The Causes of the American Revolution

The Causes of the American Revolution

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Among the many complex factors that contributed to instigating the American Revolution, two stand out most clearly: England’s imposition of taxation on the colonies and the failure of the British to gain consent of those being governed, along with the military measures England took on the colonists. Adding to these aforementioned factors were the religious and political legacy of the colonies, and the restriction of civil liberties by the British. Parliamentary taxation was undoubtedly one of the greatest factors inspiring the American public to rebel in the years leading up to the American Revolution. One of the most striking examples of this kind of taxation was the Stamp Act of 1765. After many years of fighting, England badly needed revenues from their colonies, and they sought to acquire these revenues from the New World, thereby increasing their influence over the colonial governments. These theories of “New Imperialism” were what prompted Prime Minister Grenville to pass the Stamp Act. The Stamp Act of 1765 stated that persons of almost any profession were obliged to buy stamps for their documents. In other words, the act imposed a tax on every printed document in the colonies. For example, a printer had to buy stamps in order to legally be able to distribute his publications. While the act itself was not so detrimental to the economy, it was the ideals behind the act (a direct attempt on the part of the mother country to further itself and raise revenues in the colonies) which drove the revolutionaries’ cause. In October of 1765, the same year the act was passed, the Stamp Act Congress met with delegates from nine colonies and petitioned the King of England, along with the two houses of Parliament. This petition and reaction to the act became the first formal cry for reformation with regard to England’s control over America. In addition to the Stamp Act of 1765, other various taxations aroused a spirit of revolution in America. One year before the Stamp Act, the Sugar Act of 1764 lowered the duty on molasses and raised the duty on sugar. While this act was designed to raise money, the majority of the Americans did not view it as any different than traditional taxations. Another set of taxes, known as the Townshend Duties, taxed goods imported to the colonies from England. Townshend judged this to be more practical because the duty was on “external” goods (those imported to the country) rather than “internal” goods, which the Stamp Act had attempted to address.

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However, the already distraught and rebellious American public would not allow it. Soon after the Townshend Duties, the colonial governments were urged by the Massachusetts Assembly to revolt and stand up against every tax, external or internal, imposed by Parliament. Eventually, as a result of all the taxes and regulations, the expression “no taxation without representation” emerged. The Americans were clear and concise on what they wanted: Whether the tax be internal or external, whether it be designed to raise revenue or control trade, it could not exist without the consent of the colonists who were being taxed. The final test of will came when the British government passed the Tea Act of 1773. This act effectively cut out the middleman, or colonial merchant, in the tea trade between Britain and America. This infuriated the colonial merchants, because a powerful monopoly had taken away their ability to trade in the valuable tea. Not only did the economic results of the Tea Act anger the merchants, but also the idea of taxation without representation once again sprang to the forefront of American minds. The complete boycott of tea by Americans ensued. This boycott was extremely important, because it unified the colonies in a mass popular protest. It is also worth noting that American women became actively involved in this protest, since they were the main consumers of tea in America. Riots and protests burst across the county, the biggest and most influential one being the famous “Boston Tea Party”. In this riot, an English boat carrying tea shipments was docked in the Boston Harbor. Three bands of fifty men each went aboard the ship, and wildly emptied the tea chests overboard into the harbor. The Boston Massacre exemplifies how British military measures backfired and allowed the Americans to gain a sense of unity in working towards a common goal of independence. What actually happened in the event was a bit unclear to historians. It seems as though there was a scuffle between British soldiers stationed in the town of Boston and Boston laborers. The soldiers had started to compete with the Bostonians for jobs during their off-duty hours, and, to put it lightly, the Bostonians were not pleased. On March 5th, 1770, the situation got out of hand. In the end, British soldiers killed 5 innocent people when they fired into the angry crowd. This “Boston Massacre” was used as pro-revolutionary propaganda and spread across America like wildfire the injustices of British rule. Paul Revere painted horrid images of the soldiers ruthlessly killing the innocent workers, and Samuel Adams, one of the most effective radicals in America, told stories of oppression, corruption, and sin in England. He organized a “committee of correspondence,” which openly publicized the complaints American had with England, and other colonies followed Massachusetts’s example in forming political organizations of their own. It could be said that if not for the legacy of religious and political ideas in the colonies, the spirit of revolution would never have had the potential to exist in America. In the early 1760’s, when the revolutionary ideas were just starting to emerge, people could look to two sources of information in order to justify their radical ideas: the Bible and John Locke. The Bible told stories of an unjust King in Israel and how he was overthrown when he imposed unfair taxes on his people. This allowed the colonists to believe God was on their side, and that he supported what they were doing: rebelling against unjust laws. The colonists also looked to another man for ideas on revolution, an Enlightenment philosopher named John Locke. Ironically enough, Locke, one of the most important men in prompting the Americans to revolt against England, was English himself. An extremely influential man, he argued that humans had “natural rights” to life, liberty, and property. If the government at any point took these natural rights away from the people, it was not only acceptable, but considered the people’s duty to rebel. Traces of Locke’s ideas can still be seen in the Declaration of Independence, which states every man has the natural right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The restriction of civil liberties by the British on the Americans was another factor that prompted the revolution in 1776. The glaring example in this case would be the Mutiny (Quartering) Act of 1765. In this act, the colonists were forced to assist in maintaining and providing quarters for the British Army. In modern times, this could be deemed completely unconstitutional; however, there existed no constitution during the times of the Quartering Act. The fact that there was a strong resentment towards the British by the colonists would be an understatement. When they were obliged to live with the people they resented, a spirit of revolution was evoked. There already existed strong feelings of resentment towards England due to the Currency Act of 1764. This unjust act took away the colonial assembly’s ability to issue paper money, as well as to retire all paper money currently in circulation. These revolutionary ideas were awoken once again, when in 1767, Townshend suspended the New York Assembly. His justification for suspending the Assembly was “a reaction to the colonist’s inability to follow the Quartering Act”. The Americans were infuriated when they rebelled before in hopes of reform, they instead received more oppression and restriction of civil liberties from England. If these factors had not intersected in the ways that they did, the Americans would most likely not have rebelled in 1776. First, they needed to have a spirit of revolution in their minds, which was provided to them by John Locke and then was justified religiously by the Bible. Second, Britain had to take measures that would instigate and anger the people. They did this when they restricted their civil liberties in various Acts. Finally, there had to be measures taken that were so oppressive and unjust that it would unify the Americans to rebel against Britain, which happened when Britain taxed without their consent, and ultimately, when they crossed the line and killed innocent Bostonians in protest.

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