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The American Revolution

The American Revolution was a period in American history that caused controversy even amongst the most dedicated Colonists. The question of whether or not America should free itself from British rule and become it’s own nation, independent of the Crown, was a major issue that came to the forefront following the British retaliation against Boston in 1774. The ensuing conflict would break the country apart into two very distinct groups: the Colonists who wished to create an independent American nation, and the Loyalists who wished to remain a part of Great Britain.

The reasons for each were widely varied depending on the individual, but two very important historical figures were on opposite sides of the spectrum in regards to whether or not the American Revolution was a necessary war. George Washington and Edmund Burke were both actively involved in military and politics in their respective nations. George Washington was an important general in the British military before transferring his loyalties to the war for American independence.

Edmund Burke was a leading member of the British Parliament who remained on the side of the colonists in that he believed the British should try to work with the American colonists to create a better relationship. The letters written by both men during the 1770’s share a glimpse into the world and thoughts of each figure, and give historians the ability to get a strong sense of the differing opinions on the Revolution that existed at the time.

In the letters written by George Washigton it becomes apparent that he views a revolution as being inevitable. He feels that the events that happened in Boston, known today as the Boston Tea Party, were a precursor, and in a way a symptom, of the greater issues that were plaguing the American colonies. He writes, “Threatened as we are with so many hovering evils as hang over us at present…having a cruel and blood thirsty Enemy upon our Backs” (109).

Washington looks at the situations arising in the country surrounding him, including the “skirmishes” between the settlers and the Native Americans, and concludes that “a general War is inevitable whilst those from whom we have a right to seek protection are endeavoring by every piece of Art and despotism to fix the Shackles of Slavery upon us” (109). Washington likens the treatment of Great Britain on the colonies to slavery, because of their taxation of the colonies without representation and other denials of liberty.

What becomes apparent, however, is that the event in Boston was the spark that ignited the American Revolution. “The cause of Boston”, Washington writes, “the despotick Measures in respect to it I mean now is and ever will be considered as the cause of America” (109). When Washington refers to “the cause of America” he is asserting his position that the defiance shown by Americans in Boston, and the aftermath known as the Intolerable Acts, will be what finally pushed America to seek out its own independence, free from the whims of British lawmakers and a King that is an ocean away.

The viewpoint of Edmund Burke, however, was very different from that of George Washington in that he did not feel that the events in Boston Harbor were necessarily a sure sign that a revolution would have to take place. In his Speech to Parliament on March 22, 1775 Burke said, “My proposition is Peace” (111). Burke did not feel that a war was the answer to the problems plaguing the American Colonies and their continuing struggle over taxation with Great Britain.

He reminds the British that “America… is an object well worth fighting for” but that war is not “the best way of gaining them” (112). Yet, Burke also knows that in order to win over the politicians of the British Parliament he must remind them of the economic reasons why a reconciliation must be formed between the colonies and Great Britain: “The trade with America alone is now within less than 500,000 pounds sterling of being equal to what this great commercial nation, England, carried on at the beginning of this century with the whole world!

” (111). The trade that England carried out with the colonies is one-third of all their trade (111). This is reason enough, Burke contends, that a peaceful agreement must happen between England and America, the complete opposite of Washington’s view on a potential revolution. The events at Boston Harbor were prominent in both minds of Burke and Washington, and despite their difference in opinions regarding what is the next logical step, both recognized the events that transpired were a reflection of the spirit of the colonists.

It appears from the letter Washington wrote to Bryan Fairfax in July of 1774 that he was not entirely supportive of the extreme means the colonists took in throwing overboard so much tea into Boston Harbor, writing, “The conduct of the Boston people could not justify the rigor of their measures” (109). Yet, it is the actions of the British that angered him, because he felt that the measures taken did not “require an act to deprive the government of Massachusetts Bay of their charter, or to exempt offenders from trial in the place where offences were committed” (109).

When the British imposed the Intolerable Acts on the Colonies they were going beyond simply demanding payment for the damage done by the Patriots at Boston, they were imposing their taxes upon the people without regard to the many others who did not participate in the events of that day. This became the main reason that Washington lent his support to the Patriots and to the American Revolution.

When Edmund Burke viewed the Patriots, he was not surprised at all by their conduct, because he recognized that “in this Character of the American, a love of Freedom is the predominating feature which marks and distinguishes the whole”, and goes on to say that, “This fierce spirit of Liberty is stronger in the English Colonies probably than in any other people of the earth and this from a great variety of powerful causes…” (112).

He is adamant that the Colonists are this way because they left England when the English were dedicated to freedom: “The Colonists emigrated from you when this part of your character was most predominant; and they took this bias and directions the moment they parted from your hands” (112). He views the problem as being taxation, and says that “liberty might be safe, or might be endangered, in twenty other particulars, without their being much pleased or alarmed” except when it comes to taxation.

George Washington echoes this sentiment when he writes, “I think the Parliament of Great Britain hath no more right to put their hands into my pocket, without my consent, than I have to put my hands into yours for money” (109). The main issue, therefore, is taxation without representation according to both men. In the end, the words of Edmund Burke and George Washington bring to light the real issues that were at hand during the outbreak of the American Revolution.

Namely, the issue was taxation, and more broadly it was money. The British did not feel they could afford to lose the economic benefits of keeping the colonies underneath the British Crown, and the Americans did not feel that they should continue to give up their hard-earned money for British taxes when they were located an ocean away from Great Britain.

This issue would divide the American people and in the end, create a new nation. While both men did not agree on this point, they both agreed that the American spirit was so great that a revolution was likely, if not inevitable, as long as they were not respected as individuals. Both were proven right.

Works Cited

Johnson, Michael P. Reading the American Past. Vol. 1. Bedford/St. Martin\’s, 2004. 108-114.

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