• The American Revolution, that took place between 1765 and 1783, was a political upheaval during which colonists in the Thirteen North American Colonies of Great Britain rejected the British monarchy, overthrew the authority of Great Britain, won political independence and went on to form the United States of America.
  • The American Revolution was the result of a series of social, political, and intellectual transformations in American society, government and ways of thinking.

BACKGROUND UP TO 1763

  • In 16th century, some Englishmen were adventuring across the Atlantic to establish-colonies and trade in the Americas and also began to make settlement there.
    • In North America, colonies were established by France, Netherlands, Spain and England.
  • In 18th century, England drove France out of eastern part of the continent and Canada. She had earlier taken New Netherlands from the Dutch and changed its name to New York.
  • The America had been settled by dissenters and radicals and descendants of these had inherited the spirit of liberty.
    • Most of the colonists were driven from England and other European countries due to their religion policy.
    • The paupers, unemployed, convicts had also come to settle in America. They had little love for the mother country.
    • They were enjoying in America more freedom than they could enjoy in Europe.
    • By middle of 18th century, there were 13 English colonies in North America along the Atlantic coast. Landless peasants, people seeking religious freedom, traders, profiteers and convicts had settled there.
  • The English institutions transplanted in America had also developed along different lines due to different social, political and economic conditions.
    • There was a great advance towards self-government. The assemblies asserted themselves and their committees started acting as cabinets.
    • By 18th century, the colonists found the laws which the English Government imposed on them more and more objectionable. The ideas of being an independent nation grew and developed into Revolutionary war.
  • Political Structures in Colonies
    • The colonies that were established along the coast were governed by charters granted by the King of Britain and each colonies were permitted a substantial amount of self-governance.
    • Colonies imitated the “mixed monarchy” constitutional structure of Great Britain.
    • All laws had to be submitted to the home government for approval, but otherwise there was little interference.
    • In practice, British Parliament usually only legislated regarding matters of an imperial concern.
  • British policy in America before 1763:
    • The British believed that their colony and the colonists being English natives were there to serve their mother country.
    • Governors and military commanders of colonies were appointed by the King, the constitutional matters were to be decided by the privy council.
    • The principle of the British supremacy and mercantilism was very much insisted upon in England.
      • 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 the finished goods.
      • The other objective was to harm the trade of other nation.
      • This led to the passage of a large number of the Navigation Acts in the 17th century which restricted colonial trade in accordance with mercantilist theory.
        • Navigation Act of 1651:
          • It provided that all goods entering England must be carried in ships owed or manned by British subjects.
        • Enumerated commodities Act of 1660:
          • It provided that English colonies shall not export certain commodities such as sugar, tobacco, cotton, indigo and dyes to any country except England or English colonies.
        • Staple Act of 1663:
          • It provided that all European export into American colonies must be brought into English ports and then reshipped after the payment of duty.
        • Duty Act of 1673:
          • It aimed at enforcement of all earlier Act through custom collectors.
        • Enforcement Act of 1696:
          • It provided stringent measures to check smuggling and this necessitated registration of all colonial ships.
        • Molasses Act of 1763:
          • It was to stop import of French West Indian Molasses into British colonies.
      • There were restrictions on manufacture of certain items in colonies such as woolen goods, felts and other luxury items. The law provided that these goods must be imported from Britain. Hence woolen act, felts act etc. were bound to cause some resentment among colonists.
    • The colonies were quite unhappy over these because they felt that England was hitting colonial trade for her selfish interests.
    • Till 1758 the measures were not enforced strictly and the colonists didn’t feel its pinch. However, once the measures were strictly enforced, the colonists started detesting these measures.
  • Seven Years War and Treaty of Paris (1763, 10 February)
    • Treaty of Paris was signed between Great Britain and France as well as respective allies after the end of the Seven Year’s War in North America which resulted in Great Britain’s victory over France and Spain.
    • War ended in 1763 with the conquest of French Canada and the expulsion of France from mainland North America by British and American forces:
    • Seven Years War drained a good part of England’s treasury, which led the English to increase taxes in the colonies.
  • Impact of Seven Years War on American Revolution:
    • The Seven Years’ War set the stage for the American Revolution the following reasons:
      • 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. The result was a battle cry of “no taxation without representation” by colonies.
      • The Americans got a taste of fighting (and victory)and decided to test their wings against the mother country i.e. Britain.
      • The war also helped train a number of highly capable American officers, including William Prescott, Daniel Morgan, and above all, George Washington. A number of foreign officers schooled in the Seven Years’ War also officered the American armies.
      • 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.Once French were defeated, Americans no longer needed British for the protection against France.
  • 1763, 7 October: Crown’s Proclamation of 1763
    • In April 1763, George Granville became the Prime Minister of England and issued the Crown’s Proclamation with a view to conciliate the Red Indians.
    • Wary of the cost of defending the colonies from Red Indians and to win over Red Indians, King George III prohibited all settlement west of the Appalachianmountains.It was to check encroachment of settlers on Red Indian’s land as well as saving colonists from Red Indians’ attack.

The intervention in colonial affairs offended the thirteen colonies’ as it closed down colonial expansion westward.

1764–1766: TAXES IMPOSED AND WITHDRAWN

  • Currency Act (1764):
    • In 1764 Parliament passed the Currency Act to restrain the use of paper money that British merchants saw as a means to evade debt payments.
    • This tight money policy created financial difficulties in the colonies, where gold and silver were in short supply.
  • Sugar Act (5 April 1764):
    • This Act was aimed at ending the smuggling trade in sugar and molasses from the French and Dutch West Indies and at providing increased revenues to fund enlarged British Empire responsibilities following Seven Years War.
    • Actually, a reinvigoration of the largely ineffective Molasses Act of 1733, the Sugar Act provided for strong customs enforcement of the duties on refined sugar and molasses imported into the colonies from non-British Caribbean sources.
    • These measures led to widespread protest.
    • That same year Prime Minister George Grenville proposed to impose direct taxes on the colonies to raise revenue, but delayed action to see if the colonies would propose some way to raise the revenue themselves.
    • The colonists objected chiefly on the grounds not that the taxes were high (they were low), but because they had no representation in the Parliament.
    • As a result of the Sugar Act, the earlier clandestine trade in foreign sugar and, thus, much colonial maritime commerce were severely hampered.
  • Stamp Act (22 March 1765):
    • The enormous new defense burdens resulting from Seven Years War and and Pontiac’s War (war with Native American Tribes) and expenditure incurred on the additional troops to be quartered in the colonies forced British chancellor of the Exchequer, George Grenville to raise taxes by the Sugar Act (1764) and the Stamp Act, a common revenue device in England.
    • British Parliament passed the Stamp Actwhich imposed direct taxes on the colonies for the first time.
      • All official documents, newspapers, almanacs and pamphlets—even decks of playing cards—were required to have ‘stamped’ paper showing that a tax on them had been paid.
    • Completely unexpected was the avalanche of protest from the colonists, who effectively nullified the Stamp Act by outright refusal to use the stamps as well as by riots, stamp burning, and intimidation of colonial stamp distributors.
      • Bowing chiefly to pressure (in the form of a flood of petitions to repeal) from British merchants and manufacturers whose colonial exports had been curtailed, Parliament, largely against the wishes of the House of Lords, repealed the act in early 1766. Simultaneously, however, Parliament issued the Declaratory Act, which reasserted its right of direct taxation anywhere within the empire, “in all cases whatsoever.”
    • The protest throughout the colonies against the Stamp Act contributed much to the spirit and organization of unity that was a necessary prelude to the struggle for independence a decade later.
    • Virginian Resolution (30 May 1765):
      • Apart from call made by Massachusetts to delegates of House of Representative of colonies, Virginia assembly passed a set of resolutions refusing to comply with the Stamp Act.
    • Stamp Act Congress (7-25 October 1765):
      • In October, 1765, the leaders in the Massachusetts colony called together representatives from other colonies to consider their common problems especially against Stamp Act.
      • Representatives from nine of the thirteen colonies declared the Stamp Act unconstitutional as it was a tax levied without their consent. “No taxation without representation” was the slogan they adopted.
      • Moderates led by John Dickinson drew up a “Declaration of Rights and Grievances” stating that taxes passed without representation violated their rights as Englishmen.

They threatened to stop import of British goods.

 

  • Sons of Liberty:
    • The Sons of Liberty were a secret, underground organization that was founded in Boston by Samuel Adams and John Hancock in July 1765.
    • The Sons of Liberty were opposed to the Stamp Act and their membership spread to a number of colonial towns.
    • The Sons of Liberty was prevented people from using stamp, forced British stamp agents to resign, pulled down the image of king and also stopped many American merchants from ordering British trade goods. They marched in the streets shouting “Liberty, property and no stamps”.
    • This secret society was formed to protect the rights of the colonists and they are best known for undertaking the Boston Tea Party in 1773 in reaction to new taxes.
  • Quartering Act (15 May 1765):
    • This Act had the British parliamentary provision requiring colonial authorities to provide food, drink, quarters, fuel, and transportation to British forces stationed in their towns or villages. (Resentment over this practice is reflected in the Third Amendment to the present U.S. Constitution, which forbids it in peacetime.)
    • The burden of supporting British soldiers was thus to be shifted from English to the colonies.
    • After considerable tumult, the Quartering Act was allowed to expire in 1770.
  • Declaratory Act (18 March 1766):
    • The work in the colonies was going on as usual without stamps, no one cared for the Act. Customs officers issued clearances, lawyers and court of justice transacted without stamp.
    • In London, the Rockingham government came to power (July 1765) and Parliament debated whether to repeal the stamp tax or to send an army to enforce it.
    • Benjamin Franklin made the case for repeal. Parliament agreed and repealed the tax (February 21, 1766), but at the same time passes the Declaratory Act of March 1766 which insisted that parliament retained full power to make laws for the colonies “in all cases whatsoever”. One para of the Act says: “the said colonies and plantations in America have been, are and ought to be subordinate unto and dependent upon the imperial Crown and Parliament of Great Britain.”
    • The colonists took little notice of the Act for they did not care for any Act as long as it was not enforced. The repeal of Stamp Act nonetheless caused widespread celebrations in the colonies.

1767–1773: TOWNSHEND ACTS AND THE TEA ACT

A) 1767, 29 June: Townshend Acts

  • Townshend Acts were a series of four acts passed by the British Parliament in an attempt to assert what it considered to be its historic right to exert authority over the colonies through suspension of a recalcitrant representative assembly and through strict provisions for the collection of revenue duties.
  • The British American colonists named the acts after the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Charles Townshend, who sponsored them.
  • The Suspending Act prohibited the New York Assembly from conducting any further business until it complied with the financial requirements of the Quartering Act (1765) for the expenses of British troops stationed there.
  • The second act, often called the Townshend duties, imposed direct revenue duties—that is, duties aimed not merely at regulating trade but at putting money into the British treasury. These were payable upon their arrival in colonial ports and fell on lead, glass, paper, paint, and tea.
  • The third act established strict and often arbitrary machinery of customs collection in the American colonies.
  • The fourth Townshend Act lifted commercial duties on tea, allowing it to be exported to the colonies free of all British taxes.
  • The acts posed an immediate threat to established traditions of colonial self-government, especially the practice of taxation through representative provincial assemblies. They were resisted everywhere with verbal agitation and physical violence, deliberate evasion of duties, renewed nonimportation agreements among merchants, and overt acts of hostility toward British enforcement agents, especially in Boston. Colonial assemblies condemn taxation without representation.Colonists organized boycotts of British goods.
  • Parliament answered British colonial authorities’ request for protection by dispatching the British army to Boston, where they arrived in October 1768. The presence of those troops, however, heightened the tension in an already anxious environment.
  • In January 1769 Parliament reactivated a statute which permitted subjects outside the realm to face trials in England for treason. The governor of Massachusetts was instructed to collect evidence of said treason, and although this threat was not carried out it caused widespread outrage.

B) 1770, 5 March: Boston Massacre

  • British troops had been stationed in Boston since 1768 following events prompted by the Townshend Acts of 1767. The posting of the soldiers to Boston had been ordered due to civil unrest in the city.
  • Angered by the presence of troops in Boston and Britain’s colonial policy, a radical crowd began harassing a group of soldiers guarding the customs house; a soldier was knocked down by a snowball and discharged his musket. There was no order to fire but the soldiers fired which killed five civilians. The event quickly came to be called the Boston Massacre.
  • The guilty soldiers of the Boston Massacre were tried. However, according to English common law, felons convicted of some crimes, not affecting the king, were entitled to the ‘benefit of clergy’ for the first offence. The benefit of clergy was originally a provision by which clergymen could claim that they were outside the jurisdiction of the secular courts and be tried instead in an ecclesiastical court under canon law. Eventually, it was extended to first-time offenders who could receive a more lenient sentence. So, the soldiers entered a claim and were granted ‘benefit of clergy’ to avoid the death sentence for their part in the Boston Massacre and they were released.
  • Although the soldiers were tried and acquitted, the widespread descriptions soon became propaganda to turn colonial sentiment against the British.
  • The Boston Massacre arose from the resentment of Boston colonists towards the British which had been fuelled by protest activities of the Sons of Liberty patriots.
  • The term ‘Boston Massacre’ was coined by the patriot Samuel Adams and used in propaganda campaigns against the British.

C) 1770, 12 April

  • Repeal of the Townshend Revenue Act.
  • Responding to protests, in 1770 Parliament withdrew all taxes except the tax on tea, giving up its efforts to raise revenue. This temporarily resolved the crisis and the boycott of British goods largely ceased, with only the more radical patriots such as Samuel Adams continuing to agitate.

D) 1773 10 May: Tea Act

  • The Tea Act of 1773 was a British Law, passed by the Parliament of Great Britain on May 10, 1773, that was designed to bail out the British East India Company and expand the company’s monopoly on the tea trade to all British Colonies, selling excess tea at a reduced price.
  • Townshend Acts which had set new import duties on British goods including paint, paper, lead, glass and tea. But due to protests from British merchants, whose trade was seriously effected by the American colonists refusing to buy the goods, Parliament repealed all of the duties – except the tax on tea.
  • Since of all the Townshend duties only the import duty on tea was left, the American colonists had continued to boycott tea. As a result of the boycotts, the East India Company had literally tons of tea in its warehouses and was on the verge of bankruptcy. By 1772 the East India Company had 18 million pounds of unsold tea in warehouses and 1.3 million pounds of debt. So Tea Act was passed to bail them out.
  • Tea Act had following major provisions:
    1. Tea Act gave a tea monopoly in the American colonies to the British East India Company.
    2. The Tea Act allowed the East India company to sell its large tea surplus below the prices charged by colonial competitors.
    3. The provisions in the Tea Act allowed tea to be shipped in East India Company ships directly from China to the American colonies.
    4. This new import tax of 3 pence was considerably less than the previous one in which 12 pence per pound on tea sent via Britain. The American colonists would therefore get their tea cheaper than the people of Britain.
  • The Tea Act would allow the British to undercut the price of tea smuggled into Britain’s North American colonies via the illegal Dutch tea trade.
  • The British government led by the Prime Minister, Lord North, hoped to reassert Parliament’s right to impose direct revenue taxes on the American Colonies with the cheap tea.
  • British anticipated a good reception to the Tea Act in America, after all, the colonists would get their tea at a cost lower than ever before. Tea would be cheaper in America than Britain.

E) The reaction of the American colonists to the Tea Act:

  • The reaction of the American colonists to the Tea Act came as a shock to the British. Buying the tea would mean that the colonists had accepted paying the British import tax. The American colonists had not forgotten their outrage at the Stamp Act of 1765 and the efforts made to gain the political victory in having the hated act repealed.
  • Since the Colonies were not represented in Parliament, they saw the Tea Act as unconstitutional
  • Their cry of “No taxation without representation!” had not been forgotten.
  • The seeds of revolution had been sewn in the minds of many of the American colonists. The Sons of Liberty, and the Daughters of Liberty, had experienced a relatively calm period since the repeal of the Stamp Act and the Boston Massacre of 1770. The Tea Act stirred up all of the old feelings of resentment towards the British

F) Actions by Colonists:

  • The American colonists in the ports of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Charleston had time to consider the implications and impact of the Tea Act before the ships laden with tea arrived in their harbors. They had time to plan their responses and what action they could take against the Tea Act:
    1. The press became more active in its political discussions
    2. Circulars and handbills were printed and distributed
    3. The Sons of Liberty organised public demonstration against the British government
    4. Public meetings were held – everyone got to hear about the Tea Act resulting in strong Anti-British attitude.
    5. Americans decided they would continue to boycott tea from the British. To enforce the Nonimportation Agreements by merchants not to purchase British goods
    6. A public meeting was held in Philadelphia and there was agreement that anyone who aided in “unloading, receiving, or vending” the tea was an enemy to his country
    7. The colonists agreed that the Consignees, who were supposed to receive the tea, should “resign their appointment”
    8. The Sons of Liberty reorganized and owners and occupants of stores were warned against harboring the tea, and all who bought, sold or handled it, were threatened as enemies to the country
    9. Colonists resolved to prevent the landing and sale of the teas – they wanted the tea to be sent back to England
  • The scene was set for confrontations when the ships laden with tea arrived at the ports of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Charleston. The scene was set for the Boston Tea Party.

1773: 16 DECEMBER: BOSTON TEA PARTY

  • The Boston Tea Party was a direct protest by colonists in Boston against the Tea Tax. More than 180 Boston patriots, dressed as Mohawk Indians, raided three British ships coming from China in Boston harbor and dumped 342 containers of tea (£10,000 worth of tea) into the harbor. The Boston Tea Party arose from the resentment of Boston colonists towards the British which had been fueled by protest activities by patriots in the Sons of Liberty organization.
  • The organizer of the Boston Tea Party was The Sons of Liberty led by Samuel Adams, John Hancock and Paul Revere
  • They had dressed like Mohawk Indian to hide their identity as destroying the tea at the Boston Tea Party was a risky business and would be viewed as an act of treason that was punishable by death.

A) What were the Effects of the Boston Tea Party? What happened after the Boston Tea Party?

  • Many of the Boston Tea Party participants fled Boston immediately after the event to avoid arrest
  • Hundreds of people had watched the events of the Boston Tea Party, yet no eyewitnesses would cooperate with the authorities
  • Ministers decided to punish the town of Boston as a whole
  • The British Parliament ordered the Royal Navy to blockade Boston Harbor
  • British army regiments were sent to enforce the closure of the harbor
  • The blockade prevented supplies from entering the Harbor and prevented Massachusetts merchants from selling their goods
  • These measures that followed the Boston Tea Party were implemented under the 1774 Intolerable Acts
  • American colonists responded with protests and coordinated resistance by convening the First Continental Congress in September and October of 1774 to petition Britain to repeal the Intolerable Acts.

B) Significance of Boston Tea Party

  • The constant stream of new laws and taxes demanded by the British parliament was like a slow burning fuse to a keg of dynamite that would explode into the American Revolutionary War.
  • The Battles of Lexington and Concord followed the Boston Tea Party and were fought on April 19, 1775. They were the first battles of the American Revolutionary War
  • In January of 1776, Thomas Paine anonymously published the 50 pages pamphlet entitled Common Sense which supported America’s independence from Great Britain and its monarchy

The National government emerged from the Continental Congress. The Continental Army was created and George Washington was appointed as its commander in chief.

1774–1775: INTOLERABLE ACTS

A) 1774 May to June: Intolerable Acts:

  • The British government responded by passing several Acts which came to be known as the Intolerable Acts, which further darkened colonial opinion towards the British.
  • They consisted of five laws enacted by the British parliament:
    1. The first, the Massachusetts Government Act, altered the Massachusetts charter and restricted town meetings.
    2. The second, the Administration of Justice Act, ordered that all British soldiers to be tried in Britain, not in the colonies. It put an end to the constitution of Massachusetts
    3. The third was the Boston Port Act, which closed the port of Boston until the British had been compensated for the tea lost in the Boston Tea Party.
    4. The fourth was the Quartering Act, which allowed royal governors to house British troops in the homes of citizens without requiring permission of the owner.
    5. Quebec Act (explained later)

B) 1774 September: Continental Congress

  • First Continental Congress convened, consisting of elected representatives from each of the colonies, to serve as a vehicle for deliberation and collective action. To provide unity, delegates gave one vote to each state regardless of its size.
  • The First Continental Congress included Patrick Henry, George Washington, John and Samuel Adams, John Jay, and John Dickinson. (First Continental Congress: Established September 5, 1774 and disbanded May 10, 1775).
  • Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson and Peyton Randolph invited delegations from all of the other colonies to meet in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774 to debate the course of action in response to grievances of colonies against Great Britain.
  • The grievances related to the laws passed by the British Parliament, the ‘last straw’ being their passing of the Intolerable Acts that had punished Boston for the Boston Tea Party.
  • The body rejected a plan for reconciling British authority with colonial freedom. Instead, it adopted a declaration of personal rights, including life, liberty, property, assembly, and trial by jury.
  • The declaration also denounced taxation without representation and the maintenance of the British army in the colonies without their consent.

C) The Quebec Act of 1774

  • The Quebec Act was passed by the Parliament of Great Britain on June 22, 1774. The Quebec Act was designed to extend the boundaries of Quebec and guaranteed religious freedom to Catholic Canadians.
  • As a result of the Quebec Act, the American revolutionaries failed to gain the support of the Canadians during the American Revolution.
  • The recognition of the Roman Catholic religion, was seen to threaten the unity, security, and, not least, the territorial ambitions of British America. Many American colonists viewed the act as a measure of coercion. The act was thus a major cause of the American Revolution and helped provoke an invasion of Quebec by the armies of the revolting colonies in the winter of 1775–76.
  • The Quebec Act of 1774 is also considered fifth Intolerable Acts.

D) October 20, 1774: The Articles of Continental Association

  • The Articles of Continental Association was adopted on October 20, 1774 by the First Continental Congress of the American Colonies. The creation of the Continental Association was in response to the Intolerable Acts that had been passed by the British Parliament to restore order in Massachusetts following the Boston Tea Party.
  • The Association made a universal prohibition of trade with Great Britain. Though it made a handful of exceptions, it prohibited import, consumption, and export of goods with England. Unlike most of the individual associations, it established citizen committees to enforce the act throughout the colonies.

E) 23 March, 1775: Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” speech

  • “Give me liberty, or give me death!” speech was delivered by Patrick Henry in the Virginia Convention in 1775, at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia.
  • He is credited with having swung the balance in convincing the convention to pass a resolution delivering Virginian troops for the Revolutionary War. Among the delegates to the convention were future U.S. Presidents Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.
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