“Declaration of Independence” by John Trumbull (1818)

Rationale

This oil painting depicts the signing of the Declaration of Independence. This is a historical moment in American history when the Colonies declared their sovereignty from England. The house in which the Declaration was signed was called Pennsylvania State House, later renamed for its importance to the Independence Hall. All the people in this painting were members of the Second Continental Congress. The most well-known and important men can be seen standing behind the table: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert Livington. They were called the Committee of Five and were the ones who presented the Congress their final version of the Declaration of Independence. Sitting in front of them was the president of the Congress at the time and the first man to sign their proposed document: John Hancock.

Notions

The origin and essence of the conflict between England and the colonies

Its origin came to be as early as 1651, when the English Government enacted the Navigation Acts. It meant that all trade routes made by the colonies were only going to England, barring foreign trade. There was also King Philip’s War (occurred in New England), in which the Americans had to fight against the Wampanoags, with little to no support from England.

Taxes were being created and raised, which surprisingly did not affect the colonies. The Molasses Act of 1733 imposed taxes on the molasses trade just so their British product could be cheaper than the French West Indies’. The Currency Act restrained the use of paper money, the Sugar Act added more taxes to the sugar trade, and the Stamp Act required that all almanacs, pamphlets and other official documents have stamps.

1 500 British soldiers were stationed in the colonies during a time of peace, which was politically looked down upon. The American people had to pay them their full pay with tax money, which the Americans didn’t like. But their main problem was that they didn’t have any representatives in the Parliament so they couldn’t send that message to the government.

Boston Tea Party of 1773

The parliament enacted the Tea Act in 1773, which was made in response to the Dutch selling their tea at a lower price to the colonies. They were being forcefully sold to merchants as a form of tax. Most of the time, the tea was turned back, but governor Thomas Hutchinson refused to allow this. One of the shipments was ordered to spread the tea to the dock merchants, but that was dismissed. The ship stayed anchored until a group of men called the Sons of Liberty on December 16, 1773, dressed as Native Americans led by Samuel Adams boarded the ship, and dumped all the boxes of tea leaves into the sea. This action became very prominent in the patriotic lore of America.

Declaration of Independence July 4, 1776

It was largely drafted by Thomas Jefferson and presented by the Second Continental Congress. The statement took place in Pennsylvania State House in Pennsylvania. It states that all the 13 states within the American continent are not under British rule. It was signed by all representatives of each state. Before this, on July 2, 1776, there was the Lee Resolution, in which the Congress members all voted for the creation of an independent set of states. The declaration stated 27 colonial grievances that justified this turn of events. It was written mostly against the reigning monarch at the time, King George III. They demanded a change in their situation, as many of their rights were dismissed or not cared for.

Revolutionary War 1775-1783

The war started in Concord April 19, 1775, when British forces tried to disarm the city, yet faced the Massachusetts militia who resisted against them. In March 1776, the armies besieged Boston, making the Redcoats evacuate. The army became known as the Continental Army, with George Washington being appointed the rank of Commander-in-Chief. The army attempted to invade Quebec, yet failed. The British led a counter-attack on New York, successfully capturing it. From Quebec, John Burgoyne ordered an invasion to isolate the New England Colonies. Due to Sir William Howe’s choice of leading his army to Philadelphia, Burgoyne lost at Saratoga in 1777. This was a major impact in the war, by gaining support from the French, also becoming their new ally. One decisive naval victory (Battle of Chesapeake) in Yorktown, Virginia gave the Whigs Party in England the upper hand. They were anti-war, so in 1782 they voted to end all aggression towards the American colonies and on September 3, 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed. It says that Great Britain recognizes the colonies as sovereign states rather than their own territory.

Articles of Conferedation in 1781

Ratified on March 1, 1781, it was the first constitution made by the original 13 states. In short, it wished to preserve sovereignty and freedom. The document mentioned that it did not call all of the states as “one nation”. Rather, all of the 13 colonies were described as “13 different nations”. But it was written during a time of war, so a weak central government that worked during the Revolutionary War was established by the Articles. This became apparent after the conflict between the army and the Shays’ Rebellion. It showed how limited their power was.

Constitutional Convention of 1787

To try and fix the problems with their government, representatives had a meeting in Philadelphia on May 25, 1787, which became known as the Constitutional Convention. Although they all came to change the Articles, it was clear that it needed to be completely replaced under the Constitution. And on March 4, 1789, the central government was replaced by the federal government; a big improvement from the restricted powers. A new chief executive (president), courts and taxing powers were established.

US Constitution and the Bill of Rights

The Constitution is the supreme law of the US. It is consisting of 7 articles:

  1. The President
  2. Supreme Court
  3. Other federal courts
  4. Rights and responsibilities of state governments
  5. The relationship between states and the federal government
  6. Shared process of the constitutional amendment
  7. State ratifications

The Bill of Rights is made up of 10 of the first amendments made by the Constitution. It was written as a response to the Anti-Federalists, by adding to the rights already written in the Constitution. The concept of this bill was built upon by earlier documents, like the Magna Carta and English Bill of Rights. Representative James Madison studied problems within such declarations and with this knowledge, fixed some inconsistencies within the amendments and his own proposed amendments were added as additions to the Bill of Rights.

The Role of George Washington

(1732-1799) Before the Revolution, George was training county militias and had a disdain towards the British. And right after he heard that the war started, George immediately departed to Mount Vernon on May 4, 1775, to join the Continental Congress. In the war itself, he was nominated by Samuel and John Adams to be the newly made Continental Army’s Commander-in-Chief. For his first feat, he was ordered to besieged Boston, with which he succeeded. In the Battle of Long Island, Washington and his army suffered heavy casualties, so they were forced to retreat. Later on, in both the Battle of Trenton and Battle of Princeton, he emerged victorious. His most famous battle would be in Saratoga, where George was able to capture General Burgoyne after a few losses.

George Washington’s undoubtedly most well-known role is being the first president of the US. During his term, the National Bank was established, Thanksgiving became an official holiday and the term “Mr President” became official. George was described as a listener; he tolerated his opposition and also listened to their complaints. He spoke regularly with other departments for advice.

The Role of Thomas Jefferson

(1743-1826) After one year being elected as a member of the Continental Congress, his duty was to write a draft of the Declaration of Independence, which was finalized on June 4, 1776. The declaration also allowed him to be elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, where he wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1777. Even though it was not put up as an official law until 1786, it states that all forms of religion are allowed, eradicating the Anglican Church. Thomas also helped found the University of Virginia. During his time of presidency, Jefferson made quite a few accomplishments, such as decreasing the national debt by 30 million dollars in two years, The Louisiana Purchase and elimination of the Tripoli pirates.

Critical Response

The movie The Patriot was made in the year 2000 and depicts the American Revolutionary War from the perspective of Benjamin Martin, played by Mel Gibson. I’ll start with the bad side. For me, the movie was more of an action film than one that has historical accuracy as its primary goal in mind. The British were portrayed as just your ordinary villains, especially Colonel Tavington. A reviewer even pointed this out, saying that “the English here are portrayed as sadistic, vain, arrogant and somewhat stupid” (deVillalvilla). The Americans were shown to be the “perfect saviours” of the colonies, being shepherds of freedom and all that. The whole storyline was like the average Hollywood movie: The good guys are losing at some point, but for whatever reason, they win in the end, mostly because they are good. And you can’t have an American movie without pushing in a mandatory good ending. The love scene where Charlotte and Martin get in a relationship was the only scene where I felt uncomfortable and weirded out. We knew he was still in mourning of his wife, so to think that he got together with her sister is not what should have been a beautiful sight. All other characters besides Benjamin seemed rather dull, with Mel Gibson seemingly being the only one carrying the movie forward with his impeccable acting. In fact, whenever Gibson is off-screen, the story loses momentum, focus and credibility (Kennedy, 2000).

Now onto the parts of the movie which I liked, maybe even loved. The composition of the movie was stunning. They were composed by John Williams, a legendary man who has composed music to war films including Star Wars (1977), War of the Worlds (2005), and War Horse (2011) as well as patriotic movies like Born on the Fourth of July (1989), JFK (1991), Nixon (1995), and Lincoln (2012) (Tuttle). It helped convey the action with a magnificent orchestra of multiple musical instruments, which is expected from a multi-award winning composer. As mentioned before, Mel Gibson was the main actor within the movie, and his acting was as always, professionally well-executed. I also have to give credit to Jason Isaacs, who played as Colonel Tavington. Although his character was mostly one-sided, the way he conveyed his motivations towards achieving victory for England and speaking his mind about “the ghost” made Tavington as a whole much more interesting. Even though almost all of the characters were fictional or mixed up from various historical figures, they fit well into the narrative.

All in all, the movie was not bad in my opinion, but not so unique in its story-telling. It didn’t stand out among others as a “must-watch film”, yet it did give a good overview of how the Revolutionary War was fought, and what were the reasons and consequences behind it. If I were to give this movie a score on a scale of 10, I’d give it a 6 out of 10.

Discussion questions

Q. How does Benjamin Martin call himself a patriot?

  • He believed that if being a patriot would mean being angry at taxation without representation, he would be one.

Q. Benjamin said: “This war will not be fought on the frontier, but amongst ourselves.” What does he mean by this?

  • He means that the war will be fought only by the colonialists, not by overseas British soldiers.

Q. At the beginning of the movie, Benjamin was against waging war. Later on, he changed his mind. Why did he do that?

  • Because his son, Thomas, was murdered by Tavington. He later went to ambush the Redcoats with his two sons who were travelling with Gabriel to execute him, successfully saving him from the soldiers.

Q. What happened at Fort Wilderness?

  • Cherokee with the help of the French killed all of the settlers within Fort George. In revenge, Benjamin and his men went to Fort Wilderness and massacred all of the attackers in gruesome ways, all the while doing acts that Benjamin later regretted. Two of these acts were sending the Cherokee a basket of their warriors’ heads and putting the others’ heads on pikes.

Q. What was the nickname of Colonel Tavington? Why was “The Butcher” his nickname?

  • He was nicknamed “The Butcher”. Because he gave his enemies no mercy and was extremely brutal on the battlefield.

Q. There was an announcement written on a board by George Washington. What did it say?

  • The announcement said that all slaves who fight for the Continental Army would gain freedom after a minimum of 12 months of service, and be paid 5 shillings per month of service.

Q. An inner conflict arose within the resistance. What was it about and what was the solution? Why did some of them not agree at first?

  • It was about whether to let the surrendering Redcoats live, or kill them all. They later agreed on showing them mercy. The reason why some of them didn’t let them live was because of vengeance. They and their families were treated the same way so for vengeance, they killed all of them on the spot.

Q. What issue does Lord Charles Cornwallis have with Colonel William Tavington and what finally changes his mind?

  • Gentlemen like fighting, too brutal, honor. “the ghost” mocked him.

Q. How does Benjamin save his men from Lord Cornwallis?

  • By negotiation, in exchange for 18 redcoats, 9 lieutenants, 5 captains, 3 majors, 1 colonel. They turn out to be dummies used for a ruse.

Q. Which event leads to John Billings shooting himself? Why did he do it?

  • Tavington killing his wife and son. He was so fed up with his life. Having just lost his family, he had no will to live.

Q. What did Martin tell his two sons about shooting, when they were going to rescue Gabriel? And explain it.

  • Pick a small part of a target, that way if you miss your target you still hit the target. Think of aiming at a coat button rather that the enemy.

Q. What gets Benjamin back in the mood to fight the British after Gabriel is killed?

  • He finds the American flag which Gabriel has been fixing up in his free time.

Q. When the men are at the statehouse, what are they arguing about?

  • They are debating whether or not to pass a levy (tax) to fund an army the American Revolution.

Q. Tavington says he can never go back to England. Why?

  • Because he would be viewed as a dishonourable, brutal and a British man for the extremely immoral things he is about to do (e.g., burn a church filled with women and children), and would be shunned by society. He’s willing to do this in exchange for a manor and land in America when (as he believes) the British win the war.

Q. Where did the militia camp out?

  • Black swamp by the old Spanish mission.

Q. How did Tavington find out where the militia camp was situated and what happened after that?

  • He negotiated with Pembroke villagers within their church and burned it down after.

Sources:

Image sources:

  1. “Declaration of Independence” by John Trumbull
  2. The origin and essence of the conflict between England and the colonies: The Flag of British America
  3. Boston Tea Party of 1773: Boston Tea Party, 1773
  4. Declaration of Independence July 4, 1776: Source
  5. Revolutionary War 1775-1783: A Painting by H. Charles McBarron
  6. Articles Of Confederation in 1783: Source
  7. Constitutional Convention of 1787: Source
  8. US Constitution and the Bill of Rights: Source
  9. The Role of George Washington: “George Washington” by Gilbert Stuart (edited)
  10. The Role of Thomas Jefferson: Portrait of Thomas Jefferson (edited)

Review sources:

  • deVillalvilla, C. ‘The Good Soldier’, Available at www.triviana.com (link)
  • Tuttle, J. ‘The Patriot (2000) Movie Review’, Available at www.moviequotesandmore.com (link)
  • Kennedy, C. (2000). ‘The Patriot Review’, Available at www.empireonline.com (link)

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