Monday, December 03, 2007
Notes on the causes and beginning of the American Revolution for the comparison report
The American Revolution refers to the period during the last half of the 18th century in which the Thirteen Colonies that became the United States of America gained independence from the British Empire.
In this period, the Colonies united against the British Empire and entered a period of armed conflict known as the Revolutionary War or as the American War of Independence, between 1775 and 1783. This culminated in an American Declaration of Independence in 1776, and victory on the battlefield circa 1781.
France played a key role in aiding the revolution, providing the American patriots with money and munitions, organizing a coalition against Britain, and sending an army and a fleet that played a decisive role at the battle that effectively ended the war at Yorktown.
The Americans, however, were heavily influenced by the ideas of the enlightenment philosophers, being against absolute monarchy, and did not see the French form of government as a model.
The American Revolution included a series of broad intellectual and social shifts that occurred in the early American society, such as the new republican ideals that took hold in the American population. In some colonies, sharp political debates broke out over the role of democracy in government. The American shift to republicanism, as well as the gradually expanding democracy, caused an upheaval of the traditional social hierarchy, and created the ethic that formed the core of American political values.
The revolutionary era began in 1763, when the military threat to the English colonies from France ended. Adopting the view that the colonies should pay a substantial portion of the costs of defending them, Britain imposed a series of taxes which proved unpopular and, because the colonies lacked elected representation in the governing British Parliament, many colonists considered the laws to be illegitimate. After protests in Boston, the British sent combat troops, the Americans mobilized their militia, and fighting broke out in 1775. Although Loyalists were about 15-20% of the population, throughout the war the Patriots generally controlled 80-90% of the territory; the British could only hold a few coastal cities. In 1776, representatives of the 13 colonies voted unanimously to adopt a Declaration of Independence, by which they established the United States of America. The Americans formed an alliance with France in 1778 that evened the military and naval strengths. Two main British armies were captured at Saratoga in 1777 and Yorktown in 1781, leading to peace with the Treaty of Paris in 1783.
No Taxation without Representation
By 1763, Great Britain possessed vast holdings in North America. In addition to the thirteen colonies, twenty two smaller colonies were ruled directly by royal governors. Victory in the Seven Years' War had given Great Britain New France (Canada), Spanish Florida, and the Native American lands east of the Mississippi River. In 1765, the colonists still considered themselves loyal subjects of the British Crown, with the same historic rights and obligations as subjects in Britain.
The British government determined to tax its American possessions, primarily to help pay for its defense of North America from the French in the Seven Year War. The problem for many American colonists was not that taxes were high (the taxes were actually quite low, particularly compared with those paid by ordinary citizens of Britain), but that the colonies were not consulted about the new taxes, as they had no representation in Parliament. The phrase "No Taxation without Representation" became popular in many American circles. London argued that the Americans were represented "virtually"; but most Americans rejected the theory that men in London, who knew nothing about their needs and conditions, could represent them.
In theory, Great Britain already regulated the economies of the colonies through the Navigation Acts according to the doctrines of mercantilism, which said that anything that benefited the Empire (and hurt other empires) was good policy. Widespread evasion of these laws had long been tolerated. Now, through the use of open-ended search warrants (Writs of Assistance), strict enforcement of these Acts became the practice. In 1761, Massachusetts lawyer James Otis argued that the writs violated the constitutional rights of the colonists. He lost the case, but John Adams later wrote, "American independence was then and there born."
In 1762, Patrick Henry argued the Parson's Cause in Virginia, where the legislature had passed a law and it was vetoed by the King. Henry argued, "that a King, by disallowing Acts of this salutary nature, from being the father of his people, degenerated into a Tyrant and forfeits all right to his subjects' obedience."
1765: Stamp Act unites the Colonies in protest
In 1764, Parliament enacted the Sugar Act and the Currency Act, further vexing the colonists. Protests led to a powerful new weapon, the systemic boycott of British goods. The British pushed the colonists even further that same year by also enacting the Quartering Act, which stated that British soldiers were to be cared for by residents in certain areas. In 1765 the Stamp Act was the first direct tax ever levied by Parliament on the colonies. All newspapers, almanacs, pamphlets and official documents - even decks of playing cards - were required to have the stamps. All 13 colonies protested vehemently, as popular leaders such as Patrick Henry in Virginia and James Otis in Massachusetts, rallied the people in opposition. A secret group, the "Sons of Liberty" formed in many towns and threatened violence if anyone sold the stamps, and no one did. In Boston, the Sons of Liberty burned the records of the vice-admiralty court and looted the elegant home of the chief justice, Thomas Hutchinson. Several legislatures called for united action, and nine colonies sent delegates to the Stamp Act Congress in New York City in October, 1765. Moderates led by John Dickinson drew up a "Declaration of Rights and Grievances" stating that taxes passed without representation violated ancient rights. Lending weight to the argument was an economic boycott of British merchandise, as imports into the colonies fell from £2,250,000 in 1764 to £1,944,000 in 1765. In London, the Rockingham government came to power and Parliament debated whether to repeal the stamp tax or send an army to enforce it. Benjamin Franklin eloquently made the American case, explaining the colonies had spent heavily in manpower, money and blood in defense of the empire in a series of wars against the French and Indians, and that further taxes to pay for those wars was unjust and might bring about a rebellion. Parliament agreed and repealed the tax, but in a "Declaratory Act" of March 1766 insisted that parliament retained full power to make laws for the colonies "in all cases whatsoever."
Main articles: Boston Massacre and Boston Tea Party
In Boston on March 5, 1770, a large mob gathered around a group of British soldiers. The mob grew more and more threatening, throwing snowballs and debris at the soldiers. In the confusion, all but one of the soldiers fired into the crowd. Eleven people were hit; five died of their wounds.
The event quickly came to be called the Boston Massacre. Exaggerated and widespread descriptions of the massacre began to turn colonial sentiment against the British. The event also began a downward spiral in the relationship between Britain and the colonies, especially Massachusetts.
In 1767, the British government had passed the Townshend Acts, which placed a tax on a number of essential goods including paper, glass and tea. Angered at the tax increases, colonists organized a boycott of British goods. On December 16, 1773, a group of men, led by Samuel Adams and disguised as Mohawk Indians, boarded the ships of British tea merchants and dumped an estimated £10,000 worth of tea on board into the harbor. This event became known as the Boston Tea Party and remains a significant part of American patriotic lore, despite the fact that the cause was a reduction in duty (from a shilling to 3 pence) and not an increase.
The British government responded by passing several acts which came to be known as the Intolerable Acts and included, among other measures, the closure of Boston Harbor until the colony identified the tea merchants whose wares had been destroyed. Needless to say, the Intolerable Acts further darkened colonial opinion towards the British.
Liberalism and republicanism
John Locke's ideas on liberalism greatly influenced the political minds behind the revolution; for instance, his theory of the "social contract" implied the natural right of the people to overthrow their leaders, should those leaders betray the historic rights of Englishmen. Historians find little trace of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's influence in America. In terms of writing state and national constitutions, the Americans used Montesquieu's analysis of the ideally "balanced" British Constitution.
A motivating force behind the revolution was the American embrace of a political ideology called "republicanism", which was dominant in the colonies by 1775. The "country party" in Britain, whose critique of British government emphasized that corruption was to be feared, influenced American politicians. The colonists associated the "court" with luxury and inherited aristocracy, which Americans increasingly condemned. Corruption was the greatest possible evil, and civic virtue required men to put civic duty ahead of their personal desires. Men had a civic duty to fight for their country. For women, "republican motherhood" became the ideal, exemplified by Abigail Adams and Mercy Otis Warren; the first duty of the republican woman was to instill republican values in her children and to avoid luxury and ostentation. The "Founding Fathers" were strong advocates of republicanism, especially Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams