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Lesson 2

Answer: The colonists thought Britain's actions after the French and Indian War violated their rights as Englishmen. Of course, this leads us to ask what those rights were, and where they came from. Want to find out? Read on!





"The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street, Boston on March 5, 1770 by a party of the 29th Regiment"
Caption of this engraving by Paul Revere.




British soldiers garissoned in Boston and the town's citizens had many minor clashes, and tensions were heightened by soldiers who competed with colonials for off-duty jobs. The massacre was sparked by a fight between a colonial workman and a soldier on the afternoon of March 5, which led to rowdy mobs of Bostonians and soldiers roaming the streets.

At 9 p.m. the British sentry in King Street called the main guard after being pelted with snowballs and rocks. When the guard arrived, someone knocked a musket out of soldier's hands, and in the confusion an unidentified voice gave the order to fire. Three Bostonians fell dead, and two more died later from their wounds.

Showing courage and principle, John Adams and Josiah Quincy undertook the unpopular defense of the guard and their leader, Captain Preston. The captain and most of his soldiers were acquitted but two others were found guilty of manslaughter. They were allowed to "plead clergy" and were branded on the thumb and released. Pleading clergy was a special defense to serious crimes that could be used only once. By 1770 a defendant need not be a clergyman to use it, he just had to be able to read!











British military spending as a percent of Britain's economic output (GDP) 1730 to 1830. The peak from about 1755 to 1765 resulted from the Seven Years War in Europe and its associated campaigns in the Western Hemishpere, including the French and Indian War. Source: N. Gregory Mankiw, Macroeconomics. 3rd edition













King George III

How did he respond to the Declaration?
Here's how!


Beyond the Limits of Free Government

How Great Britain Drove Us to Independence

Every schoolchild learns the popular cry that led to independence: "Taxation without representation is tyranny!" But to understand why taxation without representation angered the colonists we need to recall what taxation really is. Taxation is someone with a gun - that is, with the coercive power of the state - taking your property. Someone who takes your property without your consent, granted either personally or by your elected representative, is a thief! So the real problem was not just taxes, but taxes that ignored our rights, like the right to control the use of our own property.

If war is politics by other means, then it is also true that most politics is economics by other means. This is especially true of domestic politics like that between Britain and her colonies. Unless the government's powers are strictly limited, there is a danger that government will use law to force transfers of money and property between citizens. When politicians use the law to coerce transfers of money and property between citizens they are using the "other means" of politics to control economic results. Without this political control, each person's economic results would be determined in the free market by their own voluntary, hard work. In general, the biggest economic gains would go to those who were best able to produce something that other people wanted and were willing to trade for.

The more political power government has, the greater the incentives for lawmakers to use this power to control economic results by limiting a man's choice of livelihoods or taking a his property to benefit the lawmakers' favored constituencies. To put it another way, just as we make decisions based on our own best interests when we decide where to work or what to buy, or what to do with the things we own, politicians make decisions in their own interest when they use their power to make laws. The more power they have, the more they are tempted to use that power to benefit themselves or their friends. This is not a cynical attitude, it is just an observation of human nature.

Prosperity prevented the need to define the limits of Parliament's power over the colonies until trouble arose with Spain, Austria, and the French and Indians. Britain spent mightily to prosecute the war in Europe and America, and by 1763 had accumulated a large national debt. After the war, Britain had to maintain a military force in America to keep her new territory secure, primarily from Indian attack. Britain began to look to the colonies for tax revenues, not so much to retire the debt as simply to offset the cost of continued military protection.

But the colonies had also spent large sums to raise and equip colonial militias, and after the war the colonies experienced a recession as men and resources shifted from military to civilian production. The initial resistance to Britain's measures came because they threatened to plunge the colonies into a deeper recession. Britain's first measure, designed to reduce the need to protect the colonists, barred land purchases from the Indians west of the Appalachians and evicted settlers in the Ohio Valley. But land was the key to wealth in the colonies, largely because Britain prohibited the colonists from most types of manufacturing. Britain's typical arrangements with all of its colonies "rationalized" trade by requiring them to supply raw materials and to purchase British finished goods. Britain's next measure prohibited the printing of paper money, causing deflation and further stifling economic growth. Then, it whipsawed the colonies with tariffs. Tariffs are really no different than taxes, they either result in higher prices, a smaller quantity of goods for consumers, or both. Tariffs made economic growth in the colonies even more difficult.

The tariffs were the first trade regulations enacted solely to raise revenue, and they sparked the protest of "Taxation Without Representation." Now the special status of the colonies as colonies meant they could not be represented in Parliament. It is possible, however, that if Parliament had relented at this point, made a public relations case on the need for new taxes and asked the colonial legislatures to raise them, we may never have declared independence. But Parliament was determined to prove it had the power to make any laws it cared to in relation to the colonies.

Because Parliament was determined to exercise unlimited power - what it called power "to bind the colonies in all cases whatsoever" - it did not relent. Parliament enacted more tax laws that cut ever deeper into the colonial economy, and passed measures to enforce these laws that deprived the colonists of more of their rights as Englishmen besides just the right to representation. As opposition grew, Britain increasingly relied on its troops and navy on the American station to enforce the laws. Thus, Britain's tax policies became completely one-sided. Britain got the benefit of the revenue, but the reciprocal benefit the colonies were taxed to pay for - military protection - became a force of oppression.

So it was not just taxation, but the attempt to exercise unlimited power over the colonies that sparked our Declaration of Independence. The Declaration sets forth the principles that limit the extent of government power over a free people. But before we see what those limits are, let's look below at the actual complaints the colonists listed in the Declaration as violations of the limits of free government. These complaints appear in the Declaration's third paragraph, after the principles limiting government power are explained. If you would like, you can also read a timeline that chronicles the laws Britain passed in detail, and how these measures gradually drove the colonists to unite in opposition.

Our timeline gives a broad outline of the events that lead to Independence, but you can find a detailed discussion of the particular events that lead to each complaint in the Declaration in "Lives of the Signers," a reprint of a book that was first published in 1848.

The Declaration's 27 Complaints

Against King George III

(01) He has refused his Assent to Laws the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
(02) He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
(03) He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of People, unless those People would relinquish the right of Representation in the legislature; a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
(04) He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
(05) He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing, with manly firmness, his invasions on the rights of the People.
(06) He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
(07) He has endeavoured to prevent the Population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws of Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
(08) He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.
(09) He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
(10) He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our People, and eat out their substance.
(11) He has kept among us, in times of Peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
(12) He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
(13) He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
(14) For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
(15) For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from Punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
(16) For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
(17) For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
(18) For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
(19) For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
(20) For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
(21) For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
(22) For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with Power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
(23) He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his protection, and waging War against us.
(24) He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the Lives of our People.
(25) He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
(26) He has constrained our fellow Citizens, taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
(27) He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

Question: Was "taxation without representation" the only reason we declared independence?

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