How England Instigated the Revolutionary War
Before 1763, the only British laws that truly affected the colonists were the Navigation Acts, which monitored the colony's trade so that it traded solely with England. As this law was not rigidly enforced, the colonists accepted it with little fuss. The colonies also accepted England's right to monitor trade. The change of course in 1767 was what really riled the colonists. England began to slowly tighten its imperial grip to avoid a large reaction from the colonists. Additional problems began when England passed the Writs of Assistance, which gave British officials the right to seize illegal goods, and to examine any building or ship without proof of cause (The American Revolution, pg.62). This was a powerful weapon against smuggling, but most importantly to the Colonists; it allowed the invasion of their privacy. This was crossing the line and violating the rights of an English man. During the Seven Years War, the British sent over ten thousand troops to America to deal with property problems at the frontier. This cost a large amount of money, and Britain did not want to see the sum come out of its own pocket. To pay for some of the expense, Britain began to pass acts to tax the colonists and lighten the severe debt the empire was in.
The Sugar Act of 1764 was an example of a tax that had many affects on the Colonial lifestyle. The act stated that any foreign exportation of lumber or skin had to first land in Britain. It also raised the price of imported sugar from the Indies (The American Revolution, pg.74). This act was accompanied by a strict enforcing of the former Navigation Acts due to the sudden increase of smuggling. This enhanced the tension between England and the New World. "The law also changed trials for offenders; they were held away from the place of the crime, and the judge was awarded 5% of confiscated goods, increasing the number of guilty sentences handed down (The American Revolution: War for Independence, pg. 96)." In reality, the laws were so regulated it was hard not to make an error. The Quartering Act in 1765 was a burden to all the colonists; it required certain colonies to provide food and housing to the British Troops on demand (The American Revolution, pg.102). This was viewed by many as an indirect tax, though an inexpensive one.
While the previously passed laws caused some protest, the one that brought out the most public opposition was the Stamp Act in 1765. The Sugar Act had failed to produce enough money, and Parliament was forced to pass the Stamp Act. The Act stated that all Americans must used specially stamped paper for printing bills, legal documents, even playing cards (The American Revolution: War for Independence, pg. 103). England saw these taxes as reasonable; after all, the Americans were merely paying for the soldiers in their colonies, a measure for their safety. As Americans did not deem the soldier's presence as necessary in the New World, obviously they despised the tax. And worst of all, these taxes were decreed without any word from an American, as there was no representative for the New World in the British parliament. Americans believed it was understandable for the British to legislate when the subject involved the Empire as a whole, such as trade, but only Colonists could tax colonists, not the British government, 3,000 miles away and deaf to the American views. The Prime Minister claimed that the Colonists were "virtually represented" in parliament: each member stood for the empire as a whole (The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, pg.57). The Colonists disagreed because they believed that Parliament did not care about or understand them and therefore did not have the American people's best interest at heart. The acts imposed by England to try to control and monitor America only succeeded in furthering its independence. The Colonists were left with two options as a result of the Stamp Act, neither of which were very appealing; either confront parliament, and risk a fight with the much larger and more powerful mother land of England, or succumb to the act without complaining and possibly give up the right to self govern for good.
The Colonists founded many groups, among them, the Sons and Daughters of Liberty, whose soul purpose was to intimidate the officials, who mandated the Stamp Act, into quitting (The American Revolution, pg.97). They rightfully assumed that if the officials who issued the act resigned the act would be terminated. In 1765, the Stamp Act Congress met and decided that Parliament can not tax the colonists or deny their right to a trial by jury (The American Revolution, pg.97). This Congress was the first step towards colonial unity. The congress, led by the elite upper class, was careful to control the rebellion; thereby, not having to send costly troops to maintain peace.
Merchants of the colonies began to boycott British goods, and as they constituted 45% of Britain's consumer population, this made a large impact in England (The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, pg.73). The business community appealed to parliament to repeal the stamp act or have all the merchants go bankrupt. In March of 1766, the Stamp Act was revoked, marking the first victory in the long journey to America's independence. But, it was a small one and this was not to be the end of the struggle. In its place, the Declaratory Act was placed. It was a subtly worded act, which confirmed Parliament's right to legislate over the colonies always and in all cases (A History of the American Revolution, pg.154). The Americans interpreted this in a positive way and did not rebel, viewing it as unimportant. "The British Parliament had meant it literally: the Colonists had no more excuses and had to obey all laws passed by Parliament, including taxes (A History of the American Revolution, pg.154)" The colonists wanted to forget about all the troubles from the past, and were grateful for the repeal of the Stamp Act. They believed their rebellion had made Britain realize their vitality to the empire and all the anti-act groups disbanded. As time wore on the colonists gradually began to realize that the purpose of the acts were to undermine their right to self-govern.
In 1766, a new Prime Minister, William Pitt, was appointed who opposed taxing the colonies. His health was poor, and his duties were soon taken over by former treasurer Charles Townshend. He had been a former follower of Pitt, but when he controlled the power, he began to urge parliament to tax the colonies. Protest to the Quartering Act caused much hostility in parliament, who believed the repeal of the Stamp Act was gift enough to the Americans. Townshend was so angry at the protest that he passed the Suspending act, which nullified all acts from New York after October 1st if they refuse to pay their expenses for the soldiers (A History of the American Revolution, pg.156). The building tension would soon undermine the colony's loyalty to England. At this point, one of the most important weapons America held in the government was that it paid the salaries. Townshend proposed a series of acts be passed, known as the Townshend Duties. There was a light tax on glass, paint, paper and tea and the revenue collected would pay the salary of the governors in the colonies. The purpose of this was to switch the control of the Colonial Government into the hands of England. The colonists abhorred the act, as it was merely another effort to control them. The fact still remained they were being taxed without representation. Despite their objections, there was little objection at the time, for the tax was light and tea was easily smuggled.
In 1768, to control the outbreak against order, two regiments of troops were landed in Boston. In 1770, the Boston Massacre took place, in which six Colonists were killed after provoking a group of soldiers. This was arguably the first blood spilled in the name of the American Revolution. More and more British Soldiers were sent to America to enforce the Navigation act, to the continued irritation of the Colonists. Committees were established to promote opposition to England and its Intolerable Acts. Letters were written to rile the colonies into shunning the acts, and Great Britain, seeing it as the beginnings of a rebellion, ordered all colonies to disown the letters (The American Revolution: War for Independence, pg. 128). When the colonies refused, England insisted the Royal Governors disband the legislatures, which they did. This spurred the Colonies to band together against this threat to self-government and taxation without representation. The colonies also refused to import British goods, urging the British merchants to place pressure on parliament to repeal the Townshend Duties.
In 1770, a new Prime Minister, Lord North, was elected and he disbanded the Townshend Duties but kept the tax on tea (The American Revolution, pg.163). In 1770 there was a drastic change in the arguments made by the colonists. "The cry of the colonists no longer sounded no taxation without representation, but no legislation without representation (The American Revolution, pg163)". This change was a result of some 1,700 troops being sent into Boston. Mere military presence provoked the people. By 1773, almost all British loyalty had dwindled dangerously low in the Colonies. The Americans were completely ignoring the tea tax, merely smuggling in foreign tea. Despite the cancellation of many acts, in reality no constitutional problems had been resolved. The Colonies had been collecting muskets and various weapons and storing them in Concord, Massachusetts, awaiting the inevitable war between themselves and Britain. A group, consisting of 130 minutemen, were organized as a defensive force against an advancing 800 British soldiers. Eight Americans were killed and several wounded. This is known as the Battle of Lexington, the first battle in an eight-year war between the colonist and Britain (American: Pathways to the Present, pg.98).
In January of 1776, Thomas Payne published Common Sense, a letter that stated that kingship is dangerous to liberty and it is undemocratic. It basically stated that all Americans should disown the king. At this point the Americans were ready for a full-fledged revolution.
The road to revolution was irreversible when the Stamp Act was passed. It was at this point that the different views of the Americans and the British really began to show through. When this happened, the Americans had already developed such a sense of independence that nothing the British could have done could have destroyed it. Once this self-reliance was obtained there was nothing the British could do to repress it. The road to the American Revolution was long and difficult. Britain insisted on passing act after act to tax the colonies and ruin their devotion to the crown. Through all of the trouble the acts caused, it pushed the colonies into merging with each other. Once together as a whole, the colonies were able to develop their own individuality and defeat the British army for their independence.
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