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This is Not a Conspiracy Theory, Episode Two Transcript

This is the script for Episode Two of This is Not a Conspiracy Theory.
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The British colonies lay huddled along the east coast of North America were carved out of raw wilderness.  The settlers were initially mostly English, but they came from all social ranks, from aristocrats to criminals pardoned from death row. They considered themselves loyal subjects of England and had no interest uniting these colonies into a nation.

Survival was precarious in this land. Many didn’t live past childhood and those who did endured continuous fears of famine, drought, and vicious weather — bitter winters and blistering summers. Most relied on their Protestant Christian beliefs for the strength to endure.

But perhaps their greatest fear was the people in the wilderness outside their settlements, the tribes who had occupied the land for centuries. This native population had already been decimated by European diseases, but the colonists’ darkest nightmares would still be haunted by the people they called “indians.”

Barbaric wars pushed the diminished native tribes westward, but fears of invasion endured among the colonists, invasion from somewhere without, or perhaps even within.

Preachers across the colonies recited passages from the Book of Revelation and its startling prophecy of apocalypse. They warned of the arrival of the Antichrist, a deceitful figure claiming to be the second coming of Jesus Christ. Most of the settlers believed their very lives were being orchestrated by God, that events were overseen by an invisible and human-like presence. 

In Massachusetts this intense combination of faith and fear turned into hysteria when a hunt for witches erupted. Hundreds were accused, nineteen women were hanged, more died in jail. One husband was executed by being pressed to death under heavy rocks.

And there were more, deep anxieties about invasion.

By the time of the revolution, African slaves accounted for about one fifth of the population, and among slaveholders there was widespread fear of revolt. In the Carolinas, where the majority of the population was slaves, there were mass panics over suspected slave conspiracies. These fears were soon realized when twenty slaves killed and decapitated two white shopkeepers then marched south towards freedom in Spanish South Florida. The rebel slaves were soon found and killed, and their heads were mounted on posts, one for every mile, on the road back to Charles Town.

Despite not being oppressed themselves, the white colonists foresaw brutal subjugation in their own future. And it was slavery that they would refer to again and again during an escalating series of conflicts with the British empire.

George Washington, a planter from Virginia and a slaveholder, would soon claim there was a "regular, systematic plan" of oppression, a plot to “fix the shackles of slavery upon us.” He warned that the Americans would soon become “tame and abject slaves, as the blacks we rule over with such arbitrary sway.”

During the decade leading up to the American Revolution, a conviction was growing among the colonists: that the government of Britain was engaged in a deceitful plot to enslave them.

In earlier years, the thirteen American colonies had grown accustomed to governing themselves. But this tradition abruptly ended with the passage of The Stamp Act, a new law imposed upon the Americans requiring printed materials to use stamped — and taxed — British paper. 

The thirteen colonies became a buzzing hive of raw debate, propaganda, and provocation, fueled by the writings of anonymous authors in pamphlets and newspapers. Some colonists immediately suspected this bold new law was part of a much larger and more sinister design. In the Boston Gazette, John Adams, a combative lawyer from Massachusetts, anonymously wrote that, "There seems to be a direct and formal design on foot, to enslave all America."

The Stamp Act would be repealed a year later but new laws emerged in its wake. In a widely read pamphlet, a lawyer from Pennsylvania named John Dickinson claimed there was a plan to “annihilate the liberties of the governed,” and asked “Is it possible to form an idea of a slavery more complete, more miserable, more disgraceful”.

Violence soon lent credibility to the colonists' rising paranoia. Two regiments of British infantry, about 1600 soldiers, disembarked in Boston, intending to bring order to this hub of dissent. Their presence created relentless tension, and during a riot-like conflict with hundreds of townspeople, the soldiers opened fire. Five citizens were killed. It soon became widely known as the The Bloody Massacre.

But it was a clash over tea that proved to be the point from which there could be no turning back. Britain made yet another attempt at generating revenue by forcing its back inventory of taxed tea upon the colonists. Their response came in the form of The Boston Tea Party, a theatrical political protest in which an entire shipment of tea was dumped into Boston Harbor. Britain at last threw off the mask of civility and moved swiftly to complete its design. Harsh new laws were issued and would become known as the Intolerable Acts. The colonies began training militias for battle.

Many argued that the full scope of Britain's tyrannical plot was now proven. A new, 33-year-old representative from Virginia named Thomas Jefferson wrote that "single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of a day... a series of oppressions... too plainly prove a deliberate and systematical plan of reducing us to slavery."

In April 1775 open warfare began in Lexington, Massachusetts, but it would still be another year before the American colonies finally severed ties with the British empire. In the heart of their founding document, the Declaration of Independence, they claimed “The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.” Following this statement is a list, the pattern of oppression they had detected. These events and countless others lead the colonists to believe that the British did not merely intend to tax, they intended to enslave the Americans. At the core of the Declaration of Independence is a claim of conspiracy.

American leaders had drawn this conclusion based on the pattern of events from the previous decade and a broader pattern of history spanning centuries. And all this evidence was brought into order by the ideas of the greatest minds of the era.

The founders of the new republic of The United States of America were men of the enlightenment. They had boundless faith in the power and potential of reason, and they’d learned from European scientists and philosophers that studying evidence and identifying patterns could reveal powerful insights. And with this power, one could peer into the hearts of men, and one could even predict the future.

It was the influence of the enlightenment, the age of reason, that inspired the Americans’ theory that they were the victims of a conspiracy. And yet, this conspiracy did not exist.