It has often been said that the entire ordeal leading up the American Revolution occurred as a direct result of two sides not having a common understanding. In fact, this simple interpretation of the more complicated problem might not completely explain everything that happened leading up to and during the Revolutionary War, but it can be used as an explanation for the rift in thinking that ultimately kept the two sides apart on a theoretical level. The British, for the most part, misunderstood what the colonists were looking for in their striving for freedom.
The colonists, on the other hand, held a fighting spirit that could not easily be understood by people who were not there to experience it on a day-to-day basis. Two prominent thinkers from either side, George Washington and Edmund Burke, laid out their opinions on the matter in easy to understand terms. Their writings represent an interesting dichotomy. Burke, for the most part, understood what was going on in the colonies. Washington took an approach of broad support for his countrymen, which was representative of the patriotic spirit that permeated the time.
Though Washington could never be accused of being a person that liked to get his hands too muddy in the political arena, he did have a pretty firm grasp on the overall feeling of the American people at that time. When he writes to George William Fairfax and Bryan Fairfax in a series of 1774 letters, Washington makes it very clear that he believes the country is ready to stand as one in the face of British opposition. Washington was a calculated man and one that was certainly not quick to jump to any conclusions without first investigating the other options.
In his letter to Bryan Fairfax, Washington gives a clear indication of this and further makes indication that he believes all of his options to be expended. When he writes, “Shall we, after this, whine and cry for relief, when we have already tried it in vain,” Washington clearly indicates that perhaps, making requests of the British government is not enough anymore. To George Washington, Boston was only the breaking point in a conflict that had been long overdue.
The plight of Boston was the plight of American and the conflict had arrived because, simply put, they had no other choice but to put up a fight. Though Washington was quick to lend his support to the folks in Boston, he was not fully supportive of their means. Though he agreed that perhaps what they did was necessary, he did not completely approve of how they went about things. As mentioned before, Washington was a calculated individual in every way. He hoped for people to take all options into account before making rash decisions.
When the people of Boston opted to toss pounds and pounds of tea into the harbor, they were not making the most responsible decision, but they were making a statement. Washington could respect that statement and the stand that they had the guts to take, even if he did not undyingly support their actions. Washington wrote, “The conduct of the Boston people could not justify the rigor of their measures. ” Still, he goes on to qualify that statement later in his letter. He indicates that sometimes, measures such as those are necessary when people will not take others seriously or respect their requests.
To Washington, the main point was that a stand had to be taken somewhere, so he wasn’t angry that the people of Boston made that statement. In fact, he was happy with the idea of having a rallying point around which the colonists could congregate. From the British side of things, Edmund Burke took a slightly more contradictory approach with his thinking. He was a well respected British political mind. During that time, most well respected British minds wanted to use force and not concede anything to the colonists.
Those people did not understand what motivated the colonists and certainly did not understand the passion with which colonists wanted to rid themselves of foul treatment. In short, most British political people, who were all of the way across the Atlantic Ocean, had no idea how bad they American colonists wanted it. Burke got it, however. He knew exactly what the colonists wanted and he understood how to motivate them. Edmund Burke’s primary assertion was that the British government was going about things all wrong.
Like Washington, Burke was a very influential and deep thinker. He did not like to act without first thinking through all of the different scenarios that might take place. With that in mind, Burke wanted the British government to work with the American colonists, as opposed to working against them as they had been set on doing. He thought it was a good idea to promote reconciliation between the two sides because, in his mind, that was the only way to shut down the fighting spirit of the American colonists.
When the British government pushed the Americans into a corner, they banded together and they came out fighting. This is evidenced by Washington’s comments about the Boston Tea Party. Burke also wanted to push for reconciliation because he understood the fact that Great Britain had to have some sort of working relationship with the colonies in the future. They could not make everyone in the colonies mad. In his speech to Parliament on March 22, 1775, Edmund Burke says, “Because after all our struggle, whether we will or not, we must govern America.
” That was Burke’s primary point throughout the entirety of this speech. Win, lose, or draw, the British government had to keep the relationship with the colonies on good footing, or else there would eventually be a conflict to face. In addition to plenty of other things, Burke understood the nature of the American people. He also understood that the British government did not understand the nature of the American colonists. He knew that Great Britain had to keep that in mind if they wanted to be successful in making the American colonies listen to their rules.
A fighting spirit was engrained in the American people and that was something that would not go away. In that same speech to the British Parliament, Burke let his partners in the room know that the American colonists were a fighting bunch. “In this character of the Americans, a love of Freedom is the predominating feature which marks and distinguishes the whole. ” If the British government could not understand that, then according to Burke, they had no chance of exacting any change among the colonists themselves.
This basic rift in understanding is the one factor that, according to Edmund Burke, would keep the British government from creating any change. Washing and Burke were on different sides, but they were very similar men. They both understood people and they understood what it took to motivate people. While Washington was a unifying voice in America, Burke served as a voice of reason in Great Britain. Their specific messages were different, but they were equally important to their respective nations.
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 18 December 2016
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