1. How did the British colonists evolve from good citizens to revolutionaries who could compose and back something as special as Declaration of Independence? What were the causes of the American Revolution?
2. What were the main problems with the Articles of Confederation that lead to the Constitutional Convention of 1787? How did the national government under the Constitution differ from the Articles of Confederation?
Life in America in the 18th century was not easy. Colonists, most of whom came from England or whose parents or grandparents came from England, had to contend with harsh winters, unfriendly Indians, foreign flora and fauna, and with the results of wars mostly started and fought 1000 milesaway. The people who came to America, though, were a hardy bunch. Many came to satisfy a need for adventure, some to escape persecution, others were brought here as servants or slaves. The hardships they faced on an almost daily basis gave them a fierce loyalty to each other, to their colonies, to the land on which they lived. Far from the King, they felt free.
The colonists were loyal subjects of the English King, George III. For a time. They fought with the British (they were British, after all) against the French in the French and Indian War (known to the English as the Seven Years War). A young George Washington cut his military teeth at Pittsburgh in 1754, where he was hailed as a hero for taking on a large French contingent, despite being captured and sent home packing. In 1763, the English won that war, which started in the colonies and expanded to Europe and Asia, and they took much of the French holdings in North America as prizes of war.
1763. 1776. In thirteen years, the colonies went from loyal subjects, helping the war cause, to rebels, intent on expelling Britain from the world it had conquered, intent on independence. The British, it can be said, brought this upon themselves.
There are many reasons given for the change, from the patriotic to the cynical. For some, thecolonists were intent on freedom, on ridding themselves of a monarch that oppressed them. For others, the ruling elite of the colonies was done sharing the wealth of their holdings with the mother country, and had to sever all ties to keep it all for themselves. The real truth is that both are true, to some extent, and there are lots of little reasons in between.
The French and Indian War was a great victory for the United Kingdom, but it left a large hole in the nation’s wallet, doubling its debt. Taxes were increased everywhere, and the colonies were no exception. Indeed, the King felt that since his soldiers were in the colonies, there to protect the people (and the land and its riches) against foreign attack and Indian transgression, that the colonies should pay more than their fair share of the defense budget.
In the years to follow, 1763 through 1765, the British Parliament enacted several laws which thecolonists sharply disagreed with. The Proclamation of 1763 prevented settlement of the area south of the Appalachians; the Currency Act prohibited the use of paper money for the payment of debt; the Sugar Act placed a tax on goods imported into the colonies, such as sugar, wine, and coffee and provided for tight control on its enforcement; the Quartering Act required colonists to board soldiers upon request. In 1765, a final, pivotal law – the Stamp Act. The Stamp Act placed a direct tax on the colonists themselves, not just on imports. The Act required tax stamps be purchased and affixed to all manner of paper goods, from legal documents to newspapers to playing cards. By itself, the Stamp Act might not have started a revolution, but combined with all the previous acts, it lit a fire.
As a result of the Stamp Act, a Stamp Act Congress was called, and nine of the thirteen colonies sent representatives. They denounced the Act and sent a formal denunciation to the King and the Parliament. The Act was repealed in 1766, but not in direct response to the colonist’s pleas – in fact, it was British merchants and exporters who pressured the repeal, based on falling sales from the colonies’ boycotts of all taxable items.
Probably because it had not fully comprehended the fury of the colonists over the Stamp Act, the Parliament tried a direct tax on the colonies again in 1767. The Townshend Acts placed duties on many staple imports such as glass, paper, paint, and tea. The colonists rebelled against the tax by once again boycotting the goods. This time, there would be no repeal – the British sent in troops to intimidate the colonies, to induce trade. For years, the soldiers lived in the midst of the colonists, their presence stirring anger and frustration. American politicians, including Benjamin Franklin, called for the repeal of the acts and the return of the troops. Though the Parliament did back off slightly on the economic front, they were determined to maintain the troops.
In 1770, things boiled over in Boston. An unruly mob, some angry that idle British soldiers were taking valuable jobs, confronted a small contingent of soldiers. They attacked the soldiers with snowballs, and the soldiers returned bullets, killing five. The so-called Boston Massacre was seized upon by the revolutionaries who had already established themselves, Samuel Adams among them. Paul Revere struck a famous engraving of the incident. John Adams, who wanted to ensure fairness, defended the soldiers at trial, where most were acquitted. More than half of Boston’s population turned out for the funeral procession. And the British withdrew their troops.
In 1773, the Tea Act was enacted. To help finance the East India Company’s expensive imperial expansion in India, Parliament eliminated the tax on the Company’s tea. Most Americans, by now, were drinking imported Dutch tea, to avoid paying the Townshend tax. The cost of the Company’s tea would be cheaper than the Dutch tea, even with the Townshend tax. This gave the colonists a dilemma – pay less for tea and pay the hated tax, or pay more for tea and continue defiance. When a shipment of the Company’s tea arrived in Boston, a band of men led by Samuel Adams, attacked the three ships it had arrived on and threw the tea into Boston Harbor. The Boston Tea Party was a turning point.
Could a tea-stained harbor really lead to war? The British Parliament, up to now determined to placate the colonists by pulling back taxes just enough to cool the flames of rebellion, decided now was the time to stand firm. They demanded payment for the tea, and the town of Boston refused to pay. The Parliament responded by passing the Coercive Acts (called Intolerable Acts by thecolonists) in March, 1774.