In 1776 A. D. people of the world witnessed a momentous agitation-the Revolt of the American Colonies against England.
The Americans rose in revolt against their British Colonialists; against their oppressive system of government and exploitation. It was a result of this Revolution that Personal Government of George-III came to an end and very far reaching changes were introduced in British colonial and imperialist policies.
Their success in the Revolt gave a deathblow to colonialism and inaugurated an era of anti-colonial movement which swept over the whole world in the subsequent history of the race. American War of Independence gave an idea and inspiration to many subjugated and subordinate nations of world that they could win their freedom, if they had will and determination to do so. Therefore this event looms large in history.
CAUSES OF THE WAR
1. The English who went to America were mostly criminals and political exiles. They had to leave the country much against their wishes. These people belonged to different races and were Germans. Swiss, Dutchmen, Scotsmen and Irishmen who had emigrated long back.
Some of them even did not speak English and perhaps none of them thought in those terms in which Englishmen of those days thought and behaved.
They had their own interests in so far as trade or agriculture was concerned. Their social systems were even different from that of an Englishmen living in England. Though these basic differences were there, yet these were not realised either by the British or by the American Government.
2. Socio-Religious differences:
The people of England believed in Anglican Church of England whereas most of the people in American colonies followed Puritanism. These were thus clear religious differences or divergences between the people. Besides, the English society was extravagant whereas the American society was simple; new fangled and full of modern ideas.
In the context of such sharp differences the war could not be averted by conservative and narrow-minded persons like George III and Lord North. If George III had appointed Pitt the elder or Bruke as Prime Minister, then perhaps the crisis would have been averted. But as it was, it was not possible, and the catastrophe did take place.
3. Nature of Rule:
Most of the British Governors who had been posted in America were military personnel. They ruled these territories with an iron hand took many repressive measures without caring for the sentiments of the people. The whole system of administration was both oppressive as well as repressive with the result that the colonies developed rebellious attitude.
4. Post-seven year War Period:
The French bug-bear was no more ramping after the peace of Paris of 1793. The American Colonies were left all by themselves at the other parts of the British Commonwealth. Thus this was the time for following a very careful and circumspect policy. But Grenvile, the then Prime-Minister unnecessarily offended the colonies.
This was necessiated because the American Colonies used to import things into their territories without paying the requisite taxes to England. This meant heavy loss of revenue to British Government. Besides during the seven years war, England had raised a huge loan for the purpose of protection to the American Colonies.
Grenville wanted that the Colonies should also contribute some money for their protection at the hands of England. This policy of Grenville offended the Colonies beyond measure. They still wanted to evade payment to England. When, however, the Acts were imposed with rigidity, the Colonists girded up their loins to have a rupture with the ‘home country’. This was thus another factor.
5. Ohio , Mississippi Territories:
During the seven year’s war, England had conquered the eastern parts of the rivers Ohio and Mississippi, and these territories were appropriated to the British kingdom. However, after the war was over (1763) and peace restored the people of the Colonies wanted to appropriate them with their territories.
On the contrary, the government of England ‘ wanted to retain these places as war prize. In order to fulfill their, desire the British administration was making plans and schemes to have an effective control over these territories east of the Ohio and the Mississippi rivers.
Thus this area became a bone of contention between the Colonists and England and served as another factor for bringing about the War of American Independence.
6. Economic interest of America Ignored:
England did not care for the economic interests of the colonists. They regulated Trade and Industry in such a manner that the people of England prospered whereas those of America suffered. By Navigation Acts it was provided that Colonists could send their goods in British ships only, no matter what they had to pay for that. Similarly manufacture of steel and Woollen clothes was limited, so that England did not face any competition on this account from America. Some Trade Acts were passed by which some commodities could be imported only from England where as some others could only be exported to that country only.
7. The Stamp Act (1765):
In 1765 Grenville passed the celebrated stamps Act without difficulty. According to it, duty was to be raised on all such transaction as the drawing up of contracts, making wills and giving receipts and was calculated to bring in about a hundred thousand pounds a year. The necessary stamps for these transactions had to be purchased from the government and attached to the documents in question, without which the transaction was considered illegal.
The news about the stamp Act, travelled across the Atlantic. In produced the deepest annoyance and irritation among the Colonists. The British Government had sent out stamps to be used by the Colonists, who refused to do it.
At New York was prepared a hanger bearing a title. ‘The folly of head instead of the royal arms’. Bonfires were kindled and stamps were burnt and death knells were rung at Boston. Ramsay Muir has said that. “Nobody anticipated the storm it was going to raise; neither Pitt nor the Whigs voted against it”.
8. Its Reaction:
The alarm bell for the rest of America was sounded by Assembly of Virginia. It demanded the repeal of the Stamp Act and declared that England had no right to tax the colonists without their specific approve. But to be successful the colonists had to be united and organised. The Assembly of Massachusetts issued an appeal to the other states to adopt “Join or die” as their Motto. A general “Congress” was held at New York in which nine out of thirteen states sent their representatives.
These agents were directed to take measures for a general and united action and to support the resolutions of the Assembly Virginia. It was rather an unprecedented unit which had not been witnessed earlier. Warner Marten says that, “No one used the stamps and most Ominous of all delegates from nine out of 13 colonies met together to protest, thus showing an unprecedented unity of Purpose”.
9. Twin Acts of Rockingham:
Grenville’s arrogance had offended George III and he dismissed him. The Marquis of Rockingham and the Duke of Grattan was now made the Prime Minister. He remained in office only for one year. During that period two important Acts were passed which made his tenure memorable. They were:
i) Repeal of the Stamp Act, and
ii) Declaratory Act.
i) Repeal of the Stamp Act:
As soon as Rockingham took the reigns of office, the news reached England that the Congress had met New York and was determined to take a firm stand against the English Government. In a spirited speech Pitt, now the Earl of Chatom said that he rejoiced to find that the colonists had resisted unjust a measure’ that our trade with America was worth £ 3,000,000 a year, and we were risking that sum for a miserable Pittance, that taxation and representation went in hand and that therefore the English Government had no right to tax the colonists.”
There was a genuine fear of a struggle with colonists. Rockingham therefore took the wise and conciliatory step of repealing the obnoxious Stamp Act. The repeal of the Act received universal rejoin in America. It appeared that the danger was over and that the differences between the two had been abridged. It, however, appears that it was only an attempt to stall the storm which was inevitable.
The Declaratory Act:
However, Rockingham still wanted that the dignity and sovereignty of the British Parliament should be maintained. It was believed all along that British Government had every right to tax colonists which the latter challenged tooth and nail. Thus a basic issue was involved and present arrangement was no solution to the problem.
It was for this that the Declaratory Act was passed. It asserted the right of England to tax the colonists as well as to legislate for them. This measure of Rockingham naturally did not pacify the colonists.
They still natured hostile feelings against England in the heart. The colonists said that they did not resist the taxes but they resisted the taxes imposed by the British Parliament. They strongly felt that others were no representative of America on the British Parliament. They raised the slogan therefore, “No taxation, without representation. Rockingham also failed to please these colonies.
10. Townsend’s Import Duties Act- (1767):
The two Acts passed during the year regime of Rockingham had offended the king and the king’s friends. Pitt was again made the Prime Minister and his Ministry was an assortment of people of all shades of opinion. Bruke described the ministry as a heterogeneous body of politicians as an administration so chequered and speckled as to be like a piece of diversified Motaic Work” Charles Townshend became the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was a brilliant speaker. However, the ministry was a transcendental failure from beginning to
In 1767 during the illness of Pitt; Townsend passed an ill-fated Bill in an evil hour. This Act imposed on the colonists duties on red and while lead glass, paper, tea and painters colors.
The duty thus imposed was to yield and provided for payment of forty thousand pounds approximately. This money was to be spent on the payment to colonial governors and the judges. The idea was that these officers should become completely subservient to the English king. This was a very unfortunate Act. The colonists had not fully recovered from the shock of the stamp Act.
The imposition of these new taxes reopened the wound only partially healed by the real of the stamp Act. The colonists organised themselves and decided to boycott the goods subject to import duties. An association known as “society of the sons and Daughters of Liberty was formed of the colonists.
They petitioned and revived their slogan of “no taxation without representation.” Those at the helm of affairs in England thought that the colonists were the ‘unruly children amenable to punishment for disobedience.’
11. Beston Tea Party (1770):
When Grafton was criticised on all sides and attacked even by the king’s friends, he resigned. Now, Lord North became the Prime Minister who was under the complete influence of King George III.
North was very adopting in handling public affairs. He had a very yielding temperament and was a competent man as well. So he was the Prime Minister when the petitions of the Colonists were rejected by the English Government. The British officers made attempts to collect the duties by force. This led to riots.
In 1770, took place what is known as the Boston Massacre. A regiment of British Soldiers stationed at Boston, then the largest town in America, was pelted with stones by the mob, and retaliated by shooting down four or five of the rioters. The citizens were exasperated and ultimately the town was abandoned by the British troops.
The irritation of the Colonists at the imposition of import duties became so alarming that Lord North compelled the Parliament to Pass an Act repealing all the duties except that on tea. This duty, whish was calculated to bring in little more than three hundred pounds a year, was retained merely to assert the right which England claimed to tax the Colonists. But it was the principle of taxation involved in the import duties and not the actual amount rose, which the colonists objected to.
The resistance offered by the colonists to this tax gradually expanded into open defiance and lawlessness. In 1783, Lord North bargained with the East India Company to carry a large quantity of tea to Boston. On its arrival in the harbour of the, town, a number of colonial youths disguised as Indians, boarded the tea ships, broke and open the tea chests with their tomahawks, and poured their contents in to the sea. It is said that three hundred and eighty chests were thus destroyed.
12. Punitive Acts:
The outraged perpetrated by the American youths was a lot more than what George III and Lord North were prepared to tolerate. This was taken as an unpardonable offence of the colonists. Thus the British Government was roused to take Vigorous action against the Colonists. This could only be done by legislative enactment. The following three acts according were passed.
(i) Boston Post Act:
To punish the people of Boston for the offence of what is known as the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Port Act was passed. By this the Port was ordered to be closed. All its trade was transferred to the Port of New Salem which was quite in the neighbourhood.
(ii) Massachusetts’ Government Act:
After the Boston Port Act followed the Massachusetts ‘Government Act which was more high handed than the earlier one According to this Act, Massachusetts was deprived of the right of electing representatives to sit in the Assembly.
The Act annulled the old character of the colony. Holding of Public meetings was forbidden without the consent of the Government. They American rioters were to be tried in England. Further, the whole administration of the colony was placed in the hands of the Governors and judges appointed by the crown of England. This Act precipitated the crisis still further.
(iii) Quebec Act:
Yet another Act was passed by Lord North known as the Quebec Act. According to this Act the catholic inhabitants of Canada were given religious freedom. This was done in the teeth of opposition by the Colony of New England.
12. Congress of Philadelphia (1774):
The Punitive Act of Lord North Ministry had greatly scared the colonists specially, when they found that the charter of Massachusetts was cancelled, and they had a genuine apprehension that the other colonies might as well face the same fate. Thus the other colonies sent their representatives to a General Congress at Philadelphia.
This assembly issued a Declaration of Rights, setting forth the rights of the colonists as English men, and declaring that the recent Acts passed by the British Government were an infringement of those rights.
The assembly also passed resolution forbidding the importation of any goods from England until the grievances of the colonists were redressed. On the other hand the feelings of the people in England were that if the colonies were not willing to pay taxes.
They had no right either to demand protection. No colony could demand protection at the cost of the mother country. Thus there were quite opposite views and ideas in both countries.
American War of Independence was thus an out burst against the policy of British Government’s ignoring economic interests of the colonies. In the words of Davies, “The American Revolution or the War of American Independence, as it is sometimes called, was a result against the autocracy of England, which at times was ruled by a well meaning but obstinate king, George III, who had a desire to revive the personal power of the crown”. H. G. Wells says:-“They were taxed without any voice in spending of taxes, their trade was sacrificed to British interests, the highly profitable slave trade was maintained by the British Government in spite of the opposition of the Virginians”.