Causes of the Revolutionary War
Length: 1450 words (4.1 double-spaced pages)
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The haphazard and disorganized British rule of the American colonies in the decade prior to the outbreak led to the Revolutionary War. The mismanagement of the colonies, the taxation policies that violated the colonist right's, the distractions of foreign wars and politics in England and mercantilist policies that benefited the English to a much greater degree then the colonists all show the British incompetence in their rule over the colonies. These policies and distractions were some of the causes of the Revolutionary War.
The interests of England within the colonies were self-centered. The English were exploiting were trying to govern the colonies by using the mercantilist system. Mercantilism is when the state directs all the economic activities within it's borders(Blum 31). England was not attempting to make any changes that would help the colonists. They limited the colonies commerce to internal trade only(Miller 9). The English were exploiting the colonies by demanding that the colonies import more from England then they exported to the colonies. They were importing raw materials from the colonies and making them into exportable goods in England. They would then ship these goods to foreign markets all around the world including the colonies(America Online ). Throughout the seventeenth century the English saw America as a place to get materials they didn't have at home and a market to sell finished products at after the goods had been manufactured. This was detrimental to the colonies because it prevented them from manufacturing any of the raw materials they produced and made them more dependent upon England.
In addition to the unrest caused by their mercantilist policies, domestic political issues distracted them from the activities of the colonies. Throughout the sixteen hundreds, Great Britain was more involved in solving the Constitutional issue of who was to have more power in English government, the king or parliament. When this complex issue was finally resolved in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, England turned its attention back to the colonies and found that colonists had developed their own identity as American.
There was no central office in England to control what was happening in the colonies. The executive authority in England was divided among several ministers and commissioners that did not act quickly or in unison. Also, the Board of Trade, the branch of government that knew more about the colonies than any other governing body in England, did not have the power to make decisions or to enforce decrees.
Due to the distractions from the complex constitutional issues and ineffective governmental organization the colonists felt further separated from England(Blum 51).
The political scene in England was laced with corruption. Officers of the government sent to the colonies were often bribe-taking politicians that were not smart enough to hold government positions in England. After Grenville and Townshend the most incompetent was Lord North, who became Prime Minister in 1770 after the death of Charles Townshend. "North was the kind of politician George had been looking for ----a plodding, dogged, industrious man, neither a fool nor a genius, much like the king himself. For the next twelve years, despite the opposition of abler men, he remained at the head of the government(Blum 104)." Corruption and incompetence among governing politicians often made their rule over the colonies ineffective.
In the years leading up to the final decade before the American Revolution, the relationship between Great Britain and her colonies in North America continued to deteriorate. Relations began to worsen with the great victory over the French and Indians in the Seven Years War. Unwelcome British troops had remained in the colonies. Debts from this war caused the Prime Minister at the time, Lord Grenville, to enforce Mercantilism in an effort to get the colonists to pay their share of the national debt that had doubled since 1754(Blum 95).
England passed many Acts that were ill conceived and had long term effects on the relationship between England and the colonies. The most controversial of these were direct taxes. The last time Parliament had tried a direct tax was as recent as 1765, when Lord Grenville enacted the Stamp Act which forced the colonists to pay for stamps on printed documents, the Stamp Act(Higginbotham 34). The Americans had felt the taxes of Lord Grenville were "a deliberate aim to disinherit the colonists by denying them the rights of the English(Blum 96)." The first of these acts were the Townshend Acts. The Townshend Acts were passed in 1767 and placed new taxes on paper, paints, tea, lead and, glass. The new taxes would be used to pay for British officials in the American service. These acts infuriated the colonists because they believed that Parliament had the right to put taxes on the trade of the colonies but could not place taxes directly on the colonists to raise revenue(America Online).
The spokesperson of the colonies, John Dickinson, wrote in his "Letters of a Pennsylvania Farmer," on the issue of direct taxes. He distinguished between taxes that were imposed to regulate trade and those that were intended solely to raise revenue. If the tax was used to promote commerce it was justifiable, but if the tax was used only to gain revenue it was not viewed as a legitimate tax(America Online). The colonists believed that this new tax was not legitimate and therefore there was strong opposition to it throughout the colonies.
By 1766 England backed off in their efforts to tax their colonies. Following a year of opposition from the colonists England revoked the Stamp Act and the first Quartering Act, but they still passed the Declaratory Act (History Place). In 1766 the Declaratory Act was passed. It was passed the same day that the Stamp Act was repealed. The Declaratory Act gave the English government total power to pass laws to govern the colonies. The British claimed that the colonies had always been and should always be subject to the British crown(Blum 99)."
In 1773 the Tea Act was passed. The Tea Act not only put a three penny per pound tax on tea but it also gave the British East India Company a near monopoly because it allowed the company to sell directly to the colonial agents avoiding any middlemen. In Boston the colonists held a town meeting to try to get their Tea Agents to resign. The Tea Agents would not resign and a few months later angered Bostonians dressed as Indians boarded three tea ships and dumped it all into Boston Harbor(Blum 106).
In 1774 the intolerable Acts were passed. They were passed as a way to reprimand the Bostonians for the Boston Tea Party. This didn't go over well in Boston because both the innocent and the guilty were being punished equally(America Online). There were five acts within the Intolerable Acts. The Massachusetts Government Act, a new Quartering Act, the Administration of Justice Act the Quebec Act and the closing of the port of Boston. The Massachusetts Government Act said that the Governor's council had to be appointed by the King and limited town meetings to one per year. The new Quartering Act, "authorized the quartering of troops within a town (instead of in the barracks provided by the colony) whenever their commanding officers thought it desirable." The Administration of Justice Act stated that, "any government or customs officer indicted for murder could be tried in England, beyond the control of local juries." The Quebec Act was not intended to be used as a punishment of the colonists, rather to extend the boundaries of the province of Quebec to the Ohio River and give the Roman Catholics in that province religious liberty and the double protection of French and English law. But the Quebec Act actually angered the colonists because the colonists living in Quebec were getting rights that the Americans felt were being taken away from them(Blum 106).
During these years of ineffective rule, the causes of the Revolutionary War emerged. Laws and policies enacted were self-serving, causing the colonists to vigorously resist and try to avoid British authority. The colonists moves toward religious and commercial self-determination were overlooked while England dealt with the Seven years war and a domestic political crisis. All these factors highlighted the differences and miscalculations of the British and were the beginnings of the Revolutionary War.
Blum, John M. The National Experience. Fort Worth: Hartcourt Brace College Publishers, 1993.
Higginbotham, Don. The War of American Independence. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1971.
Miller, John C. Origins of the American Revolution. London: Oxford University Press, 1943.
America Online, Research and Learn, History, American History, Revolutionary War Forum, Rev War Archives, Part 1.
Prelude to Revolution 1763 to 1775." The History Place. http://www.historyplace.com/unitedstates/revolution/rev-prel.htm