It is July 3, 1774. You own about 600 acres of farmland. You essentially run a medium -sized agricultural business and employ some 60 people. You have 4 children and a pregnant wife. Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and others are discussing a multi-colony gathering to consider making a unified statement on behalf of all the colonies. It’s basically illegal. Some in your area are talking about joining them. A friend tells you that your name was mentioned at a meeting last night. The meeting was about organizing a local group of neighbors to be quickly alerted and prepared in the event of an armed attack by the British.
You’re a business man for Heaven’s sake. You’ve got supplies to buy. You’ve got buildings to build and fences to repair. And crops!? You’re a farmer after all…the only entrepreneurial venture where not only is your product commoditized and prices are completely out of your control and all your neighbors plant the same things you do, but even the insects and the rain and the heat and the cold and the dry work against you in ways you can’t possibly control.
But, the stamp act was expensive for you. It was completely unreasonable, frankly, and hit at a time you were buying land and promoting your goods. It added 15% to your costs and the British were finding ways to cope without buying as much from you. The talk in Phelps Tavern was that you should organize a group of the area’s farmers and tradesmen to share news and information with each other about other potential taxes being considered by Parliament. There was considerable consensus that YOU should consider becoming a Connecticut representative to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia to make sure that your and your neighbors voices were included in opposition to recent British decisions regarding port and commercial activity.
Because of your business success, you had always been consulted on issues of commerce and governance in your area. But leaving for Philadelphia when your business needed you most in the summer is not well-advised. And there is your wife saying, “Of course, it is flattering that they’d ask you, but I’m just glad you’re not considering it.” 🙂
Certainly, she’s right. I mean, after all, it’s one thing to evaluate whether a new stone bridge across the Farmington River would make sense for the community. But you’re needed here. And it’s basically illegal to discuss ignoring laws from Parliament.
Now think about Independence Day, 2014. This is as good a day as any to look at yourself in the mirror. As an entrepreneur, you make 100 decisions every day that have an impact on your business, employees and your family. Clearly you need to make decisions that are in the best interest of your business. But what would you do if you were confronted with the dilemma of 1774? Is it possible that sometimes the long-term interest of your neighbors and countrymen become the best interest of you and your business? Remember, outright insurrection like occurred in Boston Harbor could get you arrested. It could get you shot! Or hanged! Then how would your farmstead and family fare?
Still, it seems reasonable to be prepared to defend the town, perhaps even from mischievous local boys. And a few weeks away in Philadelphia would provide a better perspective on what’s happening outside this colony. Perhaps there will be a chance to exchange ideas for seeds. Or new techniques…new markets.
It was an enormous decision among dozens of other enormous decisions that many colonists made in those years. I think it is important on Independence Day to remember that those decisions weren’t just some abstract theoretical points of debate. They were decisions made by individuals that would change their lives and their businesses regardless of what outcome occurred…good or bad. Enormous sacrifices for an unknown outcome. Perhaps, it is reasonable then, to consider the push for American Independence the biggest entrepreneurial undertaking ever, before or since.
Happy Independence Day! Huzzah!