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The situations of the Roman conspirators in the play Julius Caesar and the signers of the Declaration of Independence had many similarities. One major similarity is the personalities of Julius Caesar and King George III. There were several honorable men in Rome who knew Julius Caesar to be very ambitious and very lacking in good morals. Julius Caesar was a coward and did everything he could to get ahead and push others down in the process. King George III also had very few good morals and he did everything he could to improve his personal situation and not the people’s—he too was also too ambitious. The Declaration of Independence describes how the king imposed taxes on the colonists without their consent and called together legislative bodies at “places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant…for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.” King George III collected money from the people unfairly and made it extremely difficult for the colonists to participate in politics. This shows that he wanted everything to be convenient for him, even at the expense of others so that he could get ahead and be more prosperous than everyone else. Both Julius Caesar and King George III were too selfishly ambitious.
The main difference between the circumstances of the writers of the Declaration of Independence and the Roman conspirators is that King George III was already a tyrant when the Declaration was written but Julius Caesar had not yet become king when he was murdered. The Declaration of Independence was thus written as a reactionary measure to wrongs already been committed, while the men who murdered Julius Caesar murdered him as a preemptive measure against possible wrongs that could be committed if Caesar became king.
Another similarity is that there was a discussion between the revolutionaries before the Declaration was written and before Julius Caesar was killed. Brutus and Cassius discussed the possible consequences if Caesar became king, then they had a meeting with a large group of other conspirators. Before the Declaration of Independence was written, representatives from each colony met and discussed severing the bands between America and England. Both the conspirators and the writers carefully thought out and planned their decisions in large groups.
The goals of the Roman conspirators and American revolutionaries were also both very similar and different. The Roman conspirators’ central goal was to keep Caesar from becoming king and maintain the republic. The writers of the Declaration of Independence wanted to separate the 13 colonies from Britain and start a new country. The difference between those two goals is obvious. The Romans intended to maintain a republic, and the Americans wanted to build a new republic. The Romans wanted to keep the country as it was, the Americans wanted to make a new country.
However, both the Roman conspirators and the writers of the Declaration of Independence wanted to save their country (or colonies) from the dominion of an unfit king. They saw that the people would not be able to thrive under the rule of such a king, and so the Roman conspirators killed the possible king, and the writers of the Declaration wrote a declaration to the King of England declaring their independence. Both groups of revolutionaries had noble intentions and wanted to save their countries.
Another major difference between their goals though, was that the Roman conspirators wanted to kill the would-be king, and the writers of the Declaration of Independence only wanted to separate themselves from the then-current king’s rule. The Roman conspirators though, did not want to start a war. They thought that the people would accept that Caesar was dead and understand and agree that that was a good thing. The writers of the Declaration of Independence had at least some idea that war would be inevitable. This is shown in the last paragraph of the Declaration of Independence where it is written “…as free and independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace…” This shows that the writers knew that the States would have to go to war at some point. The Roman conspirators’ actions were very severe and not expected to lead to any difficulty, while the writers’ actions were less immediately intense, but were expected to result in immense contention between England and the colonies.
The means and methods used by the conspirators and the writers of the Declaration of Independence to instigate change are extremely different in one leading way: the conspirators killed the would-be king to bring about change, but the writers of the Declaration simply wrote a letter to the king. The writers committed treason; the conspirators committed murder. However, both brought about war, so it can’t easily be determined which act was more violent.
Both the conspirators and the writers presented their reasons for their actions to the public though. This was a necessary method to promote change because the support of the people was needed to affirm the decisions made and then fight the opposing side. One of the conspirators, Brutus, gave a speech telling the people why he killed Caesar and why change was necessary. The writers of the Declaration of Independence had the document published and read aloud throughout the colonies. Each group presented their opinions to the public as a means of garnering support and promoting change.
Another difference between the two groups’ means of bringing about change was that the Roman conspirators simply killed Caesar—they didn’t try to talk to him or reason with him first—while the writers of the Declaration of Independence say, “In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms…” The action of the conspirators was immediate and drastic, while the actions of the writers were civil and spread out over a long course of time.
There are several factors that may help explain the success of the American effort for change as opposed to the Roman failure. One such factor is that the speech given by Brutus was immediately followed by a speech by Caesar’s right hand man, Marc Antony. Marc Antony turned the public opinion against the conspirators, which led to the people rising up against the conspirators. This negated any support the conspirators gained after Brutus’s speech, and turned the conspirators’ efforts from efforts for change to efforts for survival. The writers of the Declaration of Independence published the declaration and had it read far and wide. It listed out every wrong the King of England committed against the colonies, reminding the colonists (or convincing them) just how angry they were with England. This gave instant support to the writers of the Declaration, making it much easier for them to fight against England. The Declaration of Independence didn’t have a counter-argument proposed immediately afterwards, like Brutus’s speech did, and thus had a far more lasting impact on the people.
Another reason the Roman conspirators failed was because they killed a man who the people loved and wanted to be their king. The Romans supported Caesar. When the conspirators murdered a person that beloved by the people, outrage and chaos ensued, leading to the failure of the conspirators’ cause. The American writers though, focused anger in their declaration on someone that the people were already angry with because of wrongs he had already committed. The people were upset with the king for raising taxes, forcing them to lodge soldiers in their homes, etc. The writers of the Declaration of Independence reminded them of all of these wrongdoings, which quite easily and readily led the public to rally behind the writers and their cause. The conspirators failed in their attempts to instigate change because the Roman people did not already agree with them, while the writers of the Declaration of Independence succeeded because they focused on a cause that had already been festering inside of the American people for a long time.
There were many similarities between the situations of the writers of the Declaration of Independence and the Roman conspirators, their goals, and the methods they used to attempt to foment change. However, there were enough differences between those situations, goals, and methods that the Roman conspirators failed and the American writers succeeded in their attempts to change the situation.
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