Over the past several centuries, Great Britain extended their control beyond their island. They controlled Canada, America, Australia, New Zealand and countries in Africa, Middle East, West Indies; Central and South America and Asia. The list of nations that have since gained their independence from Great Britain number 59. A number of them gained their independence via revolution, including America.
Early American colonists fled Great Britain and other European nations in search of religious and other freedoms. As the colonies grew and began to prosper, Great Britain applied more and more pressure to keep them under the thumb of the crown.
In 1765, British Parliament passed the Stamp Act and Quartering Act to extract as much as possible from the colonies. In 1767, Parliament passed the Townsend Acts which forced the colonists to pay import duties on many British goods. However, the colonists rebelled against the acts, leading to the infamous Boston massacre on March 5, 1770.
From then on, the tensions between many of colonists and the British Empire increased like a ticking time bomb. By 1774, that time bomb was nearing its time to go off, prompting America’s best known diplomat, author, inventor, statesman and satirist to publicly mock the British Crown.
On this day, April 5, 1774, Benjamin Franklin wrote an open letter to Frederick Lord North, the British Prime Minister, which was published in the British newspaper, The Public Advertiser on April 15. Franklin wrote the letter at the famed Smyrna Coffee House on St. James Street in London. The coffee house was known to be gathering place of political liberals which made Franklin’s notation of the coffee house along with the signature ‘A Friend To Military Government’ to be an obvious ironic stab at the crown.
The open letter suggested that Lord North impose martial law over the colonies and placed a King’s Viceroy to rule over all of North America. It went on to suggest that the King’s Viceroy impose a military rule with the presence of substantial force of British troops and then allowed half of them to march in display from New York to South Carolina.
According to Franklin’s letter:
“An Inhabitant, who disobeys an Order, may by a Court Martial be sentenced to receive from One Hundred to a Thousand Lashes in a frosty Morning, according to the Nature of his Offence.”
Franklin firmly believed that his letter, written and sent from London’s bastion of liberal politicians who were generally critical of the crown, would lead the Prime Minister to understand the letter to be filled with irony and a mockery of his government. However, North took the letter to heart and in May, 1774 led the push of the Massachusetts Government Act, which made British General Thomas Gage the Royal Governor of Massachusetts. Gage was tasked with imposing military rule over the most rebellious colony of all – Massachusetts.
Gage did impose his military rule which led to further tensions in Massachusetts and the shot heard around the world which launched the American Revolution. Franklin never envisioned that his letter would be taken seriously or that it would be the impetus to war and American independence.
Sources for the above includes: An Open Letter to Lord North; Today, March 24, 1765: British Parliament Passes Quartering Act; Today, March 22, 1765: British Actions Set Path Towards American Rebellion and Independence [VIDEO]; Today, March 5, 1770: The Boston Massacre [VIDEO]; An Open Letter to Lord North, 5 April 1774; Benjamin Franklin publishes “An Open Letter to Lord North”; Benjamin Franklin: America’s First Whistleblower; On This Day In History April 5.