The American dream is one that arose in the fight for freedom from the tyranny of Great Britain and the liberty to realize the collective destiny. This theme remains today as a core value which is rooted in the national history and identity. The purpose of this paper is to explore how the American revolutionaries justified the momentous act of disobeying and overthrowing the established government and declaring a new nation, and how that was perceived by the British who stood accused as their oppressors. It can be concluded that while the American colonial people and the orators of that time defended the need for violent civil disobedience as a requirement of defending their birth right and self-determination as a free people, the British had continued concerns about the colonial behavior and lack of respect for order, particularly in relation to treaties and other agreements with Indians which had been made by the British Crown in good faith. While the movement was justified based on oppression by Great Britain, Great Britain was in fact under pressure to control the colonial Americans failure to comply with law and diplomatic agreements.
Great Britain was concerned about the failure to control the Americans, who were failing to comply with terms of agreements regarding settlement lands which was creating conflict with the Indian tribes, important military and trade allies. According to a letter written by Sir William Johnson, the superintendent of Indian Affairs, to the Secretary of State of the Colonies in 1772, the Americans were already disobeying government and principles of order, however there was no government to overthrow as their remote location made it difficult to have the presence of government and law. This letter provides a British perspective on the American colonial population, who oversteps the boundaries of agreed upon limits to settlement, which has interfered with the British Crown’s relationship to the Indians. Many also rob and murder the Indians, with seemingly no consequences (Johnson, 2). As relayed by Indian tribes, the Americans had no respect for the agreements that were made, and Indians requested that the British do a better job of controlling their people. Johnson indicated that:
… back inhabitants particularly those who daily go over the Mountains of Virginia employ much of their time in hunting, interfere with them therein, have a hatred for, ill treat, Rob and frequently murder the Indians, that they are in general a lawless sett of People, as fond of independency as themselves, and more regardless of Governm[en]t owing to ignorance, prejudice democratical principles, & their remote situation (Johnson, 3-4).
Joseph Warren had the radical revolutionary views of the late 18th century colonial American, which he explains in the document “Boston Massacre Oration”, which was written in 1772. Warren describes the ethical principle of not submitting to an unjust authority. The context of the speech, that being the four-year anniversary of the Boston Massacre, is an important factor in what Hancock had to say, and how it was heard by the people of the time. Something of note was the fact that there was an assumption that anyone with common sense was in agreement, as the rightness of their plight was evident. The American revolutionary mindset was therefore conveniently noting the transgressions against them, without also noting when they themselves were committing such transgressions against others.
Edmund Burke attempted to bridge some of these very different perspectives. He attempted to explain the viewpoint of American colonists in his Speech to Parliament in 1775. Burke provided an explanation of how the Americans were experiencing British rule and proposed a peaceful and orderly separation of the colony and the various interests and responsibilities. The main interest of Great Britain, which was exports to the colony, did not require being the ruler in order to maintain profitability, and this was a critical aspect of Burke’s argument to reconcile with the Americans in the developing conflict.
The Enlightenment, and its idea of self-determination, were clearly powerful in the thoughts of early Americans, however this embrace of liberty included liberty at the expense of another population- the Indian tribes who were already living in the land that would become America. On the question of who was oppressing who, it is not a simple case of one party being in the right and the other in the wrong. Great Britain was wrong to try to impose controls that did not include better consultation and collaboration. The imperial nation should have provided visible benefits to its colonial subjects. At the same time, the Americans were imposing on the Indian tribes, oppressing their liberty and freedom by settling in their territories, damaging their hunting lands and mistreating the Indian people. Great Britain did have good reasons to ensure continued respect for terms of alliance and peace which had been negotiated with the Indian tribes. This was a vulnerable time in that regard, because British authorities had to deal with the new Indian relationships that came with the newly conquered French territory to the north. From the perspective of the British government, passing the Intolerable Acts made perfect sense to remedy the situation, while for the American colonial revolutionaries it made sense to resist, and pass the Declaration of Independence followed by a petition to the King for Independence (Schaller, Chapter 6). The justification for American disobedience and flagrant disregard for British authority is the moral imperative of self-determination and resisting against an oppressive authority, however this does not tell the full story of conflicts and issues leading up to the Revolutionary War.