TOWARDS REVOLUTION: The English Colonists' Demands for the Conservation of Their Liberties
[An introductory historiographical note and footnotes have been deleted for this on-line version.]
|Benjamin Franklin is in his study with a drink in hand. He glances at the calendar and
sees that it is February 1, 1774. The door opens and a liveried servant walks in handing
him two letters. He is informed about the Boston Tea Party , and that in addition, he has
just been removed by Parliament as Post Master General of North America. ( A voice-over
provides this information.) He closes his eyes, evidently in emotional pain and after some
reflection sees the following events as if in a dream.
The Jews of biblical times are clamoring and demanding of Samuel the Prophet 'Behold, thou art old, .now make us king to judge us like all nations and the lord said unto Samuel ' .and show them the manner of the king that shall reign over them ..' , ' ..he will take you sons, and appoint them for himself , for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. and he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your olive yards, even the best of them and give them to this servants and ye shall be his servants.: But to no avail. A king they want and so a king they shall have. The camera shifts subtlety to the year 1761 and the coronation of King George III. The coronation ticket is fully visible on the screen with the letters SPQB very prominent.Ben sings Long Live the King (the Handel music is heard in all its baroque glory). In the colonies the coronation is also celebrated .
The camera moves about presenting a bird's eye view of the colonies and its various landscapes. The actual terrain, the people, the artisan's shops , the small farmers , as well as the bigger plantations in Virginia. Life is plainly harsh. There is certainly no shortage of indentured servants working alongside their equally hardworking masters and mistresses. The warmth and hospitality of the people and the grand homes of the upwardly mobile middle class ( some of the historic restored homes as well as paintings can be used for authenticity ) as well as some of institutions e.g., libraries, schools and societies that Ben assisted in establishing are also represented.
The French and Indian war are now in full swing and the scenes are fiilled with the usual blood and gore naturally associated with war .. There are British, French and Colonial soldiers ( distinguishable by their less splendiferous military uniforms ) and of course, Indians. Ben sees the rejoicing at the close of the war . As he reads the Proclamation on North America on October 7, 1763., it is obvious, by his facial expressions , that he supports the Crowns position. The Proclamation of 1763 expressed the desire of the Crown to reassert its control over the colonies . Washington is also on Ben's mind. Ben listens as an acquaintance tells him that he heard some gossip that General Washington is involved in land speculation in territories beyond the proclamation line. I would imply that Ben wasn't averse to doing the same himself.
It is now October 19, 1765. Congress is in session and the issue of the day is the objection to the recently enacted Stamp Act. There is a large facsimile of the hated stamp in the background. The Resolutions of the Stamp Act Congress are presented .The representatives affirm their devotion and fealty to the crown and then proceed to state their grievances toward the Act. They are thoroughly outraged that as Englishmen their liberties have been violated; that as Englishmen they are entitled to all the " rights and liberties of natural born subjects within the kingdom of Great-Britain." That no taxes be imposed on them, but with their own consent," and that "trial by jury is the inherent and invaluable right of every British subject "and that "by extending the jurisdiction of the courts of Admiralty beyond its ancient limits, have a manifest tendency to subvert the rights and liberties of the colonists."
The rights, liberties and what constitutes representation are now debated in the Parliament between Soame Jenyns and William Pitt. Jenyns asserts that "The right of the Legislature of Great-Britain to impose taxes on her American Colonies, .are propositions so indisputably clear, that I should never have thought it necessary to have undertaken their defense .as these are usually mixed up with several patriotic and favorite words such as Liberty, Property, Englishmen, etc.," He analyzes these words and their relationship to taxation and continues " I am well aware that I shall hear Locke, Sidney, Selden and many other great names quoted to prove that every Englishman, whether he has a right to vote for a representative, or not, is still represented in the British Parliament. Are they (Manchester and Birmingham) not alike British subjects? Are they not Englishmen? Or are they only Englishmen when they solicit for protection, but not Englishmen when taxes are required to enable this country to protect them? ..the manner of exercising these powers is specified in these express words, 'according to the course of other corporations in Great-Britain' .to plead exemption from this parliamentary authority, than any other corporation in England ." William Pitt responds to Jenyns in defense of the colonists' interpretation of liberty and leans earnestly forward to impress the audience "The gentleman tells us, America is obstinate; America is almost in open rebellion. ( the presentation of this part of the speech is intended to give the audience an idea of the developing suspicions on the part of the Crown and Parliament that the colonists are in rebellion and the suspicions on the part of the colonists that the British are intending to eventually enslave them ;) . .three million of people so dead to all feelings of liberty, as voluntarily to submit to be slaves, would have been fit instruments to make slaves of the rest. .I come here not armed at all points, .to defend the cause of liberty; if I had, I myself would have cited the two cases of Chester and Durham. I would have cited, to have shown that even under former arbitrary reigns, parliaments were ashamed of taxing a people without their consent , and allowed them representatives. .He might have taken a higher example in Wales; Wales that was never taxed by Parliament until it was incorporated When two countries are connected together, like England and her colonies, without being incorporated, the one must necessarily govern but so rule it, as not to contradict the fundamental principles that are common to both .. .... that the Stamp Act be repealed absolutely, totally and immediately; .because it was founded on an erroneous principle."
Ben nods in agreement and recalls his speech to Parliament in which he testified about the effect of English policies on Americans.
It is now the winter of 1766 and the presence of British troops cannot be mistaken. Although the interactions between colonists and British troops are perceived as less than amiable, nevertheless the discussions in the taverns gives the distinct impression that the colonists are very relieved that a confrontation with England has been avoided, at least for the moment. (The objection to the Stamp Act was not based only on intellectual exercise . Coercion was part of the deal and the Sons of Liberty were major players in that field. (A scene showing the confrontations between the Son of Liberty , goaded by Samuel Adams, and the agents selling the stamps would provide a nice description of the radicals and their attached mobs .) The relief however, was short- lived.
Ben sees winter change to spring and the colonists are beginning to seed and planting the summer's crop. Tere is a lot of activity can be seen on the farms and their naturally related commercial hustle and bustle. Included in this commercialism are the purchase of imported commodities, particularly the all important English tea which had a tax imposed on it in the spring of 1767 by the Townshend Act . This act is not met without notice and eventual revolt by the colonists. They are convinced that the British are now manipulating them and have therefore resolved to resist by boycotting the purchase of English tea.
A New York newspaper appears with the date 1849 . There is a voice- over that provides the date of the Boston Massacre, March 5, 1770, and a complete narrative of the events as they were published in this newspaper. Ben recalls the events via a painting that depicts the shooting. The complete Anonymous Account of the Boston Massacre is read with an introduction published in the paper describing the events that led to the unfortunate incident..
Captain Thomas Preston's Account of the Boston Massacre is next . His accounting of the events bears almost no relation to the Anonymous Account.
Ben is busily writing to his wife and relating to her his quarrels, regarding his credentials, with Lord Hillsborough . He tells her ( this is done by a voice- over reading excerpts or fictional excerpts of the quarrel ) that it appears that relations between England and the colonies are deteriorating and that she should consider boycotting all English products in addition to English Tea. She is at home reading the letter while the song "Address to the Ladies " is heard in the background. Everywhere women are once again spinning and carding their own wool They are also wearing obvious homespun and considering themselves very fashionable for doing so.
Presently Boston Harbor ( with the date December 16, 1773 displayed on a calendar) comes into focus and large cargo ships are seen approaching the harbor. Efforts at denying entry to the ships are futile. Dusk is descending and the ships are silhouetted in the twilight. Suddenly it is dark and there is a whooping cacophony and what appear to be several companies of Mohawk Indians equipped with tomahawks. They jump aboard the ships and dump opened crates of tea into the harbor.
Ben now opens his eyes as if awakening from a long reverie. A butler or servant announces the arrival of the post and Ben opens a letter from home describing the closing of Boston Harbor. The cartoon of Bostonians in Distress appears on the screen and there are several voice-overs belonging to various Bostonians describing their distress, which came as a result of the British closing Boston Harbor.
Time has passed and it is now March 1775 . Ben is silently reading the Speech on Conciliation that Edmund Burke gave in Parliament on March 22, 1775. Ben reads the following "Let the colonies always keep the idea of their civil rights associated with your government-they will cling and grapple to you, and no force under heaven will be of power to tear them from their allegiance . But let it be once understood that your government may be one thing and their privileges another, that these two things may exist without any mutual relation-the cement is gone, the cohesion is loosened, and everything hastens to decay and dissolution. As long as you have the wisdom to keep the sovereign authority of this country as the sanctuary of liberty, the sacred temple consecrated to our common faith ,wherever the chosen race and sons of England worship freedom they will turn their faces towards you .", The moistness in Benjamin Franklins eyes cannot be mistaken and his demeanor is such that it is obvious that Ben knows that there is no further hope for conciliation and that it is time to return home. Ben is left sitting and the camera shifts to the Congress in America and focuses on Patrick Henry (the date, march 23, 1775 is displayed somewhere on the screen) and his famous speech. When he reaches ":I am willing to know the whole truth, to know the worst, and to provide for it." Ben can be seen in an upper corner of the screen writing the Albany Plan of June 1754. Henry continues "And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves and the house ..The war is inevitable--and let it come! I repeat it sir, let it come. but as for me, GIVE ME LIBERTY OR GIVE ME DEATH."
Somber music is heard, as an introduction to the solemn air that permeates congress ( with the date July 6, 1775 displayed) and excerpts from the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms are read. Voice emphasis is placed on the following " The legislature of Great-Britain, however, stimulated by an inordinate passion for a power not only unjustifiable, but which they know to be peculiarly reprobated by the very constitution of that kingdom , and desperate of success in any mode of contest where regard should be had to truth, law or right, have at length, deserting those, attempted to effect their cruel and impolitic purpose of enslaving these colonies by violence, and have thereby rendered it necessary for us to close with their last appeal from reason to arms We resolved again to offer an humble and dutiful petition to the King, and also addressed our fellow-subjects of Great-Britain. We have pursued every temperate, every respectful measure; we have even proceeded to break off our commercial intercourse with our fellow-subjects, as the last peaceable admonition, that our attachment to no nation upon earth should supplant our attachment to liberty-----"
The film closes with a thundering Thomas Paine exclaiming " in short, monarch and succession have laid (not this or that kingdom only ) but the world in blood and ashes. "'Tis a form of government which the word of God bears testimony against, and blood will attend it." We are tired of contention with Britain, and can see no real end to it but in a final separation. We act consistently, because for the sake of introducing an endless and uninterrupted peace, do we bear the evils and burdens of the present day. We are endeavoring, and will steadily continue to endeavor, to separate and dissolve a connection which hath already filled our land with blood; and which, while the name of it remains, will be fatal cause of future mischief's to both countries."
The film returns to its opening scene and now Ben is a few years older and sees once again the scene with the Biblical Jews demanding a king.