American Revolution Summary
Economic opportunities and religious freedom were the twin forces that made Englishmen seek the New World. Those who had heard tales of the fertile and vast lands that were available were driven by a desire to become rich quickly. These men settled on the southern shores of the East Coast, in what is now Virginia. Another band of early settlers were the Puritans who wished to flee from the religious persecution of the Stuarts. They settled mostly in the northern part, known as the New England region. These early impulses which made men leave a well-organized world and go in search of a new and unknown land clearly defines the character of the Americans.
By 1700, all these early settlements were formed into thirteen British colonies. Although each colony had its own governor and legislature, they were under the ultimate control of the British government. The British colonies in America were very well treated. They had a lot of freedom and enjoyed a large measure of self-government. Britain gave the colonies complete freedom in matters of legislation. Only in matters pertaining to trade, did Great Britain impose certain regulations through the Navigation Act according to which the colonies could not manufacture goods that would compete with British imports. All goods from Europe had first to be landed in England and only then were to proceed to the colonies. The Navigation Act stipulated that colonies could export some of its products such as tobacco and cotton only to England. In return, the colonies enjoyed certain privileges. They got the protection of the British fleet and the army. These laws however were not enforced very strictly for several years.
Relations between the colonies and England began to break down during the mid-eighteenth century. Britain had incurred a lot of debts due to the Seven Years’ War. (The Seven Years’ War was fought from 1756 to 1763 in Europe, India and America between France and England for colonial supremacy.) England attempted to tax the colonies in order to meet the great expenses that fell upon her. This naturally caused resentment among the Puritan democrats of the north and the aristocratic slave owners of the south.
When George III became the king in 1760, he instructed the Parliament to pass laws that would restrict the freedom of the colonies and also tax them. Accordingly, the Parliament voted to station a standing army in North America. The colonies had to maintain this army, which they resented. In 1764, the Sugar Act was passed, and the next year, the Stamp Act. The colonies hated the new British policies. They maintained that England had no right to restrict their freedom in any manner and that they could not tax them without representation. They began to boycott British goods. Britain was forced to repeal the Stamp Act.
But at the same time, she passed the Declaratory Act which claimed that Britain had every right to tax the colonies. For a short while, the tension was relaxed. In 1767, the British government passed the Townshend Acts which taxed the lead, glass, paint, paper and tea that were imported by the colonies. Due to strong opposition by the colonies, England abolished the tax on lead, glass, paint and paper, but foolishly retained that on tea. This led to the famous Boston Tea Party of 1273, in which a group of colonists dressed as Indians boarded the British ships carrying a cargo of tea and threw the entire contents into the sea.
The angry British government passed a number of punitive laws, such as closing the port of Boston and restricting of the freedom of Massachusetts. The other colonies rallied around Massachusetts and a Congress was held at Philadelphia. The Declaration of Rights was drawn up, demanding the repeal of the acts and initiating a boycott of British goods. In 1776, the second Continental Congress drew up the famous Declaration of Independence. This was the work of Thomas Jefferson and it said that all men were created equal’ and had the right to ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’.
At first the odds seemed to be against the colonies. They were challenging the world’s greatest empire and one of the world’s most experienced armies. The colonies, on the other hand, had the advantage of fighting on their home territory. The main disadvantage for the British was that they had to fight a war three thousand miles away from home.
Ultimately, the colonies emerged successful from the American Revolutionary War and forged a nation that rejected both monarchy and hereditary aristocracy. The constitution of the United States sought to recognize the rights of the individual. The ideals of liberty and equality were, however, not extended to all citizens- the slaves were denied freedom and women were deprived of equal opportunity and the right to vote.
The independence of the United States had far-reaching effects. Reformers in other parts of Europe were quick to recognize in it the victory of liberty over tyranny. Britain lost one of her most important colonies and King George III became very unpopular due to the American War of Independence. Great Britain was forced to acknowledge the independence of the United States of America by the Treaty of Versailles. It was a great loss to the British Empire as she had controlled the colonies for a century and a half.
The loss of the American colonies brought about a change in British politics. The people felt that they should have greater power to influence events in Parliament. The Parliament had opposed the war and had urged the king to give it up. One of the most eloquent members to speak on the subject was Edmund Burke, whose speeches are still read for their literary value. George III did not heed their advice as he felt the loss of the colonies would severely hamper the political and economic power of Britain. After the war ended, the irate Parliament opposed the excessive power of the Crown.
The American Revolutionary War inspired the French soldiers who had aided the colonies. For the first time, the Americans proved to the world that it was justified to raise arms against an unfair government. This in turn inspired the peasants of France so much that it led to the famous French Revolution six years later. The French Revolution was a major event that had repercussions all over Europe.