A Conversation About Revolution
by Sean Hinkle
It’s a cool Philadelphian morning in the spring of seventeen seventy-six. Benjamin Franklin ambles down the street to his nephew John’s home. He knocks on his door and they proceed on their walk.
Franklin: It’s a beautiful morning, isn’t it?
John: It is, Uncle. It feels like summer is right around the corner.
Franklin: Very much so. I regret that we won’t be able to take these walks as frequently in the coming months.
John: Oh! Why is that?
Franklin: I’ve been chosen, along with a committee of four other men, to draft a declaration of sovereignty from the British.
John: But Uncle, why would you want to do that? I like being a colonist under the British!
Franklin: Why is that, John?
John: Well, they take care of us.
Franklin: How do they take care of us?
John: They provide us with protection from the French and Indians; all we have to do is provide for the basic needs of the soldiers.
Franklin: You are speaking of the Quartering Act of seventeen sixty-five I believe. Yes, it was said that the Act was to protect us.
John: You don’t believe it?
Franklin: No, I don’t John. There are many other factors to consider besides the British simply protecting the colonies. What event can you think of ended very shortly before the Quartering Act was imposed?
John: The French and Indian war?
John: But Uncle, the war was mostly fought in Europe. What does that have to do with the Quartering Act?
Franklin: Well, after the war was finished, what do you thinking happened to the soldiers?
John: I would guess that they would go home to Britain and continue being paid or receive a pension.
Franklin: And who would have paid their salaries and pensions?
John: The British government?
Franklin: Yes! So, where does the British government get their money?
John: Probably from taxes.
Franklin: Correct. The British would have to collect more taxes from their, already heavily taxed, subjects. Can you see where this is going?
John: I think so. The British government wanted to use us to pay for their troops instead of placing the burden on the British citizens. 1
John: That’s not so bad is it? We would have just been doing our part.
Franklin: Seemingly, yes. But the British government approved the Quartering Act without representation from the colonies. The fact that they made the decision to impose this new legislation without any input from those who would have been paying the tax is the exact thing we are fighting against.
John: So Uncle, why exactly are we against taxation from the British?
Franklin: The answer to that question can be seen through a series of events and legislation that began with the Stamp Act of 1765, which I was directly involved in unfortunately. 2
John: What happened?
Franklin: In 1763, a man named George Grenville became the Prime Minister of Great Britain. When Grenville came into power Britain was still under great financial stress from the seven years war. He needed to find a way to generate revenue for the home country. The solution he devised was called “The Stamp Act”. The Stamp Act placed a tax on many printed materials that were used in the colonies. 3
John: What kinds of printed materials?
Franklin: Everything from Magazines to legal documents. This was a fairly common way to gain revenue in many countries throughout Europe. I think this is why I was not even able to predict what happened.
John: What did happen?
Franklin: The colonists were extremely disturbed by the tax and the implications behind it. This was the first direct tax from British parliament onto the colonies. The Stamp Act was not an external tax like “The Sugar Act” of 1764 (which levied a tax on goods coming into the colonies). No, the Stamp Act levied a tax on goods created within the colonies.
John: But how did the British parliament have the right to tax goods created inside our colonies?
Franklin: That is the exact question many colonists started to ask themselves. When news of the passage of the act reached the shores of America, there was quick reaction from the colonists. There were protests in the streets near the end of 1765! 4
John: Wow, I bet that Prime Minister Grenville was sure surprised!
Franklin: I think everyone, including myself, was surprised by the way the colonies pulled together in protest. In New York, over two hundred merchants decided to not import anything from Great Britain until the stamp act was repealed. Lucky for us, this gambit, along with many others, worked! Members of Parliament began to see an economic downturn, as they were unable to collect the debts owed by the colonies from the act. It was repealed in early 1766.
John: I would think that it was a relief to the colonies.
Franklin: Yes, it was, but the act was swiftly replaced with another. The Townshend Acts of 1767, which was yet another attempt to gain revenue from the colonies. Charles Townshend, a Chancellor of the Exchequer, created the acts. He saw the difference between internal and external taxes (even though he thought them to be inane) and decided the best course of action was to externally tax the colonies to the fullest extent. The act created a new “Board of Customs Commissioners”, located in Boston, which collected the duties on imported goods from Britain.
John: It seems like Britain really wanted our money!
Franklin: They surely did. The Board of Customs Commissioners turned out to be an unpleasant and crooked group of people. They could seize the cargo of a ship if they found it to be breaking the law (by smuggling or not declaring all of their goods) and then sell the ships merchandise for profit. They commissioners took advantage of this power by being very lenient with the laws for a short time and then suddenly enforce them rigidly. This did not improve the colonist’s opinions of their motherland. 5
John: Certainly not! That’s terrible!
Franklin: There was so much opposition and unrest due to the Townshend Acts that they were partially repealed in early 1770. The only tax that was left was the Townshend duty on tea. This tax was not repealed because the British wanted the colonists to see that they could still tax them as they pleased. 6
John: That just makes them look like a bully.
Franklin: I agree. In 1773 Britain passed The Tea Act. This act allowed Britain’s tea trading company to trade directly with retailers in America where as before, the tea would change hands numerous times before reaching American shores. This greatly reduced the price of tea for the colonists.
John: That seems like a good thing.
Franklin: That is just what the British wanted the colonists to think. The merchants in the colonies recognized that the British could easily create a monopoly. They were essentially bribing the colonists to pay the duty on tea while simultaneously running the local merchants out of business. Once their competitors were out of business the British would inflate the tea prices by a large margin. 7
John: How dishonest! I thought the British were supposed to be supporting us!
Franklin: Well John, everything came to a head in Boston. The colonists of Boston had been meeting the shipments of tea and making the captains turn around and return to Britain. The governor of Boston then decided to not permit the ships to leave the harbor without unloading their cargo. So the colonists of Boston decided to jettison the cargo themselves and they did so directly into the harbor. This act of defiance shattered any misconceptions the British had about our colonies allowing the British to take advantage of us and tax us as they please.
John: It sounds like our relationship with Britain is much worse than I thought! I was proud to be of British descent and happy to help my home country any way I could, but I’m seeing now how important it is that America gains its independence. We do not need a bully across the ocean taking our money as they see fit. No!
They arrive back in front of John’s home.
John: Uncle, when you are finished drafting the declaration, know that I would sign it for the good of our country.
Franklin: Yes, for the good of our country. Thank you John.
1. "Quartering Act (1765)." United States American History. Web. 08 Oct. 2011. .
2. Draper, Theodore. A Struggle for Power: the American Revolution. New York: Times, 1996. Pg. 231-232. Print.
3. Cogliano, Francis D. Revolutionary America: 1765 - 1815 : A Political History. New York Pg. 49 2009. Print.
4. Cogliano, Francis D. Revolutionary America: 1765 - 1815 : A Political History. New York Pg. 57 2009. Print.
5. Morgan, Edmund S. The Birth of the Republic: 1763-89. 3rd ed. Chicago, Ill. Pg. 37-39 1993. Print.
6. Cogliano, Francis D. Revolutionary America: 1765 - 1815 : A Political History. New York Pg. 67 2009. Print.
7. Morgan, Edmund S. The Birth of the Republic: 1763-89. 3rd ed. Chicago, Ill. Pg. 59 1993. Print.
1. Cogliano, Francis D. Revolutionary America: 1765 - 1815 : A Political History. New York U.a.: Routledge, 2009. Print.
2. "Coming of the American Revolution: The Townshend Acts." Massachusetts Historical Society, an Independent Research Library Founded in 1791. Web. 08 Oct. 2011. .
3. Morgan, Edmund S. The Birth of the Republic: 1763-89. 3rd ed. Chicago, Ill. U.a.: Univ. of Chicago, 1993. Print.
4. "The Quartering Act of 1765." Ushistory.org. Web. 08 Oct. 2011. .