Many would argue that the American Revolution actually began when the first colonists set foot on American soil. With London being some 3000 miles away, governing the colonies was a great challenge. Travel to and from England required much time and slowed required communication significantly. In the time before telephones and internet, communication was primarily by messages sent by boat between England and their representative governments in the colonies. It was when the British attempted to tighten control over the colonies that the real problems began.
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In the beginning those that ruled had pretty much the same goals of those that were being ruled. According to the “American Nation, 12th Edition” “Ruler and ruled alike sought prosperity, political and economic expansion and the reproduction of old World civilization”1
As the colonies grew and developed into formidable communities’ acceptance of British rule fell. This required the British Empire to attempt to tighten control over the colonies. Eventually this caused great conflict in the colonies that led to the Revolutionary War.
The First Colonies and the Wealth They Offered
With the understanding that the earth was round vs. flat many explorers were dispatched to go out and see what’s out there. Explorers, such as Hernando De Soto and Giovanni Cabato, probed the coasts of the American continents. Many of these explorers went in search of wealth for their rulers. The establishment of colonies on the American continent was viewed as an opportunity for the rulers to obtain more wealth.
For those in the British colonies the connection with the British Empire became strained when the colonists began to identify themselves more as Americans rather than British subjects. This was in part a result of the distance between ruler and ruled (some 3000 miles via sea routes). The mercantile theory of that time included the idea that the colonies’ function was to build up the wealth of the British Empire. In essence, it meant that the colonists would provide whatever the British Empire wanted (ships, tobacco, sugar, etc). This resulted in the creation of the Navigational Acts that required colonists to “channel the flow of colonial raw materials into England and to keep foreign goods and vessels out of colonial ports”2 This caused conflict with other nations such as Holland and its Dutch shippers who were trying to garner some of the shipping business to and from the colonies.
The Great Awakening
With colonists identification as ‘Americans’ interests became more local. By 1750 the word ‘American’ was being used to describe “something characteristic of all the British possessions in North America.3 More and more the American colonies were seen as an emerging nation. When Britain began enforcing mercantilism the colonists recognized that they were not being allowed to buy, sell, or ship under conditions favorable to them. The colonists became aware that they were being used by the British Empire and that the colonists were not seeing any benefits of their relationship with the British Empire. Mercantilists and traders were often offered low prices for their products and were not allowed to sell to buyers from other countries.
Despite the different origins and religions of the colonists they bonded together as Americans with a common cause: the revolt against the British Empire (The American Revolution). When Britain began enforcing the Navigation Acts and enacting other Acts to gather more money from the colonies tempers rose and the bond between Americans became even tighter. Such controls as:
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- The Stamp Act – required a stamp affixed to show payment of tax
- Declaratory Act – declared British Authority to bind the colonies in all cases
- Townsand Tea Tax – resulted in the Boston Tea Party
- Intolerable Acts – designed to punish the colonies
The American Revolution was caused by the British Empires attempt to “deal with intricate colonial problems that resulted from the Great War”.4 The Great War was also called the “Seven Years War” and was fought in Europe and on the American continent. The British Empire felt that the colonies owed the Empire for defending them in the Great War. This is what caused the British Empire to begin taxing the colonies. The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763 and sealed Britain’s requirement that France withdraw from the North American continent except for some islands near Newfoundland. Spain also was included and were allowed to reclaim the Philippine Islands and Cuba. “Spain also got New Orleans and a huge area of North America west of the Mississippi River”.5
Because the colonists had been allowed a “remarkable amount of freedom”6 prior to the end of the Great War they responded angrily to the British Empire’s attempt at tightening control. It was during this time that the American “right to freedom” developed. It is this enduring right that still drives Americans today.
Fighting for Independence and the Establishment of American Values
As stated earlier, Americans believed in their ‘right to freedom’. It was a combination of this belief and the bonding of Americans in a common cause that fueled the Revolutionary War. Americans believed that their territory was threatened by the establishment of the Quebec Act that permitted Canadians to retain their language and customs. The boundaries of this Act gave French Canadians a territory that extended all the way to the Ohio River. This area would be larger that the area occupied by the thirteen original colonies.
It was this dilemma that resulted in the meeting of the First Continental Congress. Originally, this congress met to discuss grievances that the colonies had with the British Empire. The congress also drafted a declaration of rights. These grievances, and rights, were sent to Parliament in London but were ignored by Parliament. This prompted the loyal colonists to become committed revolutionaries. The British’s attempt to capture Sam Adams and John Hancock resulted in an armed response from the newly created Minutemen of the Revolutionary Army. The Minutemen who lost eight men in this attempt fought bravely to push the Redcoats out of Concord. The Minutemen were successful because they used gorilla warfare tactics to fight the British. The Americans hid behind trees and rocks while the Redcoats lined up out in the open.
The British were opposed by a Colonial Army led by General George Washington, trained by the German Baron Von Steuben, and consisting of a cross section of American colonial society. Soldiers who joined the Colonial Army faced supply shortages, lack of professional training, and faced Loyalists who were colonists fighting with the British. The Colonial Army also contained a considerable force made up of African Americans.
It is the contention of this paper that the American Revolution actually began upon the arrival of colonists to the American Continent. Because of the distance from England to the colonies the colonists experienced a great deal of independence and freedom. Because the British Empire took so long to assert control over the colonies, colonists grew to believe that they had a right to the freedoms that they had been previously allowed. England’s attempt to assert control resulted in backlashes from the colonists. When England closed American ports to foreign ships and paid low prices for the products grown in the colonies the colonists became angry. The colonists bonded together in a common cause. Their original intentions were to create a dialog with the British Empire to discuss their grievances and their declaration of rights. Parliament’s reaction was to ignore these communications and further assert control in the colonies. The Americans fought back and won.
The British Empire had considerable advantages over the colonists. They had an organized army supplemented with about 30,000 Hessians hired by the King George III. The British also had a considerable amount of Loyalists within the colonies. These Loyalists were loyal to the British Empire and fought against the Colonial Army.
For the British, being so far from home, being poorly treated, and led by second rate leadership resulted in poor performance. This gave the advantage to the colonists. The Colonial Army was led by General Washington and fought defensively. The Colonial Army was trained by Baron Von Steuben who, despite his lack of English, “whipped the soldiers into shape”.7
The colonists did have many disadvantages. Their army lacked unity, Supplies were hard to get, and many colonists loyalty was bought by the British. The Continental Congress had difficulty exercising control over the colonies because of jealousy within the ranks. The war caused a high inflation rate that left many colonists poor.
But, the colonists did succeed despite the disadvantages. It is believed their success was primarily won by soldiers and colonists who shared the passion for a free colonial government. The unsung heroes of the Revolutionary War were the African American troops who volunteered and fought against the British. Although initially barred from service African Americans were counted as 5000 of the total forces of the Colonial Army.
- Carnes, Garraty, 2006 The American Nation, 12th edition Volume One. Prentice Hall.
- Marius, Richard and Melvin Page. 2006 A Short Guide to Writing about History, 6th edition. Longman Publishers.
- The American Nation 12th Edition, p80.
- The American Nation 12th Edition
- The American Nation 12th Edition