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.
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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 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 custom 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 colonists and England in their political thinking. By 1750 British statesmen believed that Parliament had complete authority over the colonies.It could tax them ... the colonial opposition must not go unchallenged. The Five "Intolerable Acts" Parliament replied to the Boston Tea Party with the five "punitive ...
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 were. (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 Townshends remarks stating that the colonists fled to America to be rid of oppression and had endured hardships and grew even though neglected. (Fleming 51).
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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 which 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 colonists greatest supporters debated with Grenville over the colonists 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 lack of support by the other colonies. (Canfield 43) On March 5, 1770, all the taxes were repealed, except for a small duty remained on tea. On that same date, in the colonies, the Boston Massacre took place (Cook 122 ,149).
... representation is how the colonists stood up to acts like the Stamp Act. The colonies were being neglected from ... which was not as important leader into the American Revolution but still a key role that led ... taxing lead, paint, paper, glass, and tea imported by colonists. Then Sam Adams spoke out and said ... and the colonist had to rely on England for hard currency. They closed of the Boston Port, ...
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 of 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 harbor 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 onboard three English vessels and threw all their tea overboard (Jensen p84).
In order to punish Boston for this act of resistance, the next act’s 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 harbor 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 reconcile with the colonies they had to agree that all the bills had to be repealed (Cook 192-198).
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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 for 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).
Canfield, Cass. Sam Adams’s Revolution (1765-1776).
New York: Harper and
Cook, Don. The Long Fuse; How England Lost The American Colonies, 1760- 1785. New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995 .
Fleming, Thomas. Liberty! The American Revolution. New York: Penguin Group, 1997.
Handlin, Oscar and Lilian. A Restless People; Americans in Rebellion 1770-
1787. New York: Anchor Press, 1982.
Jensen Merrill. The Founding of a Nation; A History of the American Revolution
1763-1776. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968.
Middlekauff, Robert. The Glorious Cause; The American Revolution, 1763-1789.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Wood, Gordon S. The Radicalism of the American Revolution. New York: Alfred
A. Knopf, 1992.