On July fourth, 1776, The Declaration of Independence was signed and America became a sovereign nation. This separation was the first time in history a society of this scale had broken off from its parent country. A series of unique circumstances and missteps on the part of the British made the colonists’ actions inevitable. The United States’ existence nation boils down to money, missteps and what happens when an empire disregards and disrespects its subjects.
The French-Indian war established the American Colonies in the Eastern seaboard of the North American Continents. The war was funded and fought by the British Empire and often referred to as the “7 year war” though in actuality it lasted 9 years. Although most of the fighting took place in the colonies it spilled over into Britain towards the end. Two types of colonies emerged: The French “Colonies” had very low populations and their purpose was to control the fur trade. The British Colonies had larger populations and were created as true settlements.
Because the French wanted to keep their monopoly on the fur industry they joined with the Indians to fight the British Colonialists. If the British Empire did not send troops to back them up, it would have been a bloodbath and the colonies would not have continued existing, America as we know it would look very different today. The strategy worked. The British Colonialists won the war but it landed the British Empire into serious debt to the tune of 120 million pounds. Interest on the debt alone was more than 4. 4 million pounds a year, an astronomical number even by today’s standards.
England became bankrupt and when the government reached an absolute maximum for how much they could tax their own people, it chose to tax the colonies to make up for the debt. At this point in time, a revolution would seem radical, as the empire created the colonies and protected them during the war. England, because it incurred debt by fighting for the very people they were taxing, were completely in the right to want to tax the colonists. However, it was the poor implementation of retrieving the monies that paved the pathway towards revolution.
The first act British Parliament passed was a modified version of the Sugar and Molasses Act in 1764. Previously under the act, colonial merchants were required to pay a tax of sixpence per gallon when importing foreign molasses, but as a result of corruption and lack of enforcement, they mostly evaded the taxes. Without the tax, molasses from the French West Indies was cheaper than the English product, hurting the British economy in not only the market of molasses but also sugar and rum, which the colonies had been mass-producing with the cheaper French molasses.
Seeing the failure of their current system, Parliament decided to make some modifications to the trade regulations. First off, they increased naval presence and instructed them to enforce customs more strictly. Then, in an attempt to make legitimate trade more appealing, the Sugar Act reduced the rate of tax on molasses by half (six pence to three pence per gallon); however, it also taxed more foreign goods including sugar, special wines, coffee, pimiento, and lumber and iron. The now enforced tax on molasses virtually killed the previously booming rum industry in the colonies and reduced overall foreign trade.
By reducing potential markets the colonies could sell to, the British moderately disrupted the colonial economy. Obviously, this was negatively received and began to kindle the fire that would grow into the revolution. Luckily for the British, the backlash was not massive because it only affected a relatively small amount of colonists; however, it did spawn the Committees of Correspondence. This group’s almost sole purpose was to oppose these new taxes. Soon after, Britain imposed the Stamp Act on the colonies in 1765.
This applied a small tax on every printed paper, including legal documents, newspapers, and letters. The colonists found this particular tax vile and unjust. Although some other taxes were in place, the stamp act was particularly offensive because it was not placed to regulate commerce but to raise money. The colonists, although apart of the empire, had established a self-governing body that was still subject to the whims of the British Parliament where they were not being represented. This meant colonists had no say in what Parliament decided to impose on them.
So, without being able to take any real political recourse, it makes sense that the Stamp Act was met with heavy resistance. In the same year, the Sons of Liberty were formed by Samual Adams, John Hancock and others in response and multiple boycotts put in place by the people. This blunder by the Empire made a revolution even more evitable. The colonists became more self-reliant and stopped buying British goods which not only helped the colonies’ economy because it created new jobs, but it also hurt the British Empire because they were no longer exporting their manufactured goods.
This was a pivotal point in the revolution as the colonists had truly showed their independence from the Empire by successfully boycotting their goods. This was so effective that British Parliament had to backtrack and repeal the law the following year in 1776. In actuality, the colonists were fine with taxes so long as they were for the purposes of regulating trade. The aforementioned taxation without representation was the spark that caused the revolution. The colonists were expected to essentially hand over their money to the empire with absolutely no representation.
This rightfully gave colonist the mindset that they were being used. They had absolutely no insight or influence on the taxes they would have to tender and where the money would advance. The presence of taxation without representation in the Stamp and Sugar act is a primary cause of the revolution. The harsh feelings felt by the colonists are evident in the excerpt from Common Sense by the well-respected intellectual Thomas Paine: I challenge the warmest advocate for reconciliation, to show, a single advantage that this continent can reap, by being connected with Great Britain.
I repeat the challenge, not a single advantage is derived. Our corn will fetch its price in any market in Europe, and our imported goods must be paid for buy them where we will. At this point, the colonists felt the Empire provided them nothing whilst only taking from them. Paine, the impartial British-born thinker, rightfully states that the colonies were self-sufficient and the Empire was taking advantage of them as they could send and sell their exports to any part of Europe. By forcing taxes upon them that neutered their trade, they took away their self-sufficiency and forced them to rely on the Empire.
The Empire brought uprisings upon themselves by treating the colonies like a slave whose sole purpose was to earn his master money. In 1767 the Townshend Duties were passed. This act further sealed the fate of the inevitable desire to cede from the British Empire. From a monetary point of view, the Townshend duties dwarfed the Stamp act. The Empire conjured up the bold tax because it assumed that the colonies would be amenable with external taxes on imports and not internal ones such as the Stamp Act. An outrageous aspect of the Townshend act was that Parliament sent in soldiers from England to enforce it.
The British commanders sent treated their own soldiers like brutes whereas the colonists’ relationship with their subordinates were more humane and this cemented the image in the colonists’ minds that the British were unjust, aggressive, and unjustifiably asserting a superiority. All of these factors fomented resentment and reinforced the notion that the colonists were different from them on a fundamental level. Later, the extremely invasive Quartering Act, which forced colonists to house soldiers against their will, brought the colonists’ resentment to a boil.
Boycotts became more prevalent and had more people outraged and wanting to participate. The British, unwittingly, were doing all the right things to set up a revolution amongst the colonists. These acts gave lots of power to famous at-the-time radicals we know today such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. The revolution at this time was not a forgone conclusion. In the second formation of the Continental Congress these men proposed the Olive Branch petition to British Parliament.
First drafted by Thomas Jefferson, Olive Branch Petition was an attempt to quell the conflict between the colonies and the Empire. If negotiated properly this had the potential to stop the revolution in it’s tracks. However King George III refused to acknowledge it as he saw the continental congress as a group of rebels meeting illegally. The idea of a revolution and a war with the Empire was spreading. Although there were radical aspects of the revolution, the colonists were pushed to rebel and treated like second class citizens; the desire for independence grew inevitable.
The British had every right to tax them; however, Parliament’s poor execution of acts incited anger in the colonists, breeding boycotts and discontent among its subjects across the Atlantic Ocean. The attempt to instill fear using militia ultimately backfired and led to the Revolutionary War. When given opportunities to suppress the uprisings and appease their relationship with the colonists, the Empire, blinded by debt, doubled down on bullying and aggressive acts to retrieve revenue at all costs.