December 8, 2011 at 7:32 am, by Carl
In the spring of 1754, a young twenty-two year old led a small group of 150 Virginians towards a critical river confluence northwest of the colony. The young man, George Washington, had spent the previous year surveying the area for the colonies’ governor, Robert Dinwiddie. The fact that the land laid directly west of William Penn’s colony did not dissuade the Virginians who had long seen most of North American as merely an extension of their original colony created in the late 1500s, and successfully founded at Jamestown in 1607.
Washington and his few soldiers would soon find themselves embroiled in an international affair with French soldiers, complicated by Native Americans who were clearly “playing both sides” in a desperate attempt to hold onto their lands. The clash consisted of fighting in late May through early July before the French prevailed and forced Washington to retreat on July 4th, 1754.
Those words are from the sixth installment (find the earlier sections here) about my recent book, one that I am very excited about—Tracking the Storm. An excerpt from Chapter 5 follows below. You can download a pdf if you enjoy reading on your computer or also purchase a printed copy of the book.
Washington’s battle were the first shots of what would be known in Europe as the Seven Years War, though more famously in the United States as the French and Indian War. The fighting near current day Pittsburgh would resume the next year when the British High Command would actually send troops to the New World. The appearance of British regulars in North America would alter the relationship between the colonies and the mother country and ultimately propel events in North America that would end up with another critical event happening on a different July 4th, 22 years later in 1776.
The years between the Glorious Revolution and the French and Indian war had been good ones in the colonies. Population had quintupled by 1750 from 250,000 to 1.25 million in only 50 years. Economically, the country was developing well, with the major cities easily among the richest in the British lands (India, Caribbean, Africa, North America). There had been some conflict in North America relative to the ongoing geopolitical rivalry between England and France, but most of that had been limited to New England.
Yet, in England, the wars had taken their toll. The aging king, George II, was 71 when Washington had stumbled into crisis near the Ohio River. There had been a new invasion of Scotland by the descendant of James II which was put down in 1746 while the country found itself drawn into political issues and war from central Europe. There, tense relationships between Prussia and Austria would drag both France and England again into battle.
When George II died in 1760, he was exhausted from war, just as the nation was. His grandson, George III took the throne at the age of 22, four years younger than the American George. King George III was determined to get the country out of war and hopefully move her onto solid footing economically. To do that, he would turn to a series of political leaders who could seemingly do nothing right in their attempt to “fix the economy.” George in many ways was caught in the difficult political realities created by the Glorious Revolution.
That revolution had determined, once and for all, that Parliament would dominate the governance of England. Monarchs William, Mary, Anne and then her cousin George of Hanover all seemed happy enough with the situation. George II though had chaffed some under the political leadership of Robert Walpole, England’s first Prime Minister. Walpole had guided George I easily enough, mostly because the King could not speak any English.
By the time of George III, though German in ancestry, the King was every bit an Englishman, and yet schooled in the concept of kingly leadership. While he certainly never thought of re-establishing an absolute monarchy, he clearly believed the Monarchy should be at the center of decisions. The fact that he was operating within a vicious political game in the House of Commons between the Whigs and the Tories should make the Road to the American Revolution more clear to modern-day Americans who watch our own leaders struggle.
As the conflict came to a successful end in 1763, the colonists were eager to return to a “business as usual” model. However, the new king’s ministers, led by Prime Minister George Grenville, had determined that the easiest way to alleviate the debt crisis was to raise taxes in the colonies. Up to that point, the colonies paid about 1/50th of the tax compared to their fellow citizens in England. Worse, with the decision to send troops to North America, England now had to come up with more money to support protecting the colonies. For many in England, it seemed obvious that the colonies should pay for their own protection; wouldn’t that be what any good citizen would do? No one thought to actually ask the colonies.
Since the tension that demanded troops lay with the Native Americans, Grenville started actions by making a proclamation that prohibited any territorial advance over the Appalachian Mountains. This was a reasonable request, yet it cut directly against how the colonists viewed their own lives. For even the colonists with long established roots in the main American cities, the concept of “Going west” to build a new life was part of their DNA. The King’s decision to limit their expansion struck most Americans as infringing on their freedom to go where they wished.
However, it was the economic decisions of Grenville that got the strongest reaction. A series of new laws, “acts” as they were known, were passed in 1764 and ‘65, all aimed at raising taxes to deal with the monetary crisis of the country. Grenville even took the liberal position of asking the Colonial Representatives to check off on these decisions, particularly his most far-reaching act, the Stamp Act of 1765. With their representatives on board, Grenville assumed logically that the colonies would accept these measures. They might have, had it not been for a few angry firebrands living in Virginia and Massachusetts.
In Boston, 43-year-old lawyer Samuel Adams, the son of a Bostonian who had lost a fortune in a British banking collapse, saw these efforts by Grenville in a very different light. Through 1763-65, Adams would emerge as a leading voice opposing the Acts by Parliament, stating openly that the colonists could not be taxed since there was no representation in Parliament. This was the start of a disagreement about the correct interpretation of the rules of the British government.
Soon, Adams joined others who decided to take their frustration to the streets. These “thug gangs” would use violence and force to terrorize their neighbors who dared to support the government. At the same time, representatives from nine colonies would meet in New York City in the Stamp Act Congress. This “legal opposition” was the counter-weight against the “street violent opposition” of groups like the Liberty Boys, the Loyal Nine and the Sons of Liberty.
The opposition soon provided Grenville’s opponents in Parliament their chance to strike at him, and through him, the King. Taking the colonial opposition as their rallying point, the Whigs demanded a repeal and Parliament relented; Grenville had to resign. The colonists had won. England didn’t know it at the time, but the revolution was over. As any parent can tell you, once Parliament had given in to their whining, screaming baby pitching a fit to get his or her way, the colonists assumed that future decisions would be made through them. And, if the wrong decision would be made, then the colonists knew if they cried loud enough, the government would back down. Unfortunately for the British, they never understood that they had made the parenting mistake nor that for many colonists, the relationship between parent and child could never be the same again.
You can read the rest of chapter 6 in Tracking the Storm; the book provides powerful clues about what is coming, rapidly, to the United States. There is little doubt that a storm is approaching the country, the outer edges of the winds already swirling around us. What does that portend for the nation? Through the clues of history, we can find direction and steps to undertake to prepare. Many believe there won’t be a storm, or maybe that the worst is over. With history as a guide, I demonstrate that we haven’t yet even reached the Great Crisis.
Gripping and “a scary yet necessary read,” Tracking the Storm moves through the past 400 years of Anglo-American history to illustrate the various clues provided that show the steps to the coming crisis. I will tell the story of political instability, economic distress, rapid technological changes and a growing philosophical divide that challenged previous generations. At the end of each Great Crisis, the nation had been radically changed. Pick up your copy of Tracking the Storm today!