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The Myths and the Motivations Behind the American Revolution

Updated: Dec 10, 2022


Our culture has many myths regarding America’s founding principles and the American Revolution. I highly recommend the EpochTV series entitled “The American Story” to learn the inspiring and true story of America’s early years, which often contrasts with the narratives we hear today. In episode six, “The Road to the Revolution,” host Timothy Barton, president of WallBuilders, and Jonathan Richie, former assistant director of the American Journey Experience, use historical documents and artifacts to tell of the events and values that led to the American Revolution.

Biblical Values

In episode five of the series, Barton and Richie explain how early colonial pastors had taught the colonists biblical principles of government and liberty and how those ideas eventually expressed themselves in the American Revolution. “Taxation without representation is tyranny” was one of these values that originated in the writing of Pastor John Wise. However, the American Revolution was about much more than taxation.

In episode six, the hosts take viewers on a journey to the early colonies, where the French and Indian wars led to taxes being imposed on the colonists. Realizing they had no representation in Parliament, Barton says the biblical teaching of the previous few decades met the political culture. The colonists resisted the king’s Stamp Act, causing it to be repealed. However, in its place, Parliament passed an act recognizing the colonies as dependent on Britain. Relations continued to diminish, and tensions escalated. The Massachusetts State Assembly even made a statement against Britain. When they refused to take it back, the king abolished the assembly, and more tyrannical leadership was imposed. Britain sent troops into Boston, leading to the event that planted the first seeds of the Revolution: the Boston Massacre.

Soldiers in the early years of the American Revolution wore mismatched uniforms and civilian clothing, illustrated by H.A. Ogden, 1891. Lithography by G.H. Buek & Co. (Public Domain)

The Boston Massacre

The significance of the Boston Massacre should not be overlooked. The event was incited when a young American allegedly said something negative to a British soldier. The soldier decided to teach the young colonist a lesson by hitting him with the butt of his gun. When the child cried out, a crowd gathered to see a soldier standing over the youth with his weapon. This situation appeared to fuel the fire of frustrations the colonists had with the British occupation. Reinforcements were sent to protect the British officer, resulting in armed officers facing off with a crowd of angry colonists. The colonists began throwing snowballs, rocks, and sticks, which led to the officers firing into the crowd, killing three people immediately. Eight more were wounded, two of whom died later. The first man shot and killed was an African American patriot named Crispus Attucks.

John Adams, American Founding Father and eventually the second president of the United States, was an honorable attorney in Boston. Although he did not like the British troops, he was asked to defend the British officer as the case went to trial, which he agreed to do. Later, Adams wrote of the significance of the Boston Massacre to the Revolution, claiming that “the blood of the martyrs, right or wrong, proved to be the seeds of the congregation,” more than all the other battles fought in the Revolution.

Barton notes that many people see the American Revolution as Americans breaking away from Britain. However, initially, the colonists wanted to unite with Britain and be treated according to their rights as English subjects. However, as these fundamental rights continued to be eroded, tensions grew.

Slavery in the Colonies

One source of frustration was that the king and Parliament would strike down laws passed by legislative bodies in the colonies. Interestingly, many of these laws had to do with the abolition of slavery or against the slave trade. The colonist’s biblical values went against the practice of slavery, but when they tried to apply those values to their laws, it was not allowed. The EpochTV episode contrasts this to some of the assertions made by the controversial 1619 Project today: that America was founded on slavery, and the Revolutionary War was fought to defend slavery. The historical documents show that the desire of the colonists to free enslaved people was one of the major causes of the Revolution.

Benjamin Franklin, who released his slaves, as did several other Founding Fathers, and eventually became president of an abolition society, wrote in 1773 that the “disposition to abolish slavery prevails in North America.” He noted that many colonists had set their slaves free and that the “Virginia Assembly had petitioned the king for permission to make a law preventing the importation of more in the colony. This request, however, will likely not be granted, as their former laws of that kind have always been repealed.” Barton said that if Americans studied the historical documents, there would be a very different narrative today regarding the Founding Fathers and slavery.

The Boston Tea Party

Eventually, the king placed a tax on something the colonists used in high demand—tea. The American people, driven by their values of natural rights and liberty, were vigilant about their freedom. They decided they had to say no to the unjust tax on tea. Because the tax would be imposed as soon as the tea was unloaded from the ship, they could not allow the ship into port. Fellow Founding Father Samuel Adams and a patriot group called the Sons of Liberty met and formulated a plan to try and resolve this issue peacefully. While this was being decided, the ship was not allowed to be unloaded and was kept in the harbor. The ship captain was told he would be held responsible and face the consequences from the king if he returned with the tea. Finally, the men decided dumping the tea into the harbor would resolve the dilemma. Adams and his men peacefully carried out their plan, being careful not to destroy anything else on the ship. Barton clarifies that the documents show this event was not a riot and was not destructive of anything except the tea. The British Governor himself said it was done peacefully and with civility. According to historical documents, the men cleaned the ship’s deck after dumping the tea.

The EpochTV episode highlights many factors that aided the tensions eventually leading to the Revolution. It was not simply driven by taxation; the colonists were frustrated with a number of issues. Judges were striking down their laws, the slave trade remained active, British troops occupied the streets, which the colonists were forced to house and feed, and many other events were taking away their liberties as English subjects. Of the 27 grievances in the declaration of Independence, taxation without representation was No. 17, revealing much more to the story.

Rebellion Against Tyranny

The colonists, raised their entire lives by pastors based on biblical teachings, had a strong set of values regarding the role of government and Christians facing tyranny. As they saw their rights being taken away, they spent decades petitioning the king to no avail. Eventually, Richie says the colonies had to take action to resist tyranny and, in doing so, obey their biblical principles and, ultimately, God. The colonists believed that rebellion against tyranny was obedience to God because they recognized there was a creator and that their rights came from the creator, not the government. But unfortunately, the British government and king were rejecting those God-given rights.

Barton stresses the importance of gleaning the facts from historical documents instead of being misled by the narratives of today. With regard to the motivations behind the American Revolution, when reading the historical documents, Barton states, “you find with clarity and even strength of position many times that the primary driving force was the exact opposite of what we’re being told today.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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