In the years preceding the Revolutionary War, many colonists were content with life in the colonies. On occasion there were grumblings about new taxes or laws passed by the British Parliament and the king. Overall, colonists were pleased with the life they had in the colonies and considered themselves English citizens who were loyal to the king. As the taxes grew, many colonists became angry with the perceived abuses that were beginning to pile upon them as a result of English Rule. Documents saved from the few years prior to the outbreak of the Revolutionary War show the differences of thought in people from varying backgrounds and professions. For every person that was protesting England’s treatment of the colonies in a negative manner, there were arguments for continued support of the king.
Loyalists were called such because the supported the King of England and considered themselves British citizens. But as talk of a revolution and troubles were beginning to develop in the colonies, many Loyalists were questioning their allegiance. In a song from 1776, “Than fly -- to starve on loyalty.--Thus, dread of want makes rebels of us all”. The Loyalists were faced with two options, support the rebels and continue in the life they were accustomed to in the colonies or run back to the unknown and poverty in England. Another song published in the Royal Georgia Gazette in 1781, sings, “Then brandish your swords, and constantly sing,Success to our Troop, our Country, and King.” Clearly, these Loyalists in Georgia were ready to fight against the Rebels and defend their king.
Even among the Rebels, there was some argument and disagreement over the idea of a revolution or uprising against the monarchy. George Washington writes in a letter dated June 10-15, 1774 to George Fairfax, that the Virginia legislature is not happy with the treatment of the colonists, but Washington brings up this point about the Boston Tea Party, “Ministry may rely on it that Americans will never be tax’d without their own consent that the cause of Boston the despotick Measures in respect to it I mean now is and ever will be considerd as the cause of America (not that we approve their cond[uc]t in destroyg the Tea).” It should be noted, that Washington was a supporter of the Rebels but did have issues with some of the situations that arose as a response to England’s oppression. Patrick Henry was a staunch supporter of the Rebel cause and wrote in his essay, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death”, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” There was no question as to what action the colonists must take against the monarchy, revolution and war.
The view of African Americans was also dichotomous. For many slaves, there was not a question of who to pledge their allegiance to, but rather who might grant them freedom. Boston King’s recollections of waiting in New York to be evacuated because of their Loyalty to England, “except us, who had escaped from slavery, and taken refuge in the English army”. Many other African Americans were rounded up and reclaimed by their masters in New York as they waited for escape. In a pamphlet, “Of the natural Rights of Colonists”, the following statement is made, “The colonists are by the law of nature freeborn, as indeed all men are, white or black.” The argument for the freedom of the colonists is also applied to African American slaves.
The “Declaration of Independence” was signed on July 4, 1776 and listed over two dozen reasons why the colonies were cutting themselves free from the tyranny of the king and England. The representatives from the Thirteen Colonies agreed to and signed the Declaration in Philadelphia. The Declaration stated, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government”. The implications of this statement rippled throughout the colonies. State legislatures down to the smallest towns devised and presented their official support of the Declaration. In Charlotte Town, North Carolina, the following line is found in their “Resolve”: “the American Colonies are declared to be in a State of actual Rebelion, we conceive that all Laws and Commissions confirmed by, or derived from the Authority of the King or Parliament, are annulled and vacated”
Despite the differing attitudes that were expressed among the colonists, revolt was inevitable in the end. Rhetoric advocating for the monarchy was easier to stand by before the outbreak of violence and the abundance of taxes that were levied. As the Revolution, the attitudes of many colonists began to change. Even among Loyalists who felt leaving the colonies to return back to England would be foolish and leave them broke often opted to support the Rebels.
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