One of the questions I am often asked about colonial America involves the motives behind the American colonists’ desire to throw off the yoke of King George and form their own independent country free from the shackles of British rule. The most common answer is the colonists felt they were paying too much in taxes to the British. This is not true. In fact, considering the amount of protection provided by the English army to the colonists their taxes were of reasonable value and amount compared to the average Londoner who paid more in actual revenue to the King’s coffers. So why did the colonists revolt?
The answer is archived in the Library of Congress in a historical document, The Fairfax County Resolves (the ”Resolves”), which strangely, is an almost forgotten piece of American history.
I have never been in a classroom (other than my own) or a seminar that mentioned the document. This is a bit surprising if for no other reason than the Resolves are attributed to the heavyweights George Mason and Washington as being the primary drafters. But I know about it and now so do you. I think you will find it more interesting than you may have first imagined. For purposes of constitutional significance and analysis, the Resolves are broken into 24 separate resolutions with the overall effect being a love letter of colonial grievances sent directly to King George. Enticingly, it starts with a blatant threat of possible future violence against the Crown.
“1. Resolved that this Colony and Dominion of Virginia can not be considered as a conquered Country; and if it was, that the present Inhabitants are the Descendants not of the Conquered, but of the Conquerors.”
The first point of contention addressed is England’s claim of supreme authority over the American colonies. In their opening salvo, the Georges are reminding the Crown and British Parliament that as Englishmen the Colonists have the same natural rights as any person born of English blood and living on English soil, these rights later identified in the US Constitution. The colonists petitioned for their right of adequate, responsive and just representation as was their rights as freeborn Englishmen.
This was during the time directly after the Boston Tea Party, an interesting act of colonial terrorism for which the Resolves tell us the colonists were willing to pay damages for. But what they weren’t willing to do was be subjected to the Coercive Act (aka the Intolerable Act) – a series of laws adopted for the main purpose of punishing Massachusetts by means of economic coercion. The laws were harsh and the colonists righty surmised they were a bit too much on the tyrannical side to be ignored. It was this type of economic punishment and additional taxation without representation in Parliament that the colonists objected to, as clearly stated in the Resolves.
Next, the Resolves indicates their desire to remain members of the British Commonwealth, but will not suffer the indignities of tyranny and become for all intents and purposes the slaves of their British “masters.” In between hints of embargoes and trade wars, the Resolves identifies and praises the efforts of the colonists as they begin to work together in an ever more coordinated effort to protect their rights and liberties as freemen.
So, what we have here is the ground-work for freedom, autonomy from the Crown, the protection of rights, constitutional and otherwise, a plea for economic security and taxation with representation. Everything that America would someday become.
Lastly, Resolution 17 is quite illuminative as to the Founding Fathers’ or, at least, George Mason and Washington’s position on slavery.
“17. Resolved that it is the Opinion of this Meeting, that during our present Difficulties and Distress, no Slaves ought to be imported into any of the British Colonies on this Continent; and we take this Opportunity of declaring our most earnest Wishes to see an entire Stop for ever put to such a wicked cruel and unnatural Trade.”
This was 1774, and although this sentiment does not release the early Americans from liability for their inhuman continuation of slavery until after the Civil War, it does indicate a desire for the ending of the practice as a necessity to what would become the American way of life. It just took a lot longer, and a bloody war to do it. But we did eventually abolish slavery. For after all, we are the sons and the daughters of the conquerors and we do those types of things, don’t we? Yes, we do.