For most modern-day Americans, Independence Day is less about remembering the winning of freedom from England and more about celebrating grilled food and hot summer days, and shooting fireworks in the backyard. Those of us who remember our American History lessons can speak of no taxation without representation, preparing a harbor for high tea, and the shot heard ’round the world.
Without seeming unpatriotic, what of the British perspective?
I’ve seen the 18th Century separation of England from its North American colonies blamed on the lack of decisive resolution of the Seven Year’s War, or simply thought of as another front in the War Against Napoleon. Most of my English friends never even studied it in school, other than the rare mention of it in passing as it affected exploration or foreign trade. Most know more about the American Civil War (or as it’s known in the south, The War of Northern Aggression), and even consider this a Civil War of British citizen versus British Citizen.
But it did make the news.
Well, maybe not much news. If you squint and search you’ll find, buried in the second column and second paragraph, the single solemn sentence, remarkable in its brevity:
An eloquent, if verbose, pamphlet was written by Josiah Tucker, D.D. Dean of Gloucester, and reprinted in part in The Leicester and Nottingham Journal on 20 January 1776. He presented both sides of the arguments of war, but with the purpose of making “people truly sensible of the blessings they enjoy under the reign of his present majesty.”
Dean Tucker’s conclusion, as excerpted in The Leicester and Nottingham Journal:
By far, most information came to England via personal correspondence. Initially, letters were full of calm assurance of victory and thinly veiled disdain for people that were – at this point – English, fellow countrymen. As the conflict progressed, and success moved farther from their grasp, letters home changed drastically in tone and information.
“When an American falls, England feels it. Is there no way of trading back this step of Independency, and opening the door to a full discussion?” Admiral Richard Howe to his secretary, Henry Strachey, September 1776.
“Killing seems to me a very unnatural trade, but these people are beyond nature as well as reason. They might at this moment have peace and happiness, but they insist upon having their brains knocked out first.” Henry Strachey, secretary to General William Howe and Admiral Richard Howe, in a letter to his wife after the British won the Battle of Long Island in August 1776.
Henry Strachey also observed some colonists leaving hearth and home “to follow the standard of rebellion at the hazard of all they are worth, rather than acknowledge George for their king. The infatuation is inscrutable. I have read somewhere, and I begin to think it possible, that a whole country as well as an individual may be struck with lunacy.”
“[what] pernicious designs of those, who, giving a loose to their own immoderate notions of liberty, have by misrepresentation and perversion of facts, so long and so fatally blinded the eyes of a deluded multitude, and by the means of violence and threats compelled them to break out into rebellion, in search of a redress of grievances which never existed.” Lord George Germain, secretary of the colonies.
- Read all about the American Revolution in The London Gazette archives.
- Find the entirety of Dean Tucker’s Pamphlet in the London Review of English and Foreign Literature.
- See what the The Leicester and Nottingham Journal wrote about the Revolution here.
- Excerpts from letters taken from the New York Times article Headed for Auction: Back-Channel Gloom on Revolutionary War.
- Author Troy Bickham wrote a fantastic and thorough book detailing the war waged through the pages of the press in Britain, in Making Headlines: The American Revolution as Seen Through the British Press. A nice addition to any library. Don’t believe me? Read this review.