Toward the end of this period, the opinions of those outside the aristocracy were increasingly influenced by the Enlightenment, an intellectual movement of the seventeen and eighteenth centuries. Enlightenment thinkers began to challenge existing religious, government, and social norms, and pushed for additional individual liberty and the free exercise of natural rights. They argued that mankind not only had a capacity for self-government, but that it was a natural right. Through an evolutionary process, Englishmen grew to enjoy an ever-increasing say over who made the laws that governed their lives. That is, those Englishmen who lived in England. If an Englishman happened to live in one of the British colonies, he was still a mere subject of the crown with no representation in Parliament.
|Benjamin Franklin before Lords in Council in Whitehall Chapel|
This second-class citizenship chafed American colonists. They viewed themselves as English, and took an Englishman’s rights seriously. The irony is that even without representation in Parliament, the colonists enjoyed more personal liberty than their English counterparts. In order to have the colonies function effectively three thousand miles away from the mother country, the colonists were allowed to make many of their own rules through locally elected legislatures. The colonists had developed a strong history of self-government, and were used to being somewhat independent from the rulers of the British Empire.
The colonists grew increasingly annoyed with the palpable disrespect they received from London. Two examples will help illustrate this point. George Washington served honorably as a colonial officer in the French and Indian War, but despite incessant pleads, he could not secure a regular commission in the British Army. No matter how well they fought, colonists could never be the equal of an English officer. Washington suffered innumerable other slights from his British overlords until they eventually drove him to become a committed rebel.
Benjamin Franklin also suffered poor treatment from the English. As relations grew tense between England and the colonies, Franklin, who had lived in London for eighteen years, tried to smooth things over as an unofficial envoy. He was so angered by his ill-treatment at a Privy Council session that it is rumored he told the British solicitor general, “I will make your master a little king for this.” Franklin made good on his word. Upon returning from England, he was appointed to the committee that wrote the Declaration of Independence.
|Colonial Funeral for the Stamp Act|
This throwing down of the gauntlet by Parliament ignited the phrase, "No taxation without representation," and put the two countries on the path to war.