Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Declaration of Independence--The British Point of View

With the approach of our great holiday, the Fourth of July, I thought it might be fun to explore how the British reacted to our grand document and its bold pronouncement that God gives each man the right of"natural liberty," that all men are created equal, that we are entitled to the pursuit of happiness--all rights, as the Founders saw it, incompatible with continued British sovereignty.

Bold as we Americans might view our Declaration, to the British it was one "great annoyance," says British-born Tim Pickles, a historical consultant at the History Channel. This, and a wanton display of ingratitude towards the very empire that had recently vanquished the French and Indians during that eponymous war (also known as the Seven Years' War), a struggle that left the British deeply in debt. Not only did we in the colonies refuse to help the Brits pay down their debt through taxes on items such as tea, we then had the audacity to declare that we were "dissolving the political bands" that united us to our great protector and to go on to list our many grievances against the very King who had long "protected" us.

Says Mr. Pickles: "I think it fair to say that the British and Loyalist reaction to the Declaration of Independence was a great annoyance at the self- serving ingratitude that lead Englishmen who had been happy to have the troops of the mother country sweep the threat of the French from the continent and keep troops on hand to protect the colonies from the possibilities of French or Spanish invasion, who nevertheless were unwilling to join the militia to protect themselves and balked at increased taxes to help pay for the protection which benefited them. This tough taxation in the colonies was half that in England."

As we Americans exalt and celebrate the great patriots who battled the British Empire, the British see them in a quite different light. Says Mr. Pickles: "The American revolution was for the most part engineered by self- seeking opportunists wearing a cloak of patriotism (the last refuge of a scoundrel)....

"Those who spoke of 'no taxation without representation never wanted representation, for they knew that if the colonies sent MPs to London on the same basis as all English counties they could be outvoted and have no way to speak of 'injustice'. Therefore they shouted of being denied their rights as Englishmen while making sure never to create the conditions under which those rights would be granted."

As for our ultimate victory? Mr. Pickles suggests that we Americans won our independence through brutal war tactics. He might have also added, as have other Brits, that our victory was due in large measure to the intervention of the French in 1777. On top of this, the British, as he does suggest, did not fight quite as hard as they might have because the hearts of some British housed sympathy for the colonial cause. One notable example is General William Howe, who strangely did not pummel us after our "ignoble defeat" at the Battle of Long Island.

Writes Mr. Pickles:

"The American rebellion was a civil war, one which the British could have won had they fought it with the ruthlessness of the rabbles but that was not British policy. Still perhaps the British abolition of the slave trade in 1808 and of slavery in the Empire in 1833 might have precipitated a revolution later but, from the British point of view, the American revolution was for the most part engineered by self seeking opportunists wearing a cloak of patriotism (the last refuge of a scoundrel).

"As has been said 'treason never prospers, for should it prosper none dare call it treason!"

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