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By Peter Stallybrass

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Sample text

The now trite phrase “No taxation without representation,” which seems somehow inadequate to explain all the troubles of the pre-Revolutionary and Revolutionary eras, was in fact concise rather than simplistic: the Revolution was not simply an argument over who controlled colonial profits, but also—indeed, much more—a battle over whether various accidents of birth made the worth of one man’s labor and opinions greater than another’s, and his place under common law more or less advantageous. It was, effectively, a dress rehearsal for the nascent crises over slavery, and it was eminently avoidable.

And the tragedy (for Britain, obviously, but also, I would argue, for the rebellious colonies) was and remains that more than a few enlightened British statesmen were aware of just what the empire was doing wrong in North America long before the revolution started. Had their calls for reform been heeded prior to Lexington and Concord, not only would the American Revolution have been rendered unnecessary, but some of the greatest tragedies to befall the world as a whole during the generations that witnessed America’s rise might also have been avoided.

Had London assumed its debts and cleaned its ethical house, the government would have stood to make an eventual profit that would have been more than enough to bring its war debt woes into the realm of manageability, while concurrently offering a way out of the large-scale conflict that Pitt was certain the Americans intended to offer the mother country if new taxation programs were pressed on them. Finally, Benjamin Franklin’s affection and enormous admiration for Pitt would likely have induced him to stay the course of conciliation despite his indignation over being repeatedly offered bribes to betray Pennsylvania’s interests, as well as those of the other colonies.

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