Monday, July 04, 2011

Geography and the Declaration of Independence

When one thinks of the Declaration of Independence one most likely thinks of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."  The reason the colonist sought these rights lies with the old rallying cry of "taxation without representation."  Taxation without representation is commonly asserted as the sole reason the thirteen colonies united to liberate themselves from the control of King George III of Great Britain and Ireland.

What many people do not know, however, is that the Declaration of Independence states many reasons for independence.  A large number of the reasons the United States declared independence have roots in geography.

Here's a list of the stated geographic reasons in the Declaration along with my explanation.  Note: 1776 English is used in bold.

"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."

The colonies had their own local governments.  These governments had a governor appointed by the monarch and a legislature voted on by the people.  However, King George III would frequently abolish the legislature or forbid it to meet.  A "compromise" by the king was to allow the legislature to meet in London, England.  This was not a solution since an ocean that took up to six weeks to cross separated the colonies and England.  Sometimes colonists would hear about an allowable meeting location and time only after the time has passed due to the communication lag between colony and mother country.

"He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands."

The patriots of 1776 had no problem with immigration.  Colonists who were ethnically English, Scots, Scot-Irish, Irish, Germans, Swedes, and Dutch were united in a nationalism based on their colony along with their rights as Englishmen.  What they did have a problem with is being denied an influx of hardworking, skilled populations of tradesmen, merchants, and farmers from other countries.  It was the immigrants who would create the new frontiers for the colonies by pushing settlements into the continent.  To deny immigration was to deny the growth of the colonies.

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world

The colonist favored free, open trade.  The United Kingdom practiced not capitalism (modern capitalism was defined by Adam Smith in 1776) but mercantilism.  Mercantilism taught that trade with foreign countries had to be limited and the colonies should serve basically as resource providers for the mother country while the colonies got only basic goods in return.

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

Trial by your peers was defined by the Constitution but English Common Law had long provided for juries to be from a similar population pool.  Under King George III, however, your peers could be the closest thing England could provide.  A Massachusetts farmer could find himself in the fate of London merchants.

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

The United States has always had a weird relationship with Canada.  The said province, the Province of Quebec, was a geographic monster stretching from present day Illinois all the way to Labrador.  This land was mostly French, only recently conquered during the French & Indian War.  In order to appease the large Catholic French population the king approved the Quebec Act.  The act allowed 1) French civil law to exist along side English common law, 2) the loyalty oath removed references to Protestantism, and 3) the Catholic Church was given freedom to function.

Quebec was much more than Quebec

This was unacceptable to the American colonists.  They saw all of Canada as the next colonies (the colonies has already bled for Canada as colonial militias provided much needed troops for the various invasions of Canada including the capture of Louisbourg in present-day Nova Scotia).  Allowing the French Canadians to remain French would prevent an Englishization of Canada and prevent the Canada from eventually entering the American colonial sphere.

Interestingly enough an Englishization did occur but only after the Revolutionary War.  An estimated 70,000 United Empire Loyalists, Americans who remained loyal to the United Kingdom, left the American colonies and settled in Canada.  These loyalists shifted the demographic balance in present-day Canada in favor of English-speaking Canadians.  Those who resettled in present-day Ontario provided a cultural border limiting the extent of French Canada and ensured that western Canada would be culturally English rather than French.

"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 & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation."

The charge of "mercenary" against German Hessian troops is somewhat unfair.  First, the troops were sold into service by their various monarchs to King George III.  Second, some were subjects of George III since at the same time he was King of Great Britain and Ireland he was Prince of Hanover, part of the Holy Roman Empire.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown.

The colonies formally declare their independence here.  The declare themselves to be states, independent countries, comprising a united country much like the Holy Roman Empire was comprised of many independent, sometimes warring against each other, states.  Until the Civil War the term "United States" was treated as plural. One would say "the United States are" as opposed to thinking the country as truly one.

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