PinkMonkey Study Guide - American History
3. 1 Causes of the Revolution
British attempts to establish a strong imperialist
rule in the new colonies backfired. In the long run it served to
unite the 13 colonies against the Empire in London.
By the mid 1700s, through a series of military
victories, England removed the French and Spanish threats in America.
The wars with Spain and France had doubled the war debts. So the
king decided that the colonies should also contribute by paying
more taxes so as to relieve England of the burden of debt. This
was done by a strict enforcement of the Navigation Acts.
Meanwhile, with the removal of the French control
in the west of America, there was a greater need for an alternative,
but stricter administration. Moreover, the relations between the
Red Indians and the White traders required to be managed. This was
chiefly due to an Indian uprising (led by Chief Pontiac) against
the British. This Indian tribe was sympathetic to the French. The
uprising was crushed after two years of bloodshed. The result was
that it drained the British treasury again. In 1763, a Royal Proclamation
barred whites from all lands, west of the Appalachians - which was
given exclusively for the Indians. Moreover, the trade of fur was
further regulated by making it necessary for only licensed traders
to buy and sell fur. This was greatly resented by traders and speculators
in the New World.
And as if this were not enough, the British Parliament
passed a series of laws, to raise custom revenue. This was done
under the Revenue Act (1764). This was followed by the Stamp
Act (1765) which was an internal tax. This law taxed newspapers,
almanacs, pamphlets, legal documents, insurance policies, etc. The
taxes had to be paid in the form of a stamp, purchased from the
collectors (to be appointed from among the colonies) and affixed
on the particular item or document. Through this Act, the Grenville
Ministry in England hoped to raise 60,000/- Pounds as revenue.
This greatly angered the colonies. Writing about
the act, a jurist from New York, William Smith said: With
a "single stroke," Britain had "lost...the affection
of all her colonies." The House of Burgesses in Virginia, criticized
King George III for the new legislation. The members later passed
a resolution condemning the act and stated that the right to tax
should remain in the hands of the people or their representatives.
Soon similar resolutions were adopted by other colonies too.
The assembly at Massachusetts, called the Massachusetts
General Court went a step further. The General court invited
representatives from all the colonies to meet and decide on a joint
program, opposing the Act. This invitation which was accepted by
all the colonies, can be considered the first step towards the unification
of the scattered settlements in America.
Meanwhile, in Boston, a group called the íSons
of Libertyí started burning effigies of the new tax commissioner
to protest against the new tax. These protests often took a violent
form damaging property etc. Several prominent leaders frowned upon
the "Patriots" (name given to people who were opposed
to the tax) like John Adams and Joshiah Quincy.
The meeting of the delegates from colonies called
the Stamp Act Congress was held in October 1765. They prepared a
joint declaration asserting that such taxes cannot be imposed on
people without them consent. Further they demanded that these taxes,
which affected American trade, must be repealed.
The feelings against the Act were so strong that
some 200 merchants from New York decided to take new orders for
British goods only if the Stamp Act was canceled. Other traders
later joined these merchants in Boston, Salem, Philadelphia and
other ports. Due to such a stiff opposition, the parliament in England
was forced to repeal the Stamp Act in 1766. But the Americans could
not rejoice for long.
In London, a new ministry came into office in 1767.
It pledged to reduce land taxes in Britain. To make up for the lost
revenue, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Charles Townshend, formulated
the Townshend Act. Under this Act, Britain was to levy duties on
tea, paper, paint, glass, lead etc. Quartering Act (1765)
which required the colonies to provide the British troops in America
with barracks and items like candles, utensils, beer/ cider or rum,
etc. were already quite unpopular. The duties under the Townshend
Act, caused widespread protests everywhere in the American colonies.
The Massachusetts legislature issued a circular,
which declared that only their own assemblies should tax the colonies.
The Virginia Burgesses supported the views expressed in the circular,
by passing a resolution based on a similar idea. Prominent American
leaders like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson favored this
Several pamphlets were brought out to make the
common American aware of these tyrannical tax legislationís imposed
on them. These leaflets demanded more freedom for colonies, but
did not speak about breaking away from the mother Country. The most
moving statement made on the subject was John Dickinsonís - Letters
of a Pennsylvania Farmer. A lawyer from Philadelphia, Dickinson,
in his Letters posed as a simple Pennsylvanian, warned the
Americans against violence and expressed deep affection for "mother
Britain." On the issue of taxation, he very firmly stated:
"we cannot be free without being secure in our property
that we cannot be secure in our property, if without our concert
others may as by right take it away that taxes imposed on us by
parliament do thus take it away."
Such pamphlets convinced the Americans that external
taxation (on trade and commerce) to regulate overseas trade was
valid. Taxes imposed to generate revenue without the consent of
the people are an attack on their natural rights. Owing to this,
emotions ran high against the Acts in the colonies, especially against
the British army stationed there. These feelings reached their climax
with a violent incident involving some British soldiers and American
civilians. The incident, now known as the Boston Massacre
sent shockwaves throughout the colonies.