Securing Freedom: Protecting the Colonies Amidst Mounting Aggression, Necessitating a Declaration of Independence
“He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.”
Here we observe yet another Grievance on the “evidence list” that the colonists are submitting to the world to prove their case for independence. This particular grievance may be the most impactful to them, their families and their daily lives. The British military were seen as an army of occupation in the colonies in the 1770s. They were also seen as an army that was depriving the colonists of their property without their consent, which led to the legal reasons behind the Declaration of Independence. British troops were also looked upon as a risk to the physical safety of the citizens of the colonies. Frequent confrontations occurred and the relationship between the mother country and her subjects was becoming more fragile every day. The colonists believed that the dangers and future threats that came from this occupation of a standing army was one of the most tyrannical behaviors of the king.
The above portion of the Declaration shows us the point in the document where this grievance, listed as a fact to a “candid world” described how King George III had held a military presence in a peaceful land and had the goal of terrorizing and harassing the people there. As a result of this military action and the other grievances stated in the Declaration, the colonies were moved to declare their independence in July of 1776. How did they arrive at this particular grievance? The colonists believed that the King acted as a tyrant by using his military forces to control, intimidate and dominate them, as well as their families, their livelihoods and their way of life. They also felt that he had unleashed his army on them, a defenseless people, with no army of their own to defend themselves.
The British had established a military presence in the 13 colonies since their inception in the 1600s. Military conflicts were a way of life in the colonies and they included wars with Native-Americans, the Dutch, Spain and France. The largest number of British troops were sent to the colonies during the French and Indian War in the 1750s and 60s. As a result of that conflict, Britain was plunged into tremendous debt and arrived at the conclusion that the colonies, who lived under the protection of the greatest military force on the planet, should pay for that protection from outside invasions and threats from Native Americans. That payment would come in the form of several Acts of Parliament resulting in taxation, bringing increased revenue to the British empire. When the colonists rebelled against these Acts and displayed behavior that King George III felt was dangerous and treasonous, he took action and sent more troops to the colonies to quiet the dissention. It did not work.
There were approximately 45,000 men in the British army in 1763. That number was roughly 48,000 at the start of the American Revolution in 1775. The army needed to be paid, fed and housed within the colonies and the British government took steps to do so through legislation such as the two Quartering Acts.
The first Quartering Act was created in 1765 as a way to make the American colonists pay for the housing and care of British soldiers. Britain felt that if their soldiers were going to be in the colonies protecting the citizens there, then the colonies should pay for it. The relationship between the soldiers and colonists was terrible in places like Boston, where soldiers had been brought in to enforce the laws. In some colonies that bordered the frontier, the protection of the British was received much more appreciatively, although the taxes and policies were still not. The tension-filled areas created great anger towards each other as a result. The Boston Massacre in 1770 was a direct result of this and led to the death of five colonists, which led to further anger and distrust on both sides. Tragically, British troops that were sent to keep the colonies in line and to protect them would eventually end up fighting a war here against them.
The second Quartering Act was part of the Coercive (Intolerable) Acts, passed in 1774 by King George III in response to the Boston Tea Party in 1773. The king was furious with the Tea Party participants and with the amount of money England lost because of it (over 1 million dollars in today’s currency). He wanted to make Boston pay for their actions and he wanted more soldiers in Boston to monitor the situation there. Eventually, the overflow of British soldiers led to a housing shortage for them. This Quartering Act stated that British soldiers could be housed in unoccupied buildings, barns, or “other buildings” that may be needed to house them. This Act was personal to the colonists in Boston, as well as all 13 colonies. It dealt with where to place British soldiers in the colonies among the people living there. Colonists did not want the British in their towns and definitely did not want British soldiers living with them. The anger at British troops being housed among the people of the colonies was so strong that Thomas Jefferson decided to include it in the list of grievances against King George III in the Declaration of Independence.
The increased aggression continued to mount on both sides throughout the 1770s and culminated in the “shot heard ‘round the World” on Lexington Green in April of 1775. From then until July of 1776, additional major battles were fought, including Bunker Hill and the Battle of Quebec. Hundreds of patriots had already died on battlefields in the 15 months leading up to the Declaration of Independence, as the “times of peace” had transitioned into times of war.
Val Crofts serves as Chief Education and Programs Officer at the American Village in Montevallo, Alabama. Val previously taught high school U.S. History, U.S. Military History and AP U.S. Government for 19 years in Wisconsin, and was recipient of the DAR Outstanding U.S. History Teacher of the Year for the state of Wisconsin in 2019-20. Val also taught for the Wisconsin Virtual School as a social studies teacher for 9 years. He is also a proud member of the United States Semiquincentennial Commission (America 250), which is currently planning events to celebrate the 250th birthday of the Declaration of Independence.
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