While speaking to the second Virginia Convention on this day, in 1775, Patrick Henry voiced his opposition to the increasingly violent British rule over the colonies. The issue at hand was not insufficient healthcare or an unlivable minimum wage… America was growingly increasingly weary of Brits telling us how to live. (It turns out, the sentiment stuck with us – as is evidenced by Piers Morgan getting kicked off of CNN.) Speaking to the delegates of the Convention, Henry cried the now famous ultimatum: “Give me liberty, or give me death!” And when spoken in opposition to the world’s most powerful empire, Henry probably had a sense of which option the British would pick for him.
Of course, Henry wasn’t alone. For over a decade the embers of rebellion had been growing in the colonies. On March 22nd, 1765, the British crown imposed the Stamp Act in an effort to raise revenues for a standing British Army in America. Far from being a tax on individuals for not obtaining healthcare (imagine the job King George could have done with a few progressive advisors), the tax was imposed on all materials printed for commercial or legal use within the New World. Suddenly, newspapers, pamphlets, broadsides, insurance policies, and even playing cards had to bear a tax collector’s stamp to indicate that they had complied with the new requirements. (It’s unclear if the tax collectors were unfairly targeting would-be “tea party” groups at this stage.)
Being far more perturbed by taxes than we are today, Colonial Americans took immediate action. Customhouses were attacked, tax collectors were intimidated, and boycotts were placed on certain British goods. (Ostensibly, this is around the same time that Americans realized the British didn’t offer many goods to begin with.) The British Parliament, not wanting to look impolite or the least bit improper, quickly put an end to the Stamp Act and issued a nicely worded apology… But a growing anti-British sentiment had already taken hold in the colonies.
For nearly the next decade, most colonists tolerated a British government that routinely stepped on the sovereign rights of Americans, with little widespread push-back. The clear message sent to Parliament appeared to be that Americans would suffer minor taxes, embargos, and even various levels of gun registration without considerable trouble making… But, the British took things a step too far when, in 1773, they decided to tinker with the colonists’ breakfast beverage.
The enactment of the Tea Act sparked a party in Boston Harbor that resulted in 10,000 pounds worth of tea flavoring the sea water, and a rabble of angry (tea-deficient) patriots shouting nasty things about the King. (Most of these demonstrators were probably labeled as intolerant racists and bigots.) Britain’s reaction was a predictable big-government response to a growing viral rebellion: They unleashed the “PC police” upon the American rebels.
The Coercive Acts, also known as the “Intolerable Acts”, were implemented. Boston was closed to merchant shipping, martial law was declared on the city (it actually doesn’t look like it ever left), armaments and gunpowder were embargoed, and ruling British officials were deemed to be “above the law” throughout the colonies. In short: The place turned into Chicago with more pleasant accents and fewer labor unions.
War was not far off… But, local British officials tried nobly to quell the angst among Colonial subjects. The Royal Governor of Massachusetts ordered Redcoats to break up an illegal town meeting in Salem, but quickly learned that his men would stand no chance in an area where everyone owned a gun and powder.
The Patriots of Lancaster County declared that “in the event of Great Britain attempting to force unjust laws upon us by the strength of arms, our cause we leave to heaven and our rifles.”
In their attempts to prohibit free speech, regulate the proliferation of arms, and raise needed revenues without the consent of the governed, the British had woken up a revolution. In April of 1775, Redcoats had been ordered to march on Concord, but encountered a group of American Militiamen at Lexington. Volleys were fired, and the Revolution officially began.
Patrick Henry neither began, nor solidified the birth of America. But he, in a simple declaration, articulated the desperation colonial American held for liberty 239 years ago today.
What have you done for liberty recently?
PS: This concludes today’s American History lesson… This lesson has not been approved by Common Core, the Illinois board of education, or the British government. Some information included in this lesson might be editorial in nature, and should probably be viewed with a sense of humor.