When the people of the thirteen British colonies rebelled against the rule of King George III, did they commit treason?
When we talk about the American Revolution and speak of traitors, Benedict Arnold usually comes to mind. Arnold was an American general who plotted with the British agent to surrender West Point. Here are some references.
- Benedict Arnold commits treason (history.com)
- Why Benedict Arnold Turned Traitor Against the American Revolution (smithsonianmag.com)
The second reference indicates that it took considerable temptation to turn Arnold into a traitor, to betray the rebels.
What about the rebels? Were they traitors? When they rebelled against the regime of King George III, did that turn the American colonists into traitors? This has been the subject of much debate. In fact, in 2011 the BBC reported on a formal debate between British barristers and American attorneys, Is the Declaration of Independence Illegal? (bbc.com). Consider how history.com begins its article on that debate.
Even America’s founders knew that revolting against the British Crown could raise some serious legal quandaries. That’s one of the reasons why the Continental Congress tasked five delegates—among them Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams—with drafting a formal document justifying the 13 colonies’ break with Great Britain. This statement of rights and grievances, known as the Declaration of Independence, was ratified on July 4, 1776. The signers believed they had validated their rebellion; the British, meanwhile, saw it as an act of treason. (continues here (history.com))
The Americans used the Declaration of Independence to thoughtfully defend their rebellion. When we consider the document as a whole, what was the essential argument?
Romans 12:17-19 New King James Version
17 Repay no one evil for evil. Have[a] regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
The point of the Declaration of Independence was to establish that King George III had made it too great a burden to live peaceably under his rule. The Founding Fathers: Smugglers, Tax Evaders, and Traitors (mises.org) makes the point that the Americans already had a free country, and they were unwilling to give that up. This was an age when people crossed the ocean on wooden ships, often suffering miserable voyages. When arrived in the colonies, they often had nothing and might have to pay off a debt working as indentured servants. So, they cherished their liberty as something earned with hard work and suffering, something for which they were willing to risk being called a traitor.
Take the time to read the Declaration of Independence. This document explains why the founders rebelled and what they fought for, why we celebrate the 4th of July.