james-iredell-1751-1799-granger
James Iredell. By: Charles Balthazar Julien Fevret de Saint-Memin.

For a revolution, and particularly a bloodless revolution, to occur, the momentum must build so that the population’s outrage culminates in a change of power and a change of government. How the people sparking the flame that leads to the roaring fire of revolution is a subject worth studying, as revolutions are an inevitable fact of life in the world.

One of those sparks for the flame of revolution in America came from Britain’s tyranny. James Iredell observed that the English people were not “universally corrupt, though too many, God knows, are.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 36 quoting Iredell, “To His Majesty, George the Third . . . ,” Mar. 1777, McRee, Life of Iredell, I, 356. English corruption was viewed as “the cause of all our present calamity” for Americans. Id. In fact, Whigs believed “that in the last stages of a nation’s life ‘luxury and its never failing attendant corruption, will render easy the attempts of an arbitrary prince, who means to subvert the liberty of his country.'” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 36-37 quoting Phila. Pa. Packet, Sept. 5, 1774; Rind’s Wmsbg. Va. Gazette, Aug. 25, 1774; Perry, Sermon, May 11, 1775, 18; Phila. Pa. Packet, Aug. 8, 1774.

As Thomas Jefferson stated, Britain had “a deliberate, systematical plan of reducing us to slavery.” Jefferson, Summary View, Boyd, ed., Jefferson Papers, I, 125. While some were doubtful about the extent to which this was true initially, by 1775 and 1776, many believed that “‘nothing less than absolute proof has convinced us’ that the British government had for the past dozen years carried on a ‘conspiracy against the rights of humanity.'” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 39 quoting William Henry Drayton, Charge to the Grand Jury, Charleston, Apr. 23, 1776, Niles, ed., Principles, 329. Some who had given England reverence, but by 1775, the “evidence of facts [had] become irresistible.” Id.

It was obvious that “too many Proofs that a regular System has been formed to bow down the Neck of America to the Feet of the Ministry.” Robert Carter Nicholas, Considerations on the Present State of Virginia Examined (Williamsburg, 1774), in Earl G. Swem, ed., Virginia and the Revolution: Two Pamphlets, 1774 (N.Y., 1919), 60.

As the intellectuals, beginning with the Whigs and emanating therefrom, made “clear the nature of English society and the pattern of the Crown’s policy for all to see,” the American decision to revolt became increasingly obvious. Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 41-42 citing N.Y. Constitutional Gazette, Feb. 21, 1776; see also Bailyn, Ideological Origins, Chap. IV. Some felt that these circumstances led Americans “to imagine there is something at hand that shall greatly augment the history of the world.” William Bradford to James Madison, Aug. 1, 1774, William T. Hutchinson and William M. E. Rachal, eds., The Papers of James Madison (Chicago, 1962), I, 118.

Despite the tumultuous revolution to come, Americans hoped that “a great and mighty empire may rise up in this western world,” which would ideally be “an empire peculiarly dedicated to the principles of liberty.” Hooper to Iredell, Jan. 6, 1776, McRee, Life of Iredell, I, 269; Carmichael, Self-Defensive War, 34; see also Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 43.

The widespread existence of tyranny in Britain, which threatened to permeate the colonies as well, helped spark the flame for revolution. Americans recognized that this was a fundamental issue that was at odds with their ideals and their hopes for the future.

While every revolution has a cause, the threat of tyranny and corruption, and the fact that those plague societies and drain resources, is likely one of the more common causes for revolution. Few problems in society can surpass tyranny or corruption in fostering wastefulness and inequality. The fact that Britain permitted itself to suffer from such ills created the momentum that Americans would see through to the realization of revolution.

Governments and societies who wish to avoid such a fate should be aware of how their shortcomings affect citizens, with the awareness that if the citizens are not satisfied, revolution is a very real possibility.

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