British Incompetence

Essay add: 30-09-2015, 11:27   /   Views: 456
The haphazard and disorganized British rule of the American colonies in the decade prior to the outbreak led to the Revolutionary War. The mishandling 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 British to a much greater magnitude than the colonists; all demonstrate British negligence and incompetence in terms of colonial management. These policies and distractions play a fundamental role in the development of the Revolutionary War.

British interests regarding the colonies were self-centered. Through the employment of the mercantilist system the English exploited colonial trade. This system was not utilized entirely for its commercial advantages, but also as a means of governing the colonies. Mercantilism is when the state directs all the economic activities from within its own borders. England was the sole beneficiary of this commercial policy, and did not intend to make any alterations that would in turn aid the colonies. Due to such restrictive policies the colonies were compelled to internal trade. The English further abused their power in the colonies by stipulating that the colonies import more from England then they exported to the colonies. Such a mode of trade involved the importation of raw materials from the colonies and the exportation of finished goods from England. The final product was then distributed on an international scale to foreign markets such as the colonies. Throughout the seventeenth century the English saw America as an abundant supply of raw materials, which were not available at home, and moreover as a market to sell finished products. This proved to be detrimental to the colonies’ well being because it made them reliant on British trade. The transitory Navigation Acts between 1651 and 1673 later reinforced the mercantilist ideal, which consequently made Britain the nucleus of American trade. With the passing of the Navigation Acts, much disapproval followed, for this policy limited the colonies to exclusive trade with Britain as its focal point, putting pressure on the lucrative smuggling industry already established amongst many, if not all the colonies.

In addition to the discord caused by the repressive mercantilist policies, domestic political issues sidetracked the British from the activities of the colonies. Throughout the seventeenth century, Great Britain was more concerned with trying to solve the Constitutional issue of who was to have more power in the English government, the king or parliament, that 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 Americans.

England did not possess an administrative center devoted to regulating the behavior of the colonies from overseas. 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 was more familiar with the activities of colonies than any other governing body in England, did not have the power to make decisions or to enforce decrees. Due to the distractions of complex constitutional issues and ineffective governmental organization, the colonists’ felt further alienated from their English counterparts.

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. The situation became worse with the momentous victory over the French and Indians in the Seven Years War. Yet, unwelcome British troops remained in the colonies. This raised suspicions in the colonies of a possible British take over. In 1763, the colonists were shocked to hear that England set up a proclamation refraining colonials from settling beyond the Appalachian Mountains. The British thought it would prevent any further confrontation with the Indians, but instead they were confronted by American hostility. Once again the British did not reflect on colonists’ reaction. “The Americans felt that they had given considerable help in conquering America from the French, and were furious at being told that they must not enter the promised land (Adams, 105).” Following this triumphant win, debts regarding the expenditure of the battle were abysmal. The outstanding payments from this war caused the Prime Minister at the time, Lord Grenville, to enforce Mercantilism as a means of compelling the colonists to pay their share of the national debt. He decided to impose the Sugar and Currency Acts, which “secured some custom revenue” (Adams, 105) and allowed new levies on foreign imports in to the colonies as well as interdiction of colonial manufactured paper money. They protested, but with little effect. This was the first of many repressive acts to be impressed upon the American people.

England passed many Acts concerning (direct or indirect) taxation that were injudicious. These policies had long-term effects on the relationship between England and the colonies. The most controversial form of taxation was 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 Americans had felt the taxes of Lord Grenville were a deliberate aim to divest the colonists by refusing them the rights of the English. The idea of self-imposed taxation caused an upheaval among the colonists. The American people now had to decipher 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. The colonists believed that this new tax was not legitimate and therefore there was strong opposition to it throughout the colonies. After a commotion stirred up by Patrick Henry, James Otis, the Sons of Liberty, Parliament felt it necessary that the Act be repealed. Although the colonists were unaware at the time, this was a major step for the colonies in their quest for their identity.

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. 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. That attitude would eventually be their downfall.

In 1767, the Townshend Acts were passed. They placed primary emphasis on the taxation of 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.

The political scene in England was intertwined with corruption. British officials sent to the colonies were often bribe-taking politicians that did not have the intelligence to hold government positions in England. Following Grenville and Townshend, the most inept was Lord North, who became Prime Minister in 1770 after the death of Charles Townshend, coincidentally, the same year the Townshend duties had been repealed. It was on that very day that British soldiers, in the well-known event called the Boston Massacre, killed five Americans. North was the type of politician George III had been looking for: a plodding, tenacious, assiduous operator, that was neither a fool nor a genius, much like the king himself. Despite the opposition of more able men, he remained at the head of the government for the next twelve years. Corruption and ineptitude among governing politicians often made their rule over the colonies unproductive.

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 (Corrigan). 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. The colonials were now becoming impatient with the British, and were finding it difficult to avoid radical sentiment. Independence lingered in their minds, but as of yet was not crucial.

In 1774, the Coercive Acts otherwise known as the Intolerable Acts were passed. They were passed as a means of reprimanding the Bostonians for the Boston Tea Party. The people of Boston were upset because both the innocent and the guilty were being punished equally. 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 officer considered it necessary. The Administration of Justice Act stated that, any government or customs officer indicted for murder could be tried in England, beyond the control of the colonies without a jury. The Quebec Act was not intended to reprimand the colonists, but 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 both, French and English law. But the Quebec Act actually angered the colonists because the colonists living in Quebec have rights that many Americans felt they were being taken away. Samuel Adams best expressed the reaction of the colonials, “the natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and to be under the will legislative authority of man, but only to have the law of nature for his rule (Adams, 108).”

During these years of ineffective rule, the causes of the Revolutionary War emerged. The colonists’ moves toward religious and commercial autonomy were overlooked while England dealt with the Seven Years War and other domestic political crises. The laws and policies enacted were self-serving, causing the colonists to vigorously resist and try to avoid British authority. The institution of oppressive policies such as the Intolerable Acts and the Stamp Act, detonated the American liberal temperament. All these factors highlighted the differences and miscalculations of the British, which paved the way for the Revolutionary War, the American struggle for emancipation.

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