Causes of the American Revolution


by Charles Morris, 1899

England was never guilty of greater folly than in the treatment of her American colonies after the close of the French and Indian War. She was oppressed by burdensome taxation and began seeking an excuse for shifting a large portion of it upon the shoulders of her prosperous subjects across the sea, who had always been ready to vote money and give their sons to help in the wars which were almost solely for the benefit of the mother country. It has been shown that the intercolonial conflicts were of no advantage to the colonies which were dragged into them and suffered greatly from. Since the surrounding territory would soon be necessary for the expansion of the Americans, they had much to gain by the defeat of the French and their expulsion from America; but they had done their full share, and it was unjust to demand further sacrifices from them.

The Stamp Act

Burning of the stamp act

Burning of the stamp act

Hardly had peace been declared, when, in 1764, the British government asserted that it had the right to tax her colonies. The latter paid little attention to the declaration but were rudely awakened in 1765 by the passage of the Stamp Act, which was to go into effect in November of that year. It decreed that thenceforward no newspapers or pamphlets could be printed, no marriage-certificate given, and no documents used in lawsuits, unless stamps were attached, and these could be bought only from British agents.

It was ordered further that the oppressive Navigation Acts, which had been evaded for a hundred years, should be rigidly enforced, while soldiers were to be sent to America to see that the orders were carried out. Since these troops were to be paid from the money received for the stamps, it will be seen that the Americans would be obliged to bear the expense of the soldiers quartered upon them.

The issues were not so much the taxes, but “taxation without representation”, as the colonies never had a representative in the British Parliament. The news of the action of the British government threw the colonies into an angry mood and they vehemently declared their intention to resist the Stamp Act. They did not content themselves with words, but mobbed the stamp agents, compelled others to resign, and, when the date arrived for the act to go into effect, they refused to buy a single obnoxious stamp.

The Stamp Act Congress, as it was called, met in New York City, October 7, 1765. There were representatives from all the colonies except four, but they supported the others. Lacking the authority to make any laws, it issued a bold declaration of rights and sent petitions to the king and Parliament, setting forth the American grievances. The sturdy resistance of the colonies alarmed England. They had many friends in Parliament, including the illustrious William Pitt, and, at the beginning of 1766, the act was repealed. The Americans were so delighted that they almost forgot that England, in repealing the act, still asserted her right to tax them.

Several years now followed in which the colonies quietly resisted the efforts of England to tax them. This was done by a general agreement not to buy any of the articles upon which taxes were laid. The men who did this and opposed the mother country were known as Whigs, while those who stood by England were called Tories.

Defiant Acts by the Americans

Boston Massacre

Boston Massacre

But violence was sure to follow where the indignation was so intense and widespread. There were continual broils between the British soldiers and citizens, the most serious of which occurred in Boston on March 5, 1770, when the soldiers fired upon the citizens who had attacked them, killed three and wounded several more. This incident, known in history as the “Boston Massacre,” added to the mutual anger. In North Carolina, William Tryon, the Tory Governor, had a battle with the patriots at Alamance in 1771, killed a large number, and treated others so brutally that many fled across the mountains and helped to settle Tennessee. In 1772, a British vessel, the Gaspe, which was active in collecting duties from Providence, was captured and burned by a number of Rhode Island people. England offered a reward for the capture of the “rebels,” but, though they were well known, no one would have dared, if so disposed, to arrest them.

The Boston Tea Party

The British Parliament was impatient with the colonies and threatened all sorts of retaliatory measures. In 1770, Parliament took the tax off’ of all articles except tea, upon which it was made so light that the luxury was cheaper in America with the tax than in England without it. The Americans, however, were contending for a principle, and contemptuously rejected the offer. When the tea ships reached Charleston, the cargoes were stored in damp cellars, where they soon molded and spoiled. At New York, Philadelphia, and other points they would not allow the ships to land their cargoes, and they sailed back to England. A similar reception having been given the vessels in Boston, the British officers refused to leave the harbor. Late at night on December 16, 1773, a party of citizens, painted and disguised as Indians, boarded the ships and emptied 342 chests — all on board — into the harbor.

The “Boston Tea Party” thrilled the colonies and exhausted the patience of England, who felt that the time for stern measures had come. Her dallying course had only encouraged the rebels, and as in the story, having tried in vain the throwing of grass, she now determined to see what virtue there was in using stones.

Boston Tea Party by D. Berger

Boston Tea Party by D. Berger

The measures which she passed and which were unbearable were: 1. The Breton Port Bill, which forbade all vessels to leave or enter Boston harbor. This was a death-blow to Boston commerce and was meant as a punishment of those who were leaders in the revolt against the mother country. 2. The Massachusetts Bill, which was another destructive blow at the colony, since it changed its chattel by taking away the right of self-government and placing it in the hands of the agents of the king. 3. The Transportation Bill, which ordered that all soldiers charged with the crime of murder should be taken to England for trial. 4. The Quebec Act, which made the country east of the Mississippi River and north of the Ohio River a part of Canada. These acts were to be enforced by the sending of troops to America.

The First Continental Congress

The result of the passage of these harsh measures was to unite all the colonies in a determination to resist them to the last. The necessity for consultation among the leaders was so apparent that, in response to a general call, the First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774, with all the colonies being represented except Georgia, which favored the action. This Congress adopted a declaration of rights, asserting that they alone were empowered to tax themselves, and it named a number of acts of Parliament that were a direct invasion of such rights. An address was sent to the king and to the people of Great Britain, but none to Parliament, which had deeply offended the Americans. The agreement known as the Articles of Association pledged our ancestors not to buy goods or sell them to Great Britain until the obnoxious acts were repealed by Parliament. It declared further that, if force was used against Massachusetts by England, all the other colonies would help her in resisting it. Before adjournment, a new Congress was called to meet in the following May.

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