The City of London and the American Revolution


Immediately after the British War of Conquest, the British Parliament decided to burden the American colonists with taxes in order to pay off the public debt which had doubled since the beginning of the war. The attempts to raise more money through the Sugar Act (1764), the Stamp Act (1765) and the Townshend Acts (1767) angered the colonists, who prepared themselves to stand up to authority of the British Crown. They started printing their own paper money which they called Colonial Script. The Bank of England retaliated and pressed for the passing of the Currency Act in 1764, which made it illegal for the colonies to print their own money and forced them to pay all future taxes to Britain in silver or gold. In response, Boston Masonic Lodge in Massachusetts organized in 1773 a boycott of the British goods destroying an entire shipment of tea sent by the British East India Company. The British Parliament retaliated again by passing the following year the Coercive Acts, which attempted to exert further control over the colonies, including establishment of formal British military rule in Massachusetts. To keep the Americans under control, the British government purchased about 30,000 troops from various German princes, especially landgrave of Hesse, who was furnishing approximately three-fifths of that total. The intermediary who assisted in transfer of payments between Britain and landgrave of Hesse was a court Jew, Mayer Amschel Rothschild. Few acts by the British Crown roused so much antagonism in America as that use of foreign mercenaries. In order to devise some cohesive strategy against the British overlords, in September 1774, the representatives of twelve colonies - all except Georgia - met together, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - the seat of the first masonic lodge - launching the first Continental Congress. The delegates included George Washington, the largest plantation owner in Virginia; John Adams, a lawyer from Massachusetts and John Jay, a lawyer born into a wealthy family of merchants and government officials in New York City. George Washington and John Jay were Freemasons. The First Continental Congress elected a Middle Templar, Peyton Randolph of Virginia, as President. The Congress issued a Declaration of Rights, affirming its loyalty to the British Crown but disputing the British Parliament’s right to tax it. It also passed the Articles of Association, which called on the colonies to stop importing goods from the British Isles beginning on December 1, 1774, if the Coercive Acts were not repealed. If the British failed to repeal the Coercive Acts, the Congress would reconvene. Meanwhile, the advances of the British troops towards Lexington and Concord in attempt to seize American guns and ammunition in April 1775 was the cause for the start of hostilities near Boston. This triggered an open armed conflict between Britain and thirteen of its colonies.

To take charge of the war effort, the Second Continental Congress reconvened on May 10, 1775, with many of the same 56 delegates who attended the first meeting. Notable new arrivals included Freemasons: merchant from Massachusetts John Hancock, a young lawyer from Virginia Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin, a scientist, writer and printer from Pennsylvania. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, who was the first person in the United States to print in 1743 The Constitutions of the Free-Masons, referred to as Andersons' Constitutions, had very close connections to the City of London.80 For the last nearly two decades he lived in London in a house at 36 Craven Street, near Charing Cross. He was a Fellow member of the Royal Society and had been drawn into the circle of “Nobility, clergy, gentleman and merchants”, that formed the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce later known as Royal Society of Arts. He attended the Philosopher's Dining Club at the Mitre in Fleet Street and was a corresponding member of the Lunar Society in Birmingham, a dinner club and informal learned society of prominent industrialists, natural philosophers and intellectuals, who met regularly between 1765 and 1813 in Birmingham, England. The Society, whose notable members included James Watt and Erasmus Darwin, engaged in discussions about finance, demography and social engineering. Franklin also belonged to a gentleman's club which he called "the honest Whigs", and knew Richard Price, whose Essay on the Population of England published in 1780 would later influence the depopulation theories of Robert Malthus. Franklin knew various merchants and bankers in the City like Thomas Coutts.81 In Franklin's house, William Hewson, an English anatomist ran his anatomy lab burying in the basement the bodies of victims of his experimental science.82 Benjamin Franklin brought with him to the United States the republican and masonic ideas and was accompanied by an English-American pamphleteer and Freemason Thomas Paine, who agitated to the Revolution in his best selling work, Common Sense.83 Benjamin Franklin was, in other words, an agent of the City of London, which supported the revolutionary aims of the American colonists. A 1775 letter signed by John Hancock, merchant from Massachusetts, Freemason and President of the Continental Congress, asking the City of London for its continued support, is still in the possession of Guildhall, the seat of the Corporation of the City of London.84

For the first few months of the American Revolutionary War, the American rebels had carried on their struggle against the better trained and equipped British troops in an uncoordinated manner, so on June 14, 1775, the Congress voted to create the Continental Army out of the militia units around Boston and quickly appointed George Washington as commanding general. In the last attempt of reconciliation, the Philadelphia lawyer and Middle Templar, John Dickinson, drafted and carried out in Congress his Olive Branch petition and the very next day, on July 6, 1775 a ‘Declaration of the Causes & Necessities of Taking up Arms’, requesting an autonomy within the British Empire. The desire of the colonists to salvage the alliance with the British Crown was embodied in the first U.S. national flag, the Grand Union Flag. Designed by the end of 1775, it consisted of 13 alternating red and white stripes with the upper inner corner being the British Union Flag of the time, which was nearly identical in design to the flag of the British East India Company. The petition for autonomy had been rejected and the loyalist mood has swung by spring 1776 in favour of complete separation. In July, 1776 Congress met in Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia to draft and sign secession document called Declaration of Independence. Its text had been prepared by a Middle Templar, John Dickinson, a ‘Penman of the revolution’, on the instructions of the Virginian lawyer and Freemason, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson, an ardent reader of the works of John Lock, Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton, based its text on Virginia Declaration of Rights, which had just been adopted unanimously by the Fifth Virginia Convention on June 12, 1776, and which was drafted by George Mason, a treasurer of the Ohio Company. The Declaration famously proclaimed: “that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and pursuit of Happiness”. The Declaration also proclaimed “the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government”, if it becomes destructive of these ends. The wording of the text of the Declaration was almost entirely copied from John Lock's Second Treatise on Government, a work commissioned by the Whigs Party to justify the abolition of the Catholic monarchy in England. The difference between the two texts was that Lock's term “Possessions”, was replaced by the ambiguous yet better sounding term “pursuit of happiness”. The first and most famous signature on the engrossed copy was that of John Hancock. When the 55 delegates of the 13 colonies adopted the Declaration, five were Middle Templars. Accordingly, on June 14, 1777, the thirteen stars, a reference to the first thirteen colonies, replaced the British Union Flag in the left hand corner of the first U.S. flag.

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80 Leonard W. Labaree, “Benjamin Franklin's British Friendship”, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society Vol. 108, No. 5 (Oct. 20, 1964), pp. 423-428 »

81 D.G.C. Allan, “Dear and Serviceable to Each Other : Benjamin Franklin and the Royal Society of Arts”, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 144, No. 3 (Sept. 2000), pp. 245-266 »

82 Maev Kennedy, “Benjamin Franklin's house: the naked truth”, The Guardian, 11 August 2003 »

83 See Gilbert Vale, The Life of Thomas Paine. The author of “Common Sense”, “Rights of Man”, “Age of Reason” with critical and explanatory observations and writings an An Appendix containing HIS LETTERS TO WASHINGTON suppressed in his works at present published in this country by G. Vale, editor of the Beacon (New York: Published by the author, beacon office, 84 Roosevelt Street, 1841) »

84 City of London Heritage Gallery, London EC2V 5AE »