The American Revolution began for many reasons, some are; long-term social, economic, and political changes in the British colonies, prior to 1750 provided the basis for and started a course to America becoming an independent nation under its own control with its own government. Not a tyrant king thousands of miles away.
A huge factor in the start of the revolution was the French and Indian War during the years of 1754 through 1763; this changed the age-old bond between the colonies and Britain its mother. To top it off, a decade of conflicts between the British rule and the colonists, starting with the Stamp Act in 1765 that eventually led to the eruption of war in 1775, along with the drafting of The Declaration of Independence in 1776.
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Originally the fighting between Britain and France began in 1754 with a quarrel in North America. It had two different names. In America, it is known as the French and Indian War. In Britain and Europe, it is known as the Seven Years’ War, because the fighting lasted from 1756 to 1763. A result of the French and Indian war was a British decision to reconsider its relationship with its colonies. Prior to the French and Indian War, Britain had loosely controlled its colonies. British leaders regarded the colonial government as inferior. As long as only a few serious conflicts between Britain and America occurred, the British government permitted colonial assemblies to oversee the royal governours and to pass new laws that suited the needs of the colonists.
In addition, the British did not always enforce their laws in the colonies. For example, the British Customs Service, which was unproductive, understaffed, and open to corruption, did not enforce the Molasses Act of 1733. British leaders did not insist on strict enforcement of this tax or other commercial duties because thriving American trade was making Britain a very wealthy and powerful nation.
British statesman and political theorist Edmund Burke, an orator who successfully championed many human rights and causes by bringing people to attention through his moving speeches. Described his country’s policies toward the colonies as “salutary neglect” because he believed their leniency was actually beneficial. As a result of this salutary neglect, the colonists developed a political and economic system that was virtually independent. They were loyal, although somewhat uncooperative, subjects of the crown. (Encarta, 2k1)
The war in North America was fought mostly throughout the Northern British colonies, and in the closing stages, Great Britain overpowered France. During the peace talks, Britain gained French holdings in Canada and Florida from France’s ally, Spain. Nevertheless, Britain amassed a large debt over the course of the war. To help pay off the debt, Britain came up with the idea to use the American colonies to generate lost money.
The French and Indian War changed the connection between Great Britain and the colonies. Before the war, Great Britain had become very wealthy from the colonies, after passing such acts as the Molasses Act in 1733, which imposed a tax on molasses. Molasses was used for a variety of things including making rum and was very important to the colony’s economics. During the early period, the colonists had developed a nearly independent political and economic system.
Because Britain had amassed large war debts; the British Parliament passed the Stamp Act in 1765. The act was intended to generate money from the colonies that would help pay for the cost to keep up a stable force of British troops in the American colonies. All authorized documents, including deeds, mortgages, newspapers, had to have a British government stamp, in order to be considered legal.
Members of the Sons of Liberty, a patriotic secret group, were most active in opposing the stamp tax. They led a course of physical violence in which many official stamp agents were attacked by mobs and their possessions and property destroyed and taken from them. Resolutions of protest against the stamp act were adopted by a number of the colonial assemblies. The Virginia House of Burgesses made five such resolutions offered by Patrick Henry the American patriot. In resistance to the stamp act, the Americans formed a stamp act congress as a means to protest against the acts.
American Merchants agreed to stop bringing in British goods until the act was abolished, and trade was considerably weakened. Rejecting to use the stamps on official and business papers became common, and the courts would not punish if the stamp was not on legal documents. British Parliament repealed the act on March 4, 1766, Benjamin Franklin argued to the House of Commons. Franklin was Pennsylvania’s representative, in London. He turned out to be more of a representative of the Colonies as a whole. The repeal was to go along with the Declaratory Act, which declared the right of the British government to pass acts lawfully binding the colonists.
The unity of the American colonists in their dislike of the Stamp Act added significantly to the rise of American opposition and the argument between the colonists and the British government. The Stamp Act of 1765 required the American colonists to apply tax stamps, like those shown here, to all official documents, including deeds, mortgages, newspapers, and pamphlets. The colonists convened the Stamp Act Congress to protest the act, which they called, ”taxation without representation.“ The Stamp Act is often considered one of the main causes of the American Revolution.
Then came the Townshend Acts, measures passed by the British Parliament in 1767, affecting the American colonies. The acts were named for their sponsor, the British chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Townshend. The first measure called for the suspension of the New York Assembly, thus penalizing it for not complying with a law, enacted two years earlier, requiring the colonies to provide adequate quartering of British troops in the New World. The second measure, called the Revenue Act, imposed customs duties on colonial imports of glass, red and white lead, paints, paper, and tea. A subsequent legislative act established commissioners in the colonies to administer the customs services and to make sure the duties were collected.
The Townshend Acts were tremendously unpopular in America. In response to a published criticism of the measures, the British crown dissolved the Massachusetts legislature in 1768. Subsequently, the Boston Massacre occurred in March 1770, when British troops fired on American demonstrators. These events brought the colonies closer to revolution.
The colonists who protested the taxes were able to distinguished between taxes designed to raise money, which they strongly opposed, and tariffs intended primarily to control trade, which the colonists had accepted, at least in principle, since the imposition of the Molasses Act of 1733. They felt the distinction between revenue and regulation was subtle if not artificial. And Charles Townshend, who was a longtime critic of the American assemblies, misunderstood it. Townshend’s belief was that the colonists were only objecting to internal taxes, such as the Stamp Act, but not to external taxes. Therefore, he assumed that all the colonists would accept the external taxes.
The Townshend Acts, which were passed in 1767, placed duties on colonial imports of lead, glass, and other necessities. This act also specified that the tax money is to be used not only to support British troops in America but also to provide salaries for British officials who would collect taxes. Such monies would make these tax collectors financially independent of other colonial assemblies.
This attempt was to raise revenue through trade tariffs and to circumvent American control of imperial officials which greatly angered many colonial officials. John Dickinson argued in his influential Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania (1767) that the Townshend duties were “not for the regulation of trade … but for the single purpose of levying money upon us.” Bolstered by such arguments, the colonists opposed the taxes, not with the violence of 1765, which ended with the repeal of the Stamp Act, but with a new boycott of British goods, the Second No importation Movement. (Encarta, 2k1)
The Americans’ unwavering resistance to the Townshend Acts resulted in economic and moral upheaval. The colonial economy before 1754 allowed the colonists to earn enough from their exports to pay for their imports from Great Britain. By the British military spending in America for the duration of the French and Indian War strengthen the incomes of many colonists and unleashed a wave of free-spending. British creditors aided this free-spending by allowing the American traders a full year’s credit, instead of the traditional six months. The colonists soon became overextended and had gone deeply into debt.
By the wars end in 1763, the good times came to an abrupt end. A recession after the war brought bankruptcy and disgrace to those Americans who had overextended themselves and brought hard times to nearly everyone else. This economic hardship generated even greater opposition to the Stamp Act in 1765, especially among tradesmen and craftsmen. This opposition to the stamp act was brought upon by the competition of low-priced British goods and now feared higher taxes. Comparable economic stresses fueled a quarrel with the Townshend Acts of 1767.
Such incidents as the Boston Massacre helped to fuel the American Revolution. Encounter on March 5, 1770, the Boston Massacre, five years before the beginning of the American Revolution, between British troops and a group of citizens of Boston (then in the Massachusetts Bay Colony). British troops were quartered in the city to discourage demonstrations against the Townshend Acts, which imposed duties on imports to the colonies. Citizens constantly harassed the troops, and during a demonstration, rocks thrown by the colonists struck a squad of British soldiers. The soldiers fired into the crowd and killed five men, including Crispus Attucks, who was leading the group.
The eight soldiers and their commanding officer were tried for murder and were defended by John Adams, later president of the United States, and Josiah Quincy. Two soldiers were declared guilty of manslaughter and, after claiming the benefit of clergy, were branded on the thumb; the others, including the officer, were acquitted. The American patriot Samuel Adams to create anti-British sentiment in the colonies skillfully exploited the incident. (Encarta, 2k1)
Next in the line leading to the revolution was the Boston Tea Party, a popular name the action was taken on December 16, 1773, by a group of Boston citizens to protest the British tax on tea imported to the colonies. Although most provisions of the Townshend Acts, taxing imports to the colonies, were repealed by Parliament, the duty on tea was retained to demonstrate the power of Parliament to tax the colonies. The citizens of Boston would not permit the unloading of three British ships that arrived in Boston in November 1773 with 342 chests of tea.
The royal governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson, however, would not let the tea ships return to England until the duty had been paid. On the evening of December 16, a group of Bostonians, instigated by the American patriot Samuel Adams and many of them disguised as Native Americans, boarded the vessels and emptied the tea into Boston Harbor. When the colonists of Boston refused to pay for the tea, the British closed the port. (Grolier, 98)
Another way the colonists found very effective for scaring tax collectors, who were hated so much, was using a method called tar and feathering. This was done by removing the clothes of the person and then applying hot tar, which in most instances was very painful. Then well the tar was still hot right after applying it, they would proceed to sticking and dumping feathers all over the person’s body. Overall it would make them look like a big bird, and was painful. A real-life account tells the story.
[In the spring of 1766, John Gilchrist, a Norfolk merchant and ship-owner, came to believe that Captain William Smith had reported his smuggling activities to British authorities. In retribution, Gilchrist and several accomplices captured Smith and, as he reported, “dawned my body and face all over with tar and afterwards threw feathers on me.” Smith’s assailants, which included the mayor of Norfolk, then carted him “through every street in town,” and threw him into the sea.
Fortunately, Smith was rescued by a passing boat just as he was “sinking, being able to swim no longer.”] (1) (1) Captain William Smith to J. Morgan, Apr. 3, 1766, in William and Mary Quarterly, 1st Ser., XXI (1913), p. 167. from sight: http://revolution.h-net.msu.edu/
Tar and feathers was a very old form of punishment, but it does not appear to have ever been widely applied in England or in Europe. Why Gilchrist and his allies chose to resurrect tar and feathers on this particular occasion historians can only surmise. Whatever their reasons, these Virginians inaugurated a new trend in colonial resistance, a trend that their New England neighbours would eagerly follow.
Throughout New England, tar and feathers soon became the “popular Punishment for modern delinquents.” By March 1770, at least thirteen individuals had been feathered in the American colonies: eight in Massachusetts, two in New York, one in Virginia, one in Pennsylvania, and one in Connecticut. In all of these instances, the tar brush was reserved exclusively for customs inspectors and informers, those persons responsible for enforcing the Townshend duties on certain imported goods. Indeed, American patriots used tar and feathers to wage a war of intimidation against British tax collectors.
These were the actions that made our country leap towards a revolution and eventually make it free. As the first line of the constitution says “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”, and this selection along with the rest of the constitution still stands today and has not been changed or altered since it was made.
Example 2 – What was the main cause of the American Revolution?
The American Revolution was caused by the unique nature of the American Colonists and their society in contrast to their relationship with the English Government and peoples. Life in America was not a life of leisure. American colonists had worked hard to cultivate their lands and develop their towns and cities. Rural life in the American colonies consisted not only of farmers but tradesmen also prospered. (Handlin. 24) By 1763, the American Colonies were spreading west.
The expelling of the French and the Spaniards in 1763 opened lands of opportunity for the colonists. American colonists who settled in the new lands and the New World were a “fresh breed of humans, self-reliant, rationalistic, disdainful of established ideas and authorities, vain, provincial, sometimes violent, often reckless”. (Handlin 130)
Tensions began to build in the Colonies right after the 7 years war, or the French and Indian War. At this time the American Colonies were prospering. The colonists in America had no oppressing chains to throw off. “In fact, the colonists knew they were freer, more equal, more prosperous and less burdened with cumbersome feudal and monarchical restraints than any other part of mankind in the 18th Century”. (Wood 4) They had achieved an economic and political maturity that resented outside interference. (Jensen 34) They did not discover new ideas after 1763 but held up ideas of the rights of Englishmen which had begun back with the Magna Carta. The route to the American Revolution was based on this unique American character and the lack of understanding, which the British Government had for it.
After the 7 years war, England was heavily in debt. This was the most that they’d ever been in debt in their history. Two years before the end of the war King George II died, and his grandson George III became king. King George III held the theory that to rule an empire you had to have a tight grip. “The colonies had always been the domain of the crown, administered by royally appointed officials. Parliament had seldom interfered—except to pass the Acts of Trade and Navigation, laws relating to finance, and laws prohibiting or limiting certain colonial manufactures. The attempt by parliament to raise money in the colonies by acts of Parliament, coupled with other restrictive legislation and administrative decisions, forced Americans, for the first time, to attempt a serious definition of their concepts of the power of Parliament over the colonies” (Jensen p.5).
Custom laws, which the crown had passed, had never really been enforced. Some of these acts included the 1704 act which required that the colonies limit their export of rice and molasses as well as tar, turpentine, hemp, and other naval stores to England alone, the 1721 act that prohibited the importation of any tea, pepper, spices, drugs, silks, and cotton fabrics except through England and the East India Company, and in 1722 the White Pines Act which restricted New Englanders from felling trees beyond a certain circumference.
In 1733 The Molasses Act put a tax on molasses which was a key ingredient in making rum (Cook p. 53). The non-enforcement of these acts put no strain on the relationship between the colonists and England. The colonists traded with other nations and basically bribed their way out of the restrictions of the acts.
With the French and Indian War over, England was heavily in debt. They were over 133 million pounds in debt. King George III appointed ministers to develop plans to alleviate the debt. Ministers in England encouraged tighter enforcement of the customs laws and control of the colonies. “For political tacticians of considerable skill, these ministers made some surprising mistakes: making decisions in ignorance of American views was one of the worst, and refusing to compromise when these views were expressed was hardly less serious”. (Middlekauff 49)
The King appointed Lord Grenville to be Prime Minister. Among his first acts was the Proclamation of 1763, which declared that no Americans would be allowed to locate west of the Allegheny Mountains. This was an attempt to confine the Americans to the East Coast where they could be watched and more easily governed. They also decided to keep troops in the Colonies to help defend against the Indians. This was not a popular item since the colonists believed they could defend themselves and they wondered what the real reason for the troops was. (Fleming 49)
Grenville also decided to revise the Molasses Act. He did this by doing away with the act and passing the Sugar Act. It cut the tax on from 6 cents to 3 cents a gallon but it was now on all molasses, not just that used for rum.(Cook p.59-61). He also announced his determination to collect this new tax. This new law was a financial shock to the New England merchants involved in the Rum Trade. Massachusetts sent a protest to London which said that “ there could be no liberty, no happiness, no security if Parliament had the right to raise money this way”. (Fleming 50)
The Currency Act of 1764 applied to all the colonies outside New England, where the Currency Act of 1751 still remained in force. This act forbade the issuance of paper money, which would be legal tender in payment of any bargains, contracts, debts, dues, or demands whatsoever (Jensen 54). The men in the colonies with well-managed currencies were outraged and colonists everywhere were convinced that the act was a major source of the hard times that followed the French and Indian War. (Jensen p.54)
Next came the Stamp Act of 1765. It put a tax on all legal documents that required a stamp such as wills, mortgages, licenses, college diplomas and even playing cards. Debates in Parliament over this tax showed that some in Parliament understood the American society. Townshend the Duke of Newcastle, showed how little he knew of the American nature when he stated that the colonists should be happy to pay these taxes since they were children who had been cared for and protected by the British Crown.
Colonel Isaac Barre who had fought at Quebec stood up for the colonists and denounced Townshend’s remarks stating that the colonists fled to America to be rid of oppression and had endured hardships and grew even though neglected. (Fleming 51). Grenville paid no attention to Barre and pushed through the Stamp Act.
Eventually, the Colonists began an embargo on stamps. When stamps were brought to the colonies, merchants who had ordered them had to keep them in a safe place otherwise the colonists would steal them and burn them up. By the end of 1765, the governments in 9 of the colonies had passed resolutions that denounced the Stamp Act. Even more importantly they denied Parliament’s right to tax the colonies for revenue. (Middlekauff 83) In October of that year, nine of the colonies banded together to form the Stamp Act Congress. Not even one year after the Stamp Act was put into effect; it was repealed, although the damage in the colonies had already been done (Cook p.62-68).
Debates in parliament over the repeal of the Stamp Act discussed the issues of taxation without representation. William Pitt, who was one of the colonist’s greatest supporters debated with Grenville over the colonist’s rights. Pitt said that if America was crushed it would, “fall like a strong man. She would embrace the pillars of the state, and pull down the constitution along with her”. (Middlekauff, 113)
Anger at the colonies allowed Townshend to introduce his bill to Parliament. In this bill, he proposed that the troops be moved from the frontier to the troublesome Atlantic coast. He also proposed that taxes be placed on tea, glass, lead, paint and paper. Judges would be allowed to issue “writs of assistance” which permitted customs officials to search private homes, shops and warehouses without warning to search for contraband. (Cook 121) The reaction to the taxes was cautious and slow to form. Samuel Adams one of the leaders of the Sons of Liberty in Boston found out when the customs commissioners would arrive in Boston. He proposed that they be marched to the Liberty Tree where they could choose between resignation or the mob.
This idea was abandoned due to a lack of support by the other colonies. (Canfield 43) On March 5, 1770, all the taxes were repealed, except for a small duty that remained on tea. On that same date, in the colonies, the Boston Massacre took place (Cook 122,149). On that date, violence occurred between Royal soldiers and colonists in Boston when an apprentice shouted an insult at a British Officer. A sentry in front of the customs house hit the young man from behind. Soldiers came, civilians arrived and bloodshed followed.
Even the small duty on tea, caused the colonists to lower their consumption of the product. Tea imports dropped from 320,000 pounds in 1769 to 530 in 1772. The Tea Act of 1773 basically gave a monopoly on importing tea to the East India Company to help this company out of debt. The company tried to sell cut-rate tea in America. Three such ships arrived in Boston Harbor in December of 1763. The ships sat in the harbour and none was unloaded. They were also unable to return to England without unloading the tea. On Thursday, December 16 the Boston Tea Party took place. This act of aggression took place when the Sons of Liberty dressed up as Native Americans and went on board three English vessels and threw all their tea overboard (Jensen p84).
In order to punish Boston for this act of resistance, the next act to take effect were the Coercive Acts. These acts were also known as the Intolerable Acts. The first act closed down the port of Boston until the East India Company was paid for the tea that had been dumped into the harbour and the imperial revenue compensated for its loss on dutiable goods. The Coercive Acts also dispatched four regiments to Boston and authorized Royal Army officers to quarter troops in the homes of private citizens (Fleming p.85).
Also at the same time as the Intolerable Acts was the Quebec Act, which gave Canada’s Catholics civil equality and guaranteed religious tolerance. The colonists saw this act as giving areas of the midwest to the Catholic Canadians and creating more danger from the French and Indians. (Cook 190-191)
On September 5, 1774, in Philadelphia began the remarkable first gathering of the Continental Congress. The Colonies met for the first time as a unified group and all agreed to ban imports from England, beginning December 1, 1774 and continuing until the siege of Boston ended. The ban was delayed until September of 1775 (Middlekauff 243 ). The Congress contained 56 men and included 12 of the 13 colonies. It produced a Declaration of Rights. This Declaration listed the bills that infringed on their rights and declared that if England wanted to reconcile with the colonies they had to agree that all the bills had to be repealed (Cook 192-198).
More troops were sent to the colonies to put down any idea or rebellion, but this further angered the colonists. Fighting began at Lexington and Concord and the revolution began in earnest. The character of the American colonists had been tested and they had shown that they were a new, different breed of colonists that England was unprepared for. Possibly the distance between the two nations led to the lack of communication and understanding between the peoples and government.
With the great amount of time that it took for communication between the two nations, it was very difficult for the British Ministers or King to fully appreciate the maturation and development of the Colonists. “The Revolution did not just eliminate monarchy and create republics; it actually reconstituted what Americans meant by public or state power and brought about an entirely new kind of popular politics and a new kind of democratic officeholder” (Wood 8).
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