11 main causes of the American revolution – War for Independence

Ever since the Treaty of Paris the efforts of British Government to raise revenue and establish stringent control over colonies had been a cause of surging discontent among the colonists. The colonists protested and a result was a conflict in which the British were forced out of that territory. The main causes leading to the fateful episode were as under:

1. Attitude of Americans:

The people who lived in the eighteenth cen­tury America were not the same as those who had migrated from England in the seventeenth century. They were from a different England. In the middle of the eighteenth century America had developed on different lines. The America had been settled by dissenters and radicals and the descendants of these had inherited the spirit of liberty.

Most of the colonists had been driven from England or other European countries because of religious policies. The paupers, unemployed, convicts had also come to settle in America. They had little love for the mother country. Now when more than a century had passed, America was a better home for them than Europe.

They were enjoying in America more freedom than they could enjoy in Europe. In religious matters they were tolerated and this had made them loyal to the land they lived on. The English institutions transplanted to America in the early seventeenth century had also developed along different lines, due to different social, political and economic conditions. The result was that the two people had grown apart unconsciously to such an extent that they failed to understand each other.

2. Attitude of the British:

The British believed that America was their colony and the colonists being English natives were there to serve their mother country as a good mistress. For that purpose the government in the colonies was brought under royal control. Virgina was made royal colony in 1624, New Hampshire in 1679, Plymouth in 1684, New York in 1685, New Jersey in 1702, North Carolina and South Carolina in 1729 and Georgia in 1752.

The Governors and the military commanders of all these colonies were appointed by the British Government. The Governors were vested with vast powers, the laws could be vetoed by the King, the constitutional matters were to be decided by the Privy Council. Thus imperial control was being increased to exploit the colonies to their advan­tage. On the other hand, some of the colonies tried to have control over the purse.

Virgina, New York, New Jeresy, Pennsylvania and Carolina got these powers between 1703 and 1750. Thus there was a great advance towards self-government. The assemblies asserted themselves and their committees started acting as cabinets. In a number of assemblies notably those of Massachussetts, New York, Virgina, and North Carolina self- constituted informal committees consisting of leaders in the legislature assumed control of government.

Thus the American view was that they should manage their affairs in their own way. It was a contest between the imperialism and colonial home role.

3. Mercantilism and Navigation Acts:

The principle of British Supremacy and mercantilism was very much insisted upon in England. According to these principles, the colonies existed merely to serve the mother country. Colonies were to be kept fully controlled to provide the "raw materials and supplies which could not be produced at home and serve as markets for finished goods. Furthermore, mercantilism was against the establishment of self-government for colonies.

The other objective was to harm the trade of other nations. This led to the passage of a large number of Navigation Acts. Navigation Act of 1651 provided that all goods entering England must be carried in ships owned or manned by British subjects. This adversely affected the Dutch interests.

Enumerated Commodities Act of 1660 provided that English colonies shall not export certain commodities such as sugar, tobacco, cotton, indigo and dyes to any country except England or other English colonies. In 1706 and 1722 the list of these items was further expanded.

The Staple Act of 1663 provided that all European exports into American colonies must be brought into English ports and then be reshipped after the payment of duty. The Duty Act of 1673 aimed at enforcement of all earlier Act through Customs Collectors. The Enforce­ment Act of 1696 provided stringent measures to check smuggling and this necessitated registration of all colonial ships. The Act also authorized Customs Officials to search ships and Warehouses and to seize unlawful goods.

The colonists regarded all these measures to be against their interests and resented them. The Molasses Act also hit the colonists a great deal. The Molasses Act 1733 was designed to stop the importation of French West Indian Molasses into the English colonies. The colonists felt quite unhappy over his because they felt that England was hitting colonial trade for the sake of her selfish interests. Till 1758 the measures were not enforced strictly and the colonist did not feel its pinch. However, once the measures were strictly enforced, the colonists started detesting these measures.

4. British Restrictions on Manufacture:

Another factor which gave a further cause of resentment was the restriction on manufacture of certain items in colonies such as woollen goods, felts and other luxury items. The law provided that these goods must be imported from Britain. Hence the Woollen Act, the Hat Act and the Iron Act were bound to cause some resentment among the colonists.

5. Removal of French Danger:

By the Treaty of Paris the French influence from the northern and western America was eliminated. The French, along with some tribes of Indians, were a constant source of danger for the colonists and the colonists were always in need of protec­tion, which only their mother country could provide.

Since 1691 the colonists were constantly in the grip of warfare and were involved in various wars fought by the English sovereigns such as war of 1691-97 fought by King Williams, war of 1702-14 fought by Queen Anne, and war of 1745-48 fought by King George. In all these wars the colonists not only rendered financial help to mother country but also fought on the side of the British.

After the Seven Years War, the relations between England, and the colonies completely changed. Earlier the colonies were held in check because of the fear of a possible Anglo-French alliance against them. The Seven Years War revealed that the two countries stood quite apart. However, England failed to realize the gravity of the situation and the need of a new kind of policy towards the colonies.

The English regarded America still as a part of their empire which the Americans were not willing to concede. This convinced the Americans that the only way out was to part company with the mother country.

6. Policies of Grenvilie:

The war with France left a heavy financial burden on the Britishers. Britain wanted that the colonists should help her in paying off the huge debts incurred by her in defending the colonies. To raise the necessary money the British government resorted to new taxes-which were greatly resented by the colonists, and ultimately ended in the independence of the colonies.

(a) The Quartering Act (1765):

The Quartering Act provided for the quartering of British troops in the colonies who were to be provided with accommodation by the colonists in case the barracks were not available. The law also required the colonies to supply the troops with certain provi­sions. The burden of supporting the British soldiers wks thus to be shifted from English to the colonies. The colonies suspected that the Standing Army was meant to enforce the Stamp Act as well as to keep the colonists under awe.

(d) The Stamp Act (1765):

(i) The Act was passed in 1765 with a view to raise revenue from the official documents (newspapers, alamanacs, licences, deeds, bonds, leases and pamphlets). All these were to bear Stamp showing that a tax on them had been paid. This method was adopted to get money to meet the expenditure to be incurred on the additional troops to be quartered in the colonies.

The Stamp Act was to yield a revenue of 100,000 pounds a year which was about one-third of the total revenue collected from the colonies. Earlier methods of requisition­ing money from colonies was given up and direct method was resorted to.

This Act was modelled on law then in force in Britain, which required legal documents and official papers to be written on standard paper. The law provided for a Stamp Office in London, an Inspector for each colonial district, and a Stamp Distributor for each colony.

(ii) The Colonial Protest:

The very passage of the Stamp Act resulted in stormy protests from the colonies. Many felt that taxation for revenue would threaten foundations of colonial self-government. Merchants, law- yers, ministers, legislatures and editors, all joined hands and expressed strong opposition to this Act.

On the question of taxation the plea was that only colonies were competent to impose taxes for revenue purpose. The opposition to the Act was expressed in all the colonies. Massachussets was first to begin with formal action against the Act and appealed to the delegates of the House of Representatives of various colonies to meet and ' formulate protest against the Act. In Virginia a set of resolutions were passed against the Act.

(iii) Stamp Act and Congress:

In October 1765, nine states- Massachussetss, Rhode Islands, Connecticut, New York, New Jeresy, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, South Carolina-sent delgates to New York in response to the call given by Masachussets to formulate policy to protest against the Stamp Act. This was the first meeting to take con­certed action.

The Congress published a 'Declaration of Rights and Grievances', and sent petitions to the King, Lords and Commonss in Eng­land. In declaration, the Congress asserted that "it was an undoubted right of Englishman that no tax be imposted on them but with their own consent,, given personally or by their representatives". The delegates challenged the right of parliament to tax the colonies."

(iv) Sons of Liberty.

A political organization known as Sons of Liberty also opposed the measure. The name was first used in Connecticut where it spread to other colonies. This organization opposed both the Stamp and Act and the privileged 'classes in the colonies'.

In New York the Sons of Liberty prevented people from using stamps. They marched in the streets, shouting 'Liberty, Property and no Stamps'. They compelled the Stamp Officers to resign and pulled down the image of the King. The people even agreed not to import English goods.

Some of the statesmen in England sympathized and sided with the American colonists. They expressed that English people in America shall not be oppressed. Pitt, Burke, Fox etc. were some of the chief statesmen who argued that parliament had no right to tax the colonists. This expres­sion of the statesmen was the manifestation of the quarrel between Whigs and Tories in England.

(v) Repeal of the Stamp Act:

In 1766, Grenvilie, the Prime Minister of England, gave way to the mounting pressure. As the work in the colonies was going on as usual without stamps, no one cared for the Act. Customs Officers issued clearances; lawyers and Courts of Justice transacted their business without stamps.

The Act was to come in force from November 1, 1765. It remained nearly defunct. In March 1766, the British Parliament voted the repeal of the Stamp Act. It was an American victory and was celebrated in a grand manner by the colonists.

(b) Declaratory Act:

Almost at the same time the British Parliament passed another Act known as Declaratory Act. The object of the Act was to establish proper control over the colonies of America. One paragraph of the Act emphasized that: "the said colonies and plantations in America have been, are, and of right ought to be subordinate unto and dependent upon the Imperial Crown and Parliament of Great Britain."

The objective of the Act was to assert that the King and Parliament shall have full power and authority to make laws for the colonies. The colonists took little notice of the Act for they did not care for any Act as long as it was not enforced.

1. Townshend Programme:

As a result of boycott by the colonists to import British goods and repeal of Stamp Act. Grenvilie Ministry fell and Marques of Rockingham became the Prime Minister and appointed Char­les Townshend as the Chancellor of Exchequer. Due to the illness of Prime Minister, Townshend became the real leader and passed a number of measures which further estranged the relations between the colonists and England.

The import duty on molasses was reduced from 3 to 1 d. per gallon, but this was only one measure of conciliation. The measures which followed were aimed at further taxing the colonies. New import duties were imposed on paint, paper, glass and tea. The revenue received from these was to be used to pay the salaries of Judges, Governors and other royal officials in colones with the object of freeing them from dependence upon the colonial object of freeing them from dependence upon the colo­nial legislatures.

The customs service were also re-organized. Boston was made headquarter for entire North America. Courts of Vice Admirality were also set up at Boston, Philadelphia and Chariest own to try cases of smuggling. The Board of Customs Commissioners and other administra­tive machinery was put into gear for the effective collection of the revenue.

Townshend Ministry took up steps to enforce the existing laws. The New York Assembly refused to vote money for the troops quartered in that colony. This led to the Parliament's suspending the Assembly's Legislative powers. In doing so the main object was to assert the supremacy of the British Crown over the colonies in accordance with the declaratory Act. The assembly's suspension was not carried out as the assembly had passed the grant of money.

8. Resistance to Townshend Programme:

(a) Non-Importation.

The colonial leaders on She other hand organized themselves to resist the Townshed measures. They started putting economic pressure on English merchants and manufacturers.

The first agreement was signed at Boston to refuse purchase of certain items for England. Meanwhile John Dickinson wrote essay entitled Letter from a Fanner in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonics, in which he raised a constitutional issues and denied the right of the British Parliament to tax the colonies in order to raise revenue, and declared the Townshend duties unconstitutional.

He also criticized the suspension of the New York As­sembly as a blow to the liberties of all the colonies. In August the non- imposition agreement was signed by the Boston Merchants. In October, 1768 New York merchants adopted the same. In March, 1769 Philadelphia also adopted this policy and by the end of 1769 nearly all the colonies adopted the plan.

(b) Circular Letters:

In the meantime the colonial assemblies also took congnisance of the harsh Townshend Acts and started a wave of forma) protests. In Massachussets Samuel Adains prepared Circular Letter, in which he assailed the Townshend Acts as "infringement of their natural and constitutional rights".

The letter was sent to all the colonial assem­blies for endorsement. The assemblies of Maryland, South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia endorsed the circular. This resulted in fury of the King who ordered the dissolution of the assemblies of all these states for endorsing the letter.

(c) Boston Massacre:

In 1768 the British troops were sent to Boston to uphold the authority of the Board of Customs Commissioners. The radi­cals hated the troops and protested. But the troops remained there. On March 2, 1770, some of the Boston people provoked an altercation with soldiers on guard and this developed into a ding dong battle on March 4, 1770. A much larger crowd gathered and the dispute assumed serious character.

Captain Preston had, to order rescue of a solider who was knocked down by the rioters. This infuriated the soldiers who fired upon the crowd resulting in the death of three and injury to eight others. Cap­tain Preston and his seven men were tried but let off with light punish­ments. The incident created bitterness and ill-feeling between the people of Boston and the English soldiers.

The Boston Massacre, as it was called, was commemorated annually in Boston until 1780. Another incident which added to the embittered feelings was the burning of the Gaspee, a vessel of royal navy by the residents of Rhode Islands in 1772. The British" government appointed a special Commission to investigate the affair but no body gave clue or evidence. In view of the non-cooperation of the colonists, the Commission proved a failure.

9.Measures taken by Lord North:

In January 1770, Lord North became the Prime Minister of England and adopted measures to reconcile the colonists. But at the same time he believed that complete retreat would amount to demonstration of weakness. Therefore, he went for partial duties imposed during Townshed's tenure.' He retained duty on tea. During the next two years there was a comparative lull.

During the period of peace there were two schools of thought in American colonies-the Radicals and the Conservatives. The Radicals were always in the look for an opportunity to estrange relations with the Britishers. The Conservatives were interested in restoration of good feel­ings and wanted the people to forget the unpleasantness caused by the policies of Grenvilie and Townshend. By the end of 1770, the party alignments were clear.

The Radicals included some merchants, many lawyers, ship-workers, artisans, newspaper publishers and the advocates of independence. Samuel Adams was one of the leading Radical, the other being Charles Thomson in Pennsylvania, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in Virginia. As Compared to the Conservatives the Radicals were less in number. On the other hand, the Conservatives included some of the professional politicians, royal officials, merchants and a sizeable number of rural populations.

The withdrawal of the Townshed Acts by North had resulted in the virtual collapse of non-importation movement. The merchants were eager to give up the movement and resume trading. The Conservatives were fearful of Radicals and tried to uproot the Radicals.

In the election to Masschussetts House of Representatives, 1771, Samuel Adams and his party was defeated and Conservatives secured majority. Uptill 1773 it seemed that Radicals had lost ground. Samuel Adams tried his best to keep alive the agitation, which needed an organization. The result was the formation of the Committee of Correspondence in Boston in 1772. The next step was to form similar committees in other towns. By July 1773 almost every town in Massachusetts had its Committee of Correspon­dence. Within a year almost in all the colonies, except Pennsylvania and North Carolina, there were such committees.

10. Tea Act and Boston Tea Party:

B.y sarly 1772 the East India Company was on the verge of bankruptcy. The Company sought relief from the government. The government passed an Act known as Tea Act, which provided full revision of all import duties on tea to England and only 3 d. duty on tea imported in colonies of America. Thus Company got the monopoly of trade. The Company could undersell the»tea and the traders
were thus handicapped. In Philadelphia the Act was condemned by mer­chants who went over to the Radicals.

When the first tea consignment reached New York and Philadelphia, the ships were compelled to sail back to England. In Massachussetts the ships entered Boston Harbour. The consignees were two sons and one nephew of the Governor of Massachussetts.

The Governor was deter­mined that the ships be unloaded in spite of the demand from the people to return the ships to England. This attitude on the part of the Governor compelled the Radicals to adopt such measures, that Sons of Liberty disguised with painted faces as Indian boarded the vessels and threw over­board chasis of tea valued at 15,000 pounds. This precipitated the crisis.

11. The Intolerable Acts:

(i) The British Government on hearing the news of the Boston Tea Party, soon retaliated by passing a number of coercive Acts, to punish the town of Boston and the province of Massa­chussetts. The Boston Port Bill, provided for the closure of the port of Boston to all commerce until the province of Massachussetts had paid for the tea destroyed.

By Massachussetts Governments Act, the Royal Charter of 1691 was annulled. The members of the council were henceforth to be appointed by the Crown. The powers to make other appointments were vested in the Governor. The town meetings were forbidden and no meet­ing could be held without prior permission from the Governor. Further by the Administration of Justice Act any British official charged with a capital offence in enforcing the law was granted the right of a trial in England.

The Quartering Act was resumed and re-inforced. This Act provided for the lodging and boarding of the British soldiers stationed there. The Quebec Act was passed which provided for a permanent civil government for Canada and deprived the claim of the colonies to land on territory in the West of the Alleghenies and north of Ohio river. By another provision of this Act, freedom of religion was granted to the French colonists, which was quite distasteful to the English Protestants. Though the Queb.ec Act was not a part of the coercive programme, it was resented by the colonists.