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Radicals, Reconciliation and Revolution: A Loyalists Perspective

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Radicals, Reconciliation and Revolution: A Loyalists perspective

Carrie A McIntosh

United States History I: 1607-1865

June 2, 2016


The ideals of freedom and liberty for all men often turned neighbor against neighbor as they clashed over divided loyalties.  Often viewed as a war for independence from a tyrannical government, it is easily forgotten that the Revolutionary war in many ways was our first Civil War.  The Sons of Liberty were quickly gaining followers and war with Britain was on the horizon. For many Loyalists though, the patriots were dangerous radicals that were creating problems where none had existed. It was believed that relationships with England could be mended peacefully with reasonable discussion and it was rumored that those loyal to the crown outnumbered the patriots in many areas of the colonies. Much like the elections of 2016, a large portion of the population remained neutral and did not particularly want to choose a side. For the Loyalists, mending the rift with Britain, and subduing the dangerous radicalism often spread by the patriots was the only solution to the problems of the day. When viewed from the perspective of the Tories, remaining loyal to the British Crown against the patriots was a pragmatic answer to the madness that had a grip on the colonies.

The start of the Revolutionary War did not have one defining moment that lead up to the Colonies declaring independence.  Instead it was a long series of events starting as far back as 1699 with the Wool act in which the British Parliament prohibited the export of American made cloth from its colony of origin.[1] Over the next 75 years, other laws and policies passed by parliament continued to add to the resentment that colonists felt toward the British Crown and Parliament. The Mid to late 18th century was a time of intense imperial rivalry between European nations. The recent seven years’ war between Britain and France left Britain with large debts that nearly bankrupt the country. Many in parliament felt that the colonies should help to shoulder the burden and cost of the war that they claimed was to defend the colonies. In truth the seven years’ war was more of an extension of the War of Austrian Succession in which Britain and France fought for opposing sides.  The French military was weakened by this war and Britain took advantage of this and tried to resolve the boundary claims in Canada and Ohio Territories.[2] The British were trying to extract funds from the colonists in the form of taxes to help pay off the war debt incurred during the seven years’ war.

  Another key element that contributed to the Revolution was known as the Great Awakening. The Great Awakening wasn’t a particular event, rather it was more of an attitude that lead to different thinking from common English politics and religions.  An example of this was that rather than believing that Bishops and the King interpreted God’s will, that the colonists viewed themselves more capable of performing the task. It is said that John Adams credited the Great Awakening as the source of motivation behind the Revolutionary war.[3]

The combination of the Awakening in both political and religious beliefs among the colonists along with Parliament passing multiple taxes, tariffs and laws in an attempt to pay for the seven years’ war, left many colonists upset at the British government.  The Awakening lead many to believe that the colonies did not need a King or Parliament to tell them how to live their lives.[4]   Reflecting on the war of independence from Great Britain, Tomas Paine, author of Common Sense stated “We can see with other eyes; we hear with other ears; and think with other thoughts, than those we formerly used. We are now really another people, and cannot again go back to ignorance and prejudice. The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark.”[5] It has often be stated that America is not just a country but an idea, an experiment and a dream.

While Patriots tended to be radicals and at first a minority, they grew to become a dangerous majority that threatened the lives of those colonist that remained loyal to the British crown.[6] The Belief in self-rule along with the passing of the Intolerable acts after the Boston Tea Party encourage many colonists to side with the rebellious patriots.[7] Reverend Myles Cooper was an English-born Clergyman in New York City prior to the Declaration of Independence. He returned to England in 1775, and wrote a poem entitled The Patriots of North America: A Sketch in which he describes the common sentiment of most Loyalist toward the Patriots.  Early in the poem he writes “Thus oft, a cocker’d, pamper’d Child, By fond maternal Love is spoil’d”, comparing the patriots are to spoiled children. He goes on to note “Where Ruffians gain unblest Applause By violated Faith, and Laws. Where fair earn’d Wealth, Possessions fair, Are torn from many a rightful Heir;”[8] While Cooper elected not to detail injustices done to Loyalists, Peter Oliver, a Loyalist Judge who left the colonies for England in 1776, published an article entitled “the sufferings of all from mobs, rioters and trespassers”. in which he gave detailed accounts of some of the crimes and mob violence that the Patriots inflicted on Loyalist. An excerpt from the articled reads “At Taunton also, about 40 Miles from Boston, the Mob attacked the House of Daniel Leonard, Esqr., one of his Majesty’s Justices of the Peace; & a Barrister at Law. They fired Bullets into the House & obliged him to fly from it to save his Life.”[9]

With the publication of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense in 1776, patriotic fervor was raised to a new level. In an attempt to calm the revolutionary zeal Reverend Charles Inglis published a rebuttal to Thomas Paines’ Common Sense in which he points out the benefits of reconciliation with Britain. His article entitled “The Deceiver Unmasked; Or, Loyalty and Interest United: In Answer to a Pamphlet Entitled Common Sense“, in which he writes that reconciliation with Britain would save lives, that uneasiness and anxiety will end with the restoration of peace, Agriculture, commerce and industry would resume, that trade could also resume with “the protection of the greatest naval power in the world” and that the colonies would have better access to more supplies. He states “These advantages are not imaginary but real. They are such as we have already experienced; and such as we may derive from a connection with Great Britain for ages to come.”[10] Many Colonist did not want to split from England, rather they wanted to be treated as equals within the British Empire. Many would have been content to have representation and equal laws to govern them.

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