Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Cultural Divide

“Taxation without representation” was the core of the argument. So why didn’t Parliament just give the colonies a few seats and then outvote them? 

Franklin’s arguments found friendly MPs who made notable appeals, such as Burke’s for reconciliation and the Earl of Chatham’s for the colonists’ rights. But with George III’s  hold on the Commons’ majority via patronage and bribes (BF.487) and the premiership held by his man Lord North, the king's petulance about the colonies’ “filial ingratitude” and his indifference to antiwar commercial interests probably scuttled any consideration of the idea.

And had the colonies been given representation, would that have sufficed? Van Doren suggests the two countries had already drifted too far apart. The ancestral “rights of Englishmen” for which the founders fought had been reshaped and amplified by 150 years of colonial self-reliance and local government, the Quaker’s rethink of social class and religious tolerance, and the near-complete absence of aristocracy and centralized power. These first colonists, who funded and defended their own expeditions in the unknown and unforgiving landscape of the New World, gave birth to a new society—and a culture no longer British.

Meanwhile, France had its own revolution around the corner. Its absolute monarch and courtiers were prone to ostentatious, even ridiculous displays of wealth and privilege—perhaps root to the modern Frenchman’s mistrust of wealth, considering it “vulgar” and worthy of taxation just because it is thereCulture endures.

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