This paper was written for a class in American History. The assignment was to discuss the family metaphors used to describe the relations between the colonies and Britain, and to offer my opinion as to whether the Revolution was caused by overbearing parents of a spoiled child.
Spoiled Children: The American Revolution
The American colonists who led the revolutionary movement against the British Empire often used a metaphor of a family when describing their relations with Britain. The King was the loving, protecting father, and the colonists were the children, who needed their gracious father for survival. But, as it turned out, the colonists would only use this metaphor as long as it was in their best interests, turning against the British Empire whenever Parliament tried to exert any control over the colonies. The Americans were ungrateful and spoiled, disrespecting and disobeying their parents across the Atlantic for years.
The British practice of benign neglect was ended once and for all at the end of the French and Indian War in 1763. The British were in deep debt after the war, which was fought for the sole benefit of the colonies. Following with the family metaphor, it was similar to the child being picked on by a neighbor. If the parent were to step in and defend the child, it would be for the child’s benefit. The colonists were thankful for the efforts of their Queen, but were not too fond of the British army. Also, they were soon irritated by Parliament, which passed legislation in an attempt to get the Empire some much-needed funds. The British Empire was losing a great deal of money to smuggling, so Parliament enacted measures to try to curb this practice. Additionally, they passed the Sugar and Stamp Acts, neither of which was especially overbearing. The Sugar Act actually lowered the customs duty on sugar, and the Stamp Act was created to raise money for the colonies.
Nevertheless, the Americans, angry that their parents were not giving them a big enough allowance, responded by throwing a tantrum. Mobs destroyed the under-construction office of Massachusetts’s stamp collector and Thomas Hutchinson’s mansion. In the fall of 1765, the Stamp Act Congress met. The result of this event was to blame Parliament while professing adoration for the King, just like a child asking one parent for something, being turned down, and then asking the other.
The result of the “extralegal crowd” activity was that Parliament conceded, revoking the Stamp Act and replacing it with the Declaratory Act. The Declaratory act allowed Parliament to tax anything, anytime, but it did little good without being used.
The cycle of British attempts to control the colonies and colonial anger would continue until the eventual revolution by the colonists. Also, military tension rose as the Sons of Liberty and other militias grew more brazen, forcing the British Redcoats to react aggressively. It was as though a set of parents had allowed their child to raise himself as long as he did what he was supposed to do, which was to stay out of the way and not cause trouble (although I suppose few children exist to be economic assets, as the colonies were). Then, when the child spends all his time playing video games or watching television and refuses to eat his broccoli, the parents react by imposing limits on the child’s television time. Now, the normal response would be for the child to sulk and accept his punishment, but the colonists became irate. Slowly, they moved down the Radical Whig path to independence. To me, this seems like another case of people having something and wanting more. The British were not being unreasonable. They created colonies for the purpose of raising money. The colonists did not have to be in the colonies. They were not in exile. They were, however, used to having things the way they wanted them, and started acting like babies when things changed for the worse. Nevertheless, I do not feel as though their actions were justified. The British tried to tighten their political control over the colonies and were met with violence almost immediately. As is usually the case, the British responded with violence, which only begat more violence, but I must ask: If a father beats a misbehaving son, does the son have the right to beat his father?
However, the question of how to keep the colonies under British rule is more complicated. Of course, the British could have just left them alone, putting fewer resources into the French and Indian War and allowing benign neglect to continue. In that case, the Empire would still have amassed a debt, and the Americans certainly not been happy had their father not come to their aid. Once the British ended benign neglect, I doubt that there was anything that could be done. The Americans wanted the Britain to back off rather far, but for Britain to have given in would have been to give their 16-year-old the keys to the car and say, “Here. Come back when you feel it.” Just as some parents kick their children out of the house once they get uncontrollable, maybe it was necessary for the British to let America go. Once the conflict began, it was obvious that, to achieve peace, both sides would have to make major concessions. I think that the colonists were too proud and greedy to give in.
To finish with the family metaphor, I would have to say that the colonists had grown too old, too wild, and too disobedient to remain in the King’s house. Staying out late, drinking at Thomas Hutchinson’s house, stuffing Jesse Dunbar into an ox carcass, getting into fights with the Redcoats, the colonies had obviously grown too independent to be bossed around by the British Empire. It was time for them to get their own apartment, their own job, and to learn to fend for themselves in the real world.