American Heritage Created by the Revolutionary War Years

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American Heritage Created by the Revolutionary War Years
After the end of the Seven Years War (manifested in the colonies as the French and Indian War) between Great Britain and France in 1763, the British needed a way to finance their war debt. Its own inhabitants already overtaxed, Britain looked to the prosperous American colonies as a potential source of revenue. Under a policy of salutary neglect, the colonists had been allowed to live in relative peace and self-government since they were first established during the seventeenth and early eighteenth century. However, in the years following 1763, Parliament, with the support of King George III, passed a string of regulatory and revenue generating measures became law. The most notable of these acts, the Sugar Act (1764) and the Stamp Act (1765) significantly affected the colonies' economies and thus aroused the ire of many colonists and colonial assemblies. However, more offensive to the colonists was the fact that these acts were administered and enforced by a corrupt legal system of British admiralty courts operating without juries. The first signs of colonial resistance sprung up in the state legislatures, many of which adopted resolutions decrying the unjust and arbitrary practices endorsed by the British Parliament. Soon popular resistance to British rule became commonplace throughout the New England colonies, in the form of mob violence and demonstrations organized by the patriotic group, the Sons of Liberty.

The colonies had developed in relative isolation from each other, each with its own distinctive character and government. Faced with the popular objection to British policies that affected all colonies, however, they began to show signs of unity. Representatives of nine colonies came together to the Stamp Act Congress in October of 1765, where they passed resolutions denying the British Parliament's power to enact internal taxes within the colonies and to sanction trials without a jury. After months of coordinated resistance and boycotts, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act. The ensuing peace between Britain and the American colonies was tenuous. However, there seemed little reason to fear the outbreak of revolution.

Between 1767 and 1773, Parliament destroyed that tenuous peace by pursuing a confrontational policy toward the American colonies. In an act of defiance, Prime Minister Charles Townshend imposed the so-called Townshend Duties, which taxed imports coming into the colonies. Many American colonies responded with a policy of non-importation of British goods, dealing the British economy a serious blow. Scattered violence erupted throughout the colonies over the next few years: in Boston on March 5, 1770 when British soldiers killed five colonials in the Boston Massacre, and in Rhode Island on June 9, 1772, where colonists burned the Gaspee, a customs ship that had run aground. Amid these smaller conflicts, the chain reaction of policy and military decisions, which would lead to revolution, began in 1773. By 1775, full-fledged military conflict had begun and continued until 1781.

When the revolution was over, it left an infant country on an unstable continent to form a government based on the principles that had guided the revolution. There were many valid ideas on the formation of the state, and the colonists set about deciding which were best suited to the governing of the newly free nation. The immediate consequence of the revolution was more than a decade of state building. During this period, American leaders debated how best to build a government that would right the wrongs they had seen in the British government and embody the values of liberty, equality and democracy.

The events leading up to and during the revolution were very much on the minds of the leaders who constructed the American government in the late eighteenth century. Those events have remained on the minds of the American people throughout the nation's short history. No historical event is as celebrated, no time period more revered than the American Revolution and the birth of the nation. The American people have consistently looked to the revolution in developing their ideas about patriotism, liberty, and equality. The struggle for national sovereignty has become a formative legend incorporated into the American belief system, and the goals for which the patriots struggled have become embedded in the American dream of power for the powerless. 1776 stands more starkly in the history of the United States than any other year.

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