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 it’s 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.
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 governors and to pass new laws that suited to 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 very wealthy and powerful nation.
British statesman and political theorist Edmund Burke, a 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 colonies 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 mostly 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. 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 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 be to be used not only to support British troops in America but also to provide salaries for British officials who would the 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 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 them selves 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 from the competition of low-priced British goods and now feared higher taxes. Comparable economic stresses fueled quarrel to 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 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 line leading to the revolution was the Boston Tea Party, a popular name the action 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 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 persons body. Over all 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, “dawbed 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 neighbors 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 defense, 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.
Carroll, Andrew, Letters for a Nation, Broadway New York, 1997
Gottschalk, Louis. “Cause of Revolution.” Schenckman Publishing Company, Inc.: Cambridge, 1971.
Grolier Encyclopedia, Grolier 98, 1995-1998
Microsoft Encarta, Encarta 2k1, 1993-2000 Microsoft.
Olsen, Keith W., et al. An Outline of American History. As reprinted on the Internet http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/H/