Happy July 4th! I hope each of you and your families enjoy the holiday!

As I am in the business of conflict resolution or resolving disputes, I got to thinking about the back story behind  July 4th. After all, it was a dispute that got settled by guns and warfare and not by a conflict resolution specialist (unless you want to consider General Washington to be one!). It definitely was not settled through mediation.

For those of you who are a bit rusty on our American History, I turn to Wikipedia for assistance. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_United_States#American_Revolution ).  As a result of the French and Indian War in North America (1754-63), the British Crown acquired what had once been French territory in North America.  The Thirteen Colonies expanded into what had previously been French Territory.

Following this victory, in 1763 King George III issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763 which provided for the regulation and management of the lands just acquired from France and more importantly, created a boundary line (or proclamation line) between the Thirteen Colonies and the Native American lands just acquired as a result of the war.  The Proclamation forbade the colonists from moving and settling onto Native American land and gave the Crown the exclusive authority to purchase land in the future from the Native Americans.

Naturally, the colonists objected and lobbied the Crown to move the line westward. As the colonists were successful, further efforts at conflict resolution were not necessary.

But then in 1765, the British Parliament passed the Stamp Act of 1765 which imposed a tax on the colonies without the colonists’ consent. The Crown claimed that it imposed this direct tax on many printed materials ( e.g. legal documents, magazines, playing cards, newspapers et cetera) produced in the colonies to help pay for the troops stationed in North America after the Crown’s victory in the Seven Years War( of which the French and Indian War was a part.)  By contrast, the colonists claimed that the presence of soldiers was not necessary as “… there were no foreign enemies and the Americans had always protected themselves against Native Americans, and suggested it was rather a matter of British patronage to surplus British officers and career soldiers who should be paid by London.“ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stamp_Act_1765 ). (At this point, a mediator would have been useful to help each party see the matter from the other’s perspective and their respective needs- money for the Crown and respect and a bit of independence for the Americans! But, alas, it was not to be!)

Consequently, the colonists refused to pay the taxes (which – to add insult to injury- had to be paid   in British, rather than American, currency) since their colonial legislatures had never agreed to  the taxes much less even voted on them. (“Taxation without Representation “!) Tensions grew between the Crown and the colonists in the late 1760’s and early 1770’s   as evidenced by the Boston Tea Party in 1773.  As we all learned in our early schooling, some colonists (disguised as Native Americans) dumped an entire shipment of tea overboard in Boston Harbor to protest the Stamp Tax.  The British Government responded harshly by enacting the Coercive Acts which among other things ended local self-government in Massachusetts and closed Boston harbor. (The Tit for Tat theory of Game Theory?) These actions by Parliament evoked further acts of protests by the colonists and caused the colonists to convene the First Continental Congress and to petition the Crown to repeal the acts. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_Tea_Party ) But, by this point, the colonists and the Crown were in the Nash Equilibrium and did not see that cooperation rather than competition would help each of them obtain optimal results. Rather, they were on a downward spiral taking actions actually to their detriment just to be spiteful, and thus trapped in playing the win-lose, zero sum game! (If they had only consulted a mediator to assist them in recognizing that each side would gain a lot more through cooperation, then history may have turned out differently!)

No- the Crown refused to repeal the acts.

And we all know what came next… the American Revolution!  The Colonists won and the Crown lost.

Had the parties mediated or looked for cooperative ways to resolve this dispute, what is now the United States of America probably would have still been part of the British Empire although with more independence than it had in 1775 (when the revolution started) and perhaps with even an eventual path to independence as history has shown with the other parts of the British Empire (e.g., Australia, Canada, India et cetera.).

No doubt, there are probably 318.9 million people (as of 2014) that are happy that this dispute did NOT go to mediation but was settled in a competitive manner.

As I said… Happy 4th of July!

… Just something to think about!




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