglo-American crisis. First on October 26th, 1774 and then again on May 29th, 1775, the delegates assembled in Philadelphia approved the distribution of letters drafted by certain of their colleagues – among them Pennsylvania’s John Dickinson, New York’s John Jay, and Massachusetts radical Samuel Adams – and addressed to the inhabitants of the Province of Quebec. Both of these documents characterized Carleton’s administration as tantamount to tyranny, attempted to alert the Quebecois to the rights they were entitled to as British subjects – representative government, trial by jury, freedom of the press, etc. – and implored them to form a provincial congress of their own and send a delegation to Philadelphia. Though this propaganda campaign ultimately failed to sway the general population of Quebec to a violent rejection of British authority – thanks in part to the privileges extended by the Quebec Act and the efforts of Carleton to suppress the distribution of the offending letters – it nevertheless represented a undisguised attempt on the part of American radicals to foment insurrection in a neighboring British province. Carleton’s subsequent efforts to see to the defence of Quebec – including his admitted but notably cautious authorization of Iroquois forces under British Superintendent Guy Johnson (1740-1788) – therefore very much took the form of a reaction to attempted invasions by the Continental Congress upon his authority as governor.

As with Gage, of course, such mitigating circumstances as described above had little bearing on the manner in which Jefferson, Dickinson, and their colleagues in Congress understood Carleton’s actions or intentions. Their own efforts to incite an insurrection among his subjects notwithstanding, Governor Carleton doubtless appeared to them as the embodiment of all those violations of English rights and English liberties against which Americans had been railing since 1765. Through patronage and persistence he had secured for himself a position in Britain’s North American empire that was nearly without peer in the degree of authority it enjoyed. The passage of the Quebec Act in 1774 – another product of his efforts – effectively sealed this outcome by ensuring the continued loyalty of a people wholly lacking in elected representation and possessed of legal and cultural norms which had little use for the constitutional guarantees whose observation – or abrogation, as the case may be – so often made attempting to govern British America an exercise in frustration. In essence, therefore, Guy Carleton was like a king who ruled without a Commons, without a Bill of Rights, and without a Magna Carta. Or so he doubtless appeared to the authors of the 1775 Declaration, determined as they were to explain and to justify the need they felt to take up arms in defence of their accustomed liberties. Within that specific intellectual and philosophical context, though Thomas Gage certainly represented the greater practical threat to the ability of the colonists to enjoy the rights to which they believed they were entitled, Guy Carleton symbolized the more fundamental danger.

Having attained a position of significant authority in British Quebec via a personal connection – the Secretary of State for the Northern Department at the time of his appointment as Lieutenant Governor in 1766 was a former superior in the military, the aforementioned Duke of Richmond – Carleton then proceeded to aid in and directly benefit from the creation of a government therein that almost wholly disregarded every tenet of the British Constitution intended to guarantee the rights and liberties of all subjects of the Crown. Surely, Jefferson and Dickinson’s 1775 Declaration seemed to posit, this is not what the king or Parliament intended. Surely the English rights and English liberties within which every inhabitant of British America located their freedom and security would never allow themselves to be so blatantly corrupted. Unwilling yet to answer otherwise, the conclusion of the united colonies – as of July 6th, 1775 – was evidently to reject any such possibility. Britain had not failed them, their chosen scribes asserted, nor any principle or institution thereof. Rather – as argued at length – America had become the victim of ministerial corruption and favoritism, military expediency, and personal ambition. Whether in the form of ministers like Bute, Grenville, or Townshend, officers like Gage, or magistrates like Carleton, the ranks of power in the contemporary British Empire evidently abounded in men who were all too willing to sacrifice the principles upon which their nation was grounded in service of their own petty desires. The united colonies would not stand for this kind of behavior – this rampant perversion of the legal and philosophical principles upon which the British Empire was based – to the point of taking up arms in defence of what they knew to be the proper and accustomed relationship between the Crown, Parliament, the government, and British America.

Jefferson and Dickinson’s 1775 Declaration made this case at length, though perhaps not always with the finest attention to detail. To that end, while the manner in which the two scribes differentiated between Great Britain and the British Empire as concepts and certain specific policies or agents of the same exhibits an intriguing quality of finesse not often associated with the frequently bombastic rhetoric of the American Revolution, details not favorable to their position were often elided or omitted. Doubtless this penchant for selective recollection embodies the propaganda purpose of the document itself, aimed as it surely was at both wavering Americans and potentially sympathetic Britons.

Thomas Gage, for instance, while portrayed by Jefferson and Dickinson as arbitrary, brutish, and tyrannical, was in fact a fairly typical example of the contemporary British military administrator. He did see to the seizure of a number of powder reserves in rural Massachusetts beginning in September, 1774, though this was arguably a defensive measure intended to stave off an outbreak of violence between Patriot and Loyalist factions of the colonial population in the midst of the heightened tensions that followed the Boston Tea Party (December 16th, 1773) and the enforcement of the Intolerable Acts (1774). He also did choose to abrogate the agreement guaranteeing freedom of movement that was sealed in April, 1775 between his administration in Boston and the residents thereof, though only after his Loyalist allies – on whose material support his forces depended – demanded it of him. And it likewise cannot be denied that his June 12th declaration did lay a number of fairly damning accusations at the feet of the Patriot opposition and affirm the criminal status of John Hancock and Samuel Adams, though this document also offered, “In his Majesty's name […] his most gracious pardon in all who shall forthwith lay down their arms, and return to the duties of peaceable subjects [.]” Though the wisdom of these decisions on Gage’s part may be fairly debated – as might the evident contradiction between certain of his actions and the principles which those actions were ostensibly intended to uphold – it would seem manifestly unreasonable to attribute malice to any one of them, or to perceive in them evidence of Gage having behaved otherwise than in parallel with the administrative norms of the contemporary British Empire.

Guy Carleton’s behavior in the months and years preceding the publication of Jefferson and Dickinson’s 1775 Declaration was similarly far less sinister than that document indicated. His successful efforts to lobby Parliament for a reform of the government of contemporary British Quebec – the effect of which, among other things, was to place Carleton himself in a position of greatly enhanced authority in that province – while no doubt sincerely understood by certain residents of British America as a threat to their continued expansion into the continental interior, also represented perhaps the only means by which that newly-conquered territory could be kept from eventually devolving into civil insurrection. Just so, while the duly-empowered Governor Carleton did call for the recruitment of local militias and authorize the use of Iroquois war parties following the capture of Fort Ticonderoga and Fort Crown Point in May, 1775, these measures were not nearly what Jefferson and Dickinson made them out to be. Putting aside the fact that his efforts to recruit his Quebecois constituents to military service largely failed, and that the native forces organized by Col. Guy Johnson were limited by the Governor to operate only within British Quebec, all of the efforts Carleton undertook in the name of armed opposition to the united colonies in the spring and summer of 1775 occurred against a backdrop of attempts by the First and Second Continental Congress to foment rebellion within the territory then under his administration. From the perspective of the Governor of Quebec, therefore – and doubtless that of his supporters in Parliament, the government of Lord North, and very likely the Crown – efforts undertaken to see to the military disposition of that realm were wholly justified by the circumstances at hand. As the magistrate charged by the Crown to oversee the government of British Canada, it was not only prudent of Carleton to respond to invasions of his remit with all due energy, it was surely his duty to do so. The aforementioned Letters to the Inhabitants of Canada most certainly constituted such an invasion, and the governor thereof reacted as any magistrate in the contemporary British Empire surely would have.

Acknowledging these facts, of course – these mitigating circumstances upon the otherwise reckless and reprehensible behavior of certain British officials in North America – would have warped the narrative Jefferson and Dickinson were arguably attempting to promote in their 1775 Declaration of a virtuous, aggrieved America at the mercy of rapacious and brutish imperial functionaries. Battle had been joined between the united colonies and British forces in Massachusetts, an invasion of Quebec had been authorized by the Continental Congress, and militias were being raised and dispatched across the colonies in response to the events of Lexington and Concord and the ongoing Siege of Boston. Reconciliation remained the ultimate goal of the American provisional governments and their representatives in Congress – as so much of the content of their 1775 Declaration attests – but the situation remained a delicate one. While support for organized resistance to the Stamp Act, the Townshend Duties, and Tea Act had been common in both the colonies and in Britain proper – particularly among the merchants whose livelihood was affected by recurrent boycotts – a resort to military force by the aggrieved parties in America risked alienating those who were otherwise sympathetic but dreaded the thought of an Anglo-American civil war. The solution, as embodied by Jefferson and Dickinson’s 1775 Declaration, was to craft a message that affirmed the loyalty of Britain’s American subjects and justified their resort to arms by describing a campaign of oppression and hostility perpetrated by men who claimed to represent the interests of the Crown but whose cited behavior clearly demonstrated their corruption, their lack of integrity, and their ultimate responsibility for the deplorable state of affairs then unfolding in British America. Provided that this narrative managed to convince a sufficient percentage of British America’s Loyalist population and a critical mass of merchants and ministers in Britain proper of the justice of the position maintained by the united colonies, the likely – if not inevitable – outcome would surely have been a peaceful settlement of the present crisis on favorable terms to the aggrieved colonists.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms, Part III: Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner, contd.

            Strange though it may seem to have delved so deeply into an examination of 1760s British partisan politics during a discussion of a document written years later and thousands of miles away, the authors of the 1775 Declaration themselves affirmed the connections that they perceived between the machinations of statesmen in London and the events which moved them to take up arms in America. They cited the “Peers and Commoners” whose support they had theretofore enjoyed, the cities and towns that had spoken in their defence, and the one minister in particular whose successes and failures they tied to their own. They spoke of the glories of the Empire, affirmed their pride of place therein, and spoke with respect of its great institutions – its kings and parliaments, and its vaunted constitution. These were not words uttered on behalf of a people who held themselves apart from Britain, rejected membership in the associated socio-political community, and believed formal independence to be a forgone conclusion. Rather, they were the honest assessments of a people still very much invested – even in the midst of an increasingly bloody campaign of armed opposition – in the ebb and flow of British political and cultural life. Speaking for the Continental Congress – and thus for the governments of thirteen separate colonies – Jefferson and Dickinson testified to this emphatically. America remained, and wished to remain, a part of the Empire whose triumph they had aided in the late war with France. The colonists had friends in the Commons, the Lords, and the military, regarded the king with affection and respect, loved the constitution and treasured the rights and liberties it guaranteed. Indeed, their concerns – which had compelled them to resist the abrogation of their prerogatives to the point of armed resistance – had never been with the institutions of the British Empire, or with the British people themselves. Rather, as the 1775 Declaration attested, the source of their discontent lay in the greed, corruption, and duplicity of certain powerful individuals who had perhaps mistakenly been vested with undue authority over the affairs of the Empire.

            Most of these people were not identified by name, though their influence was noted by the manner in which Jefferson and Dickinson described their machinations. Of the train of abuses heaped upon the American colonies in the 1760s and 1770s, enumerated in the third paragraph of the Declaration, the document declared that, “Parliament was influenced to adopt the pernicious project [.]” Mark the difference between this phrasing – an attribution of wrongdoing to an element separate from Parliament – and a claim that Parliament itself was responsible for the abuses in question. It was not the British legislature – a venerable institution whose form and function nearly every American colony sought to imitate – that was responsible for the repeated ills suffered by British America, but rather an influence therein. Just so, it was not Great Britain – a nation and a people worthy of affection and respect – that the united colonies blamed for their misfortunes, but this or that government thereof. To that end, as Jefferson and Dickinson affirmed, the Crown’s subjects in America had every reason to acclaim the Newcastle-Pitt Ministry, and to perceive its triumphs as parallel to their own. By the same token, residents of British America were well-justified in recognizing the Bute, Grenville, and North Ministries as having acted in a fashion inimical to their own particular priorities and desires. Again, the issue was largely one of personality. Some agents, ministers, and even leaders of the British government behaved in a way that comported with the understanding nurtured by the majority of Americans of the British Constitution, the Empire, and their relationship to the same. Others, of course, did not.

            Of these others, Jefferson and Dickinson offered two specific examples. The first, beginning in the seventh paragraph of the 1775 Declaration and continuing through the ninth, tenth, and eleventh, was General Thomas Gage. Commander-in-Chief of British forces in North America since 1763 and Governor of Massachusetts since 1774, Gage was a common source of disdain and frustration among the American opposition to contemporary British tax and trade policies and a frequent target for accusations of cruelty, ruthlessness, and tyranny. Since the pronouncement of the Restraining Acts in April, 1775 – which blocked all trade between British America on one hand and Great Britain, the West Indies, and Ireland on the other – and the associated bolstering of the troops and vessels under Gage’s command (paragraph seven), Jefferson and Dickinson attested to a litany of abuses perpetrated at his behest. First, in that same month in 1775, the General proceeded to make an, “Unprovoked assault on the inhabitants of the [Province of Massachusetts Bay], at the Town of Lexington” wherein his men, “Murdered eight of the inhabitants, and wounded many others [,]” and, “From thence proceeded in a warlike array to the Town of Concord, where they set upon another party of the inhabitants of the same Province, killing several and wounding more” (paragraph nine). Though an assemblage of Massachusetts militias ultimately met this assault upon the lives and liberties of the inhabitants of that colony by driving the remaining British forces back into Boston – where they were thereafter contained under siege conditions – Gage’s campaign of abuses evidently continued apace.

            Having effectively become the inhabitants of an occupied city, Jefferson and Dickinson further explained in paragraph nine, the residents of Boston who found themselves trapped in that city upon its encirclement by American militia forces – and after June 14th, 1775 by the Continental Army – became the next logical target of their nominal Governor’s ruthless intentions. Hoping to depart in peace, the 1775 Declaration explained, and doubtless regarding the integrity of an officer in the British Army as a sufficient guarantee, these individuals naturally, “Entered into a treaty with him, [in which] it was stipulated that the said inhabitants, having deposited their arms with their own Magistrates, should have liberty to depart, taking with them their other effects.” The relevant articles were thereafter delivered to the occupying authorities, so that, “They might be preserved for their owners,” and the prospective evacuees made ready to depart. At this point, Jefferson and Dickinson declared, “In open violation of honor, in defiance of the obligation of treaties, which even savage nations esteemed sacred,” Gage ordered a body of men under his command to seize the arms in question, “Detained the greatest part of the inhabitants in the Town, and compelled the few who were permitted to retire, to leave their most valuable effects behind.” This act of knowing duplicity was then followed on June 12th by the issue of a proclamation under Gage’s name – “Further emulating his Ministerial masters” – which allegedly declared the colonists having taken up arms to be, “Rebels and traitors; to supersede the course of the common law, and instead thereof to publish and order the use and exercise of the law martial” (paragraph eleven). Combined, these actions – “This perfidy,” Jefferson and Dickinson labelled it in paragraph ten – were said to have the effect of separating families from their most vulnerable members, resulted in the destruction of an untold amount of real and movable property, and reduced those accustomed to living, “In plenty, and even elegance,” to a state of, “Deplorable distress.”

            In fairness to General Gage – a career military officer who by all indications attended to his duties with commendable zeal and initiative – the accusations cited above as having been heaped upon his character and conduct by the authors of the 1775 Declaration did not necessarily represent an accurate accounting of his behavior during the first weeks and months of what would become the opening campaign of the American Revolutionary War. Laying aside the casualties inflicted upon the assembled militiamen by British forces during the Battles of Lexington and Concord – an outcome which both sides would doubtless have preferred to avoid but which circumstances had quite possibly made inevitable – Gage’s actions during the Siege of Boston were not nearly as despotic as Jefferson and Dickinson would have had their readers believe. As to the agreement arrived at between the General and the inhabitants of occupied Boston – sealed on April 22nd, 1775 – its terms permitted the safe and unmolested passage of women and children, “With all their effects,” and extended the same privilege to all male residents upon the condition, “That they will not take up arms against the king’s troops.” Furthermore, in the event that armed conflict occurred within the limits of the city, Gage promised that, “The lives and properties of the inhabitants should be protected and secured, if the inhabitants behaved peaceably.” Firearms were among the relatively small list items not permitted to be removed from the city, and all residents desiring to depart were required to secure and present a pass issued under the authority of Gage himself.

            As often happens during even the most well-intentioned efforts by military authorities to secure a major population centre, however, these fairly reasonable conditions very soon fell victim to logistical complications and short-term strategic thinking. Earnest though Gage may have been in his promise to prevent the properties of departing residents from being seized, pillaged, or otherwise disturbed, it simply was not in his power to enforce any such guarantee. Not only were the soldiers tasked with searching the belongings of prospective evacuees for contraband materials quite often willing to confiscate whatever item(s) happen to catch their fancy, but the presence of thieves and looters among those who opted to remain in the city made it virtually impossible for any property or item to be left unattended by its owners wholly absent the possibility of its being damaged or stolen. This unfortunate reality ultimately resulted in a large number of residents electing to remain in the city to keep watch over their possessions while sending their families to seek relative safety in the surrounding countryside. Meanwhile, as the inhabitants sympathetic to the Patriot cause departed from Boston in the thousands and those residents of nearby communities whose professed loyalty to the Crown and Parliament sought protection in the wings of its British occupiers, it soon enough became evident to Gage and his Loyalist allies that their strategic position was becoming increasingly precarious. In the event that the city became host solely to British troops and their Crown-aligned supports, there would seemingly have been little to prevent the encircling Continental Army from, say, setting it ablaze. Pressed by his local patrons – upon whom the maintenance of his forces in large part depended – to take steps aimed at preventing this outcome, Gage ultimately determined to abrogate the April 22nd agreement, severely limit the number of inhabitants permitted to leave the city thereafter, and wholly foreclose on any attempts to remove personal property.

            All that being said, the rather strained circumstances under which General Gage was forced to operate in occupied Boston – and the decisions he had to make as a result – bore little significance upon the perspective manifested by Jefferson and Dickinson in their 1775 Declaration. However much he might have sincerely believed that his efforts to preserve peace and stability in the British America were both in the best interests of its inhabitants and ultimately served to protect the rights and liberties that they held dear, the membership of the Continental Congress clearly disagreed. Whereas he perceived the movement of British troops into urban centers like Boston and New York City after 1768 or the seizure of local gunpowder stores after 1774 as necessary to maintaining social stability and avoiding bloodshed, the Patriot opposition saw them as one man’s wholly unconstitutional attempt to place a people guilty of no crime or transgression under military occupation. Likewise, whereas Gage doubtless viewed his actions during the Siege of Boston as striking a necessary balance between liberality and necessity – between his own sense of fairness and the practical needs of his subordinates and local supporters – his opponents had little reason to construe his behavior as anything other than ruthless or corrupt. This essential dichotomy of perception seems not only to define the relationship between Gage and his American opponents, but it is in many ways the essential condition of the Anglo-American crisis of the 1760s and 1770s.

As an agent of the British state in America and a lifelong officer of the Crown, Thomas Gage very likely nurtured a personal respect for and dedication to the social and political values embedded in the British Constitution which was in every way the equal of that professed by his American adversaries. It is accordingly almost certain that he would have agreed with them upon many fundamental points of law, or politics, or philosophy – the sovereignty of Parliament, for example, or the importance of the writ of habeas corpus. Where he and his opponents differed, therefore, was mainly upon questions of execution. The Patriot resistance to Gage’s administration in Massachusetts was of the evident opinion that the English liberties to which they all held dear were wholly inviolable, and that protecting them at all costs was perhaps less important than observing them at all costs. Gage himself seemed to conversely understand that it was permissible – even necessary – to abrogate certain liberties in the short run if it meant securing them in the long run. It should be fairly obvious how and why these differing assessments ultimately brought Gage and his American constituents to blows. For, indeed, it was Gage at which Jefferson and Dickinson’s ire was aimed in 1775. Rather than direct their anger at his superiors in the British military, the Parliament that had assigned him to the North American garrison, or to the larger apparatus of the British Empire whose continued expansion arguably required and rewarded the service of men like Gage, the agents chosen by the Continental Congress to articulate its position upon military resistance chose to blame the individual – his attempts to seize gunpowder, his abrogation of the April 22nd agreement, his declaration of July 12th, etc. – for the crimes they believed he had committed against them. Again, the rebellious colonists’ evident desire and ability to draw a line between Great Britain in the abstract and certain British governments, magistrates, or ministers seems clear enough.