Whig Opposition to the American Independence Movement

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Thomas Jefferson Helped Create a New Nation

American independence was strengthened by attempts at colonial unity, pro-colonial leaders in Parliament, and assumptions leading to British defeat.

American independence was rooted in a number of events that occurred immediately after the ending of the French and Indian War in 1763. One of the architects of that peace, William Pitt, saw, however, that any war between Britain and the colonies, most notably following the events in Boston between 1774 and 1775, would be unwinnable. Prior to the Boston Massacre and the Tea Party, British public opinion was still divided. This changed following the imposition of the Intolerable Acts.

Misjudging the Colonial Resolve after the Boston Tea Party

Historian Simon Schama notes that as the English colonies expanded and prospered, Parliament and various ministerial officials underestimated colonial resolve: “…Grenville, like most of his contemporaries…really knew pitifully little about the reality of the American colonies.”

The colonies could function self-sufficiently and had established important relationships apart from the British mercantile system. As such, the colonies boasted a higher standard of living than their English relations and were able to retired locally levied taxes more quickly.

Colonial Unity Questioned by Parliament and King George III

In 1754 Dr. Ben Franklin proposed a framework for colonial unity. This plan was rejected. Although formulated, in part, to deal with the French frontier threat, colonial opposition strengthened the view that independence and unity among the colonies was not to be taken seriously.

English leaders Opposed to a Colonial War

Numerous writers counseled a policy of conciliation, including the philosophers David Hume and Edmund Burke, who emerged as the leader of the Whigs. Speaking in Parliament May 2, 1774, Burke predicted that, “A great many red coats will never govern America.” Burke also called for Parliament to “hear the parties” in the wake of the 1773 Boston Tea Party.

4th of July 1776 Creates a New Nation

Jefferson’s Declaration of independence was presaged by the May 15, 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights, which stipulated that, “government is or ought to be instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people…” Jefferson published his Declaration on the basis that King George III was a tyrant and, as such, could be replaced. English Whigs, however, chose to identify “ministerial policy” as tyranny. Regardless, red coats and Hessian mercenaries were already marching through the colonies, unable to coordinate meaningful military strategy in the vast expanse of land.

English misjudgment did far more to help unite the colonies and further independence than any other single cause. By 1781, a veteran army commanded by Lord Cornwallis was trapped at Yorktown in southern Virginia, ending the myth of British military invincibility. Parliament finally took notice, asking how many more soldiers would be sent to the colonies to force acceptance of parliamentary policies.

Sources:

  1. Henry Steele Commager and Richard B. Morris, editors, The Spirit of Seventy-Six (HarperCollins, 1967)
  2. Simon Schama, A History of Britain, Volume II: The Wars of the British 1603-1776 (Hyperion, 2001)
  3. Page Smith, A New Age Now Begins: A People’s History of the American Revolution,Volume I (McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1976)