Causes of the American Revolution, Research Paper Example
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The path to the American Revolution developed slowly over time. Many factors contributed to the colonist’s demand for independence. Two of these factors were the French and Indian War (1754–1763) and the Boston Massacre (March 5, 1770). To understand the cause of these events, it is helpful to first examine the political landscape in both colonial America and Great Britain. In North America, the English and French settlers came into conflict almost from the beginning of their permanent settlements. The English established their first small community in 1607 and a French settlement followed in 1608. Differences between the two settlements exploded in 1629, with the English occupation of Quebec. This occupation lasted from 1629 to 1632. Essentially, the two countries developed their colonies independently in most of the seventeenth century. In History of American Journalism James Melvin Lee writes:
England populated the Atlantic seaboard from Maine to South Carolina, and France settled Canada and the central part of the continent west of the Appalachian Mountains to the mouth of the Mississippi River. Native American tribes, especially the Iroquois and Cherokees, served as a buffer between the two powers in the region of the English Middle Colonies and Southern Colonies.
While the settlements developed independently, conflicts occurred because of their close proximity. England and France basically co-existed until the Protestant William III was placed on the English throne in 1688. Soon after, war began between France and England, fought in the border area between Canada and New England. Indians assisted the French with raids on English settlements. In The French and Indian War, Alfred Cave writes about the actions of both countries:
Although the two countries were still at peace, both France and Great Britain had encouraged their respective colonial officials to undertake aggressive action in the west. France’s plan was to control trade in the Mississippi and Ohio valleys and, with the help of her Indian allies, confine the British to a narrow strip of land on the Atlantic coast. To that end, the French undertook construction of a chain of forts on western and northern lands claimed by Great Britain. The British were no less determined to claim and ultimately settle the vast interior regions of the continent.
In Britain, the need for copper, tar, hemp and turpentine was high. They required all of these goods to be sent from the American colonies to England exclusively. Britain especially needed money so a six pence tax on each gallon of molasses was imposed in 1733. In 1763, the colonists were different from the ones who had originally settled North America. They had patterned their local governments after the British Parliament system but began to believe they should have the same power as the British Parliament. This did not sit well with England. Circumstances in England had changed also. In 1707, power had moved from the king to Parliament. Where the king had decided all issues in the colonies, the Parliament now decided issues and had the power to tax. Many American colonists believed they too should have the power of taxation. The first English traveling to America considered themselves still English, while by 1763 they now considered themselves as Americans. They had survived and worked hard to create a new life in America and began to resent anyone from Britain telling them what to do. The British continued to believe the colonies existed to serve them. However, the colonists were treated differently than the citizens in England. The colonists were order to pay special taxes and were required to feed and billet British troops in their homes. This did not sit well with most of the colonists. Events would unfold that placed the colonists in conflict with their English rulers. Two such events were the Boston Massacre and the French and Indian War.
The Boston Massacre
Members of the British Army shoot and killed five men on King Street in Boston on the night of March 5, 1770. The incident came to be known as the Boston Massacre and was one of the contributing factors that led up to the American Revolution. Living in Boston in 1770 was not easy for the colonists. It was one of the first colonies that openly demonstrated its dislike of the British troops being stationed there. The troops were sent to implement the Townshend Act, which required colonists to pay for judges and governors. When the troops arrived in Boston, they expected trouble. The number of troops roughly equaled the number of colonists living there. The number of troops further agitated the colonists. The first person to be killed by the English was a boy named Christopher Seider. He was shot on February 22, 1770 by Ebenezer Richardson, a customs employee for allegedly attacking his house. The incident infuriated the citizens of Boston. They dragged Richardson to jail. Kenneth R Gregg writes about the incident for the Boston Massacre Historical Society:
Christopher Seider’s death united the citizens of Boston against the British. Within a few days, the British regiments were being constantly pelted with snowballs filled with rocks, then home-made spears, then clubs. The agitation was constant, and increasing until there was no doubt of the mob’s intention. Finally, The Boston Massacre of March 5, 1770 when the rioters charged the infantry line and engaged in hand-to-hand combat.
Richardson was found guilty of murder but was later freed and given a new job with custom services. This angered the colonists who later caught up with him and tortured him. Seider’s funeral was attended by five thousand people. His casket was inscribed with the words, “Innocence itself is not safe.” The boy’s death united the people of Boston against the British troops. Crowds formed and began pelting the troops with snowballs filled with stones. The agitation intensified as the crowd used home-made spears and clubs. Finally, the crowd attacked the British line, engaging in hand-to-hand fighting. There is some disagreement by historians about the actual cause of the Massacre. Doug Linder wrote this account for the Social Science Research Network:
The tragedy of March 5 began with a simple dispute over whether a British officer had paid a bill to a local wig-maker. The officer was walking down King Street when Edward Garrick, the wig-maker’s apprentice, called out, “There goes the fellow who hath not paid my master for dressing his hair.” The officer with the new hair, Captain John Goldfinch, passed on without acknowledging Garrick. But Garrick persisted, telling three passers-by that Goldfinch owed him money. A lone sentry named Hugh White overheard Garrick’s remarks. White told the apprentice, “He is a gentleman, and if he owes you anything he will pay for it.” Garrick’s answer–that there were no gentlemen left in the regiment–caused White to leave his post and confront Garrick. After a brief, heated exchange of words, the sentry struck Garrick with his musket, knocking him down.
It wasn’t long before a crowd formed and began taunting White. Several blocks away another confrontation happened when a crowd began pelting a group of soldiers. The officer of the British guard, Captain Thomas Preston lined up six soldiers and started down King Street. The crowd encircled them and began throwing coal, ice and rocks at them. There is some confusion as to what exactly happened next and whether an order to fire was given. The soldiers did open fire with five people dying in the street and another six wounded. The soldiers were eventually placed on trial but the incident caused the British troops to withdraw from the city of Boston. What began as a minor confrontation on the street became a major incident and helped ignite the desire of the colonists for freedom from British rule. The Boston Massacre was a principal factor that contributed to the colonist’s demand for independence. Zobel Hiller explains in The Boston Massacre:
As he reflected on the events that led to the American Revolution, John Adams concluded that the ‘foundation of American independence was laid’ on that fateful chilly March evening in Boston in 1770. In spite of the cooling of tensions in the wake of the Boston Massacre as the British diffused the crisis, the spark of revolution continued to foster not only in the minds of Bostonians but also in the hearts of colonists throughout the nation who were forced to come to grips with the difficult decision to turn their backs on the mother country to launch a war for independence.
The French and Indian War
In America, the conflict is called the French and Indian War. In Europe it is called the Seven Years’ War. The war began in 1754 and ended in 1763. As a result of winning the war, Great Britain gained territory in North America, but disagreements over the exploration of the frontier and taxes on the colonists led to continued displeasure by the colonist and contributed to the American Revolution. The war was part of a larger conflict. Alfred Cave writes about the larger conflict in his book The French and Indian War:
Known in European history as the Seven Years’ War, it was fought not only on land but also on the high seas, and not only in North America, but in the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, and Asia as well It was one of a long series of Anglo-French wars beginning in 1689 and not ending until 1815, wars fought not only for dominance in Europe but also for control of vast, intercontinental empires.
The British, the French and the colonists sought to expand their sphere of influence in North America. This led to tensions that contributed to the start of the war. Great Britain, its Anglo colonists and the Iroquois Confederacy fought against France, French colonists and their Native American allies. According to the U.S. State Department Historian:
In 1753, prior to the outbreak of hostilities, Great Britain controlled the 13 colonies up to the Appalachian Mountains, but beyond lay New France, a very large, sparsely settled colony that stretched from Louisiana through the Mississippi Valley and Great Lakes to Canada.
One of the disputed border regions between British and French territories was the Ohio River Valley region. In order to reinforce their claim, the French built numerous forts in the area. In 1754, the British tried to drive out the French. An excursion was led by Lieutenant Colonel George Washington, but he was defeated by the superior French numbers. After British Prime Minister Thomas Pedham-Holles heard of the defeat, he called for a counter-attack. His enemies in the British Cabinet made Pedham-Holles’s plan public, alerting the French. This escalated what was a small action into full-scale war between France and England. France attempted to sue for peace with Britain but was rejected and the war spread to Europe with Spain joining France and declaring war on Great Britain. According to the U.S. State Department Historian, overwhelming effectiveness of the British Navy and the ineffectiveness of the Spanish Navy contributed to the success of the British:
British forces seized French Caribbean islands, Spanish Cuba, and the Philippines. Fighting in Europe ended after a failed Spanish invasion of British ally Portugal. By 1763, French and Spanish diplomats began to seek peace. In the resulting Treaty of Paris (1763), Great Britain secured significant territorial gains, including all French territory east of the Mississippi river, as well as Spanish Florida, although the treaty returned Cuba to Spain.
England had won the French and Indian War but the war had stressed the British economy and plunged the country into debt. In an effort to lessen this fiscal weight, the government in England began to look at several options for raising money and underwriting the cost of the war.
A number of taxes were levied on the North American colonies as a way to pay for the war. While a spirit of cooperation and goodwill existed towards England by the colonists after the war, if soon evaporated when faced with taxes and the British Proclamation of 1763. This proclamation stated that colonists could not settle west of the Appalachian Mountains. The British thought that by limiting settlements they could stabilize relations with the Native Americans in the region who had sided with the French and reduce competition with new American businesses. Additionally, Britain thought the move would lessen the costs of defending their colonies. The colonists were outraged by the British proclamation since many of the colonists had either purchased or were granted tracts of land west of the mountains for their help in the war. While England had won the French and Indian War, their actions after the war would foster resentment and mistrust by the colonists. Alfred Cave describes another British action that contributed to the colonist’s frustration:
This new mood of defiance was expressed not only in the well-known resistance to parliamentary taxation and regulation, but also in mob violence against unpopular British agents. Particular targets were naval recruiters and their pressgangs, which sometimes kidnapped men off the streets of seaport towns and forced them into service in the Royal Navy Conditions in the naval service, were horrible: bad food, backbreaking work, and brutal discipline. Many victims of impressments did not survive the first year.
The British government’s attempts to cover the costs of the war by taxing the colonists led to calls for independence. Britain’s attempt to limit western movement by the colonists outraged many and added to the increasing number of disputes between the colonists and the British government. The actions of Naval recruiters created further defiance by the colonists. These disputes eventually led to rebellion by the colonists and would be a principal factor that contributed to the colonist’s demand for independence.
There were many factors that caused the American colonists to start down the road to independence. While no one factor shaped the American Revolution, the Boston Massacre and the French and Indian War were significant contributors. The political landscape both in North America and in England helped contribute to the road to independence. The colonist’s transition from loyal English subjects to independent farmers and business owners who sought to determine their own destiny conflicted with the government in Britain who continued to see the colonies’ purpose to serve them. England’s need for revenue caused them to impose taxes on the colonies while it fostered resentment among the colonists who felt they should control their own revenue stream. In a way, the political views of the colonists and the political views of the British government were destined to clash.
Many historians view the Boston Massacre as a key event that led up to the colonist’s drive for revolution. In The Life of John Adams, Volume 1, Adams writes:
John Adams said the ‘foundation of American independence was laid’ at the Boston Massacre and playwright Mercy Otis Warren, sister to James Otis, wrote that ‘No previous outrage had given a general alarm, as the commotion on the fifth of March, 1770.'
The Boston Massacre helped to stir up the public’s frustration with the policies of Great Britain. While a period of calm lasted for two years after the Boston Massacre incident, people’s opinions were already being formed and hardened about the British government and its king.
Another key event on the road to the American Revolution was the French and Indian War. During the war the colonists learned military tactics and developed confidence in their ability to fight for themselves. They started to define the type of leadership and independence they wanted. The experience of the colonists during the French and Indian War helped define how they would later respond to the taxation and military control of England. After the war, colonists were outraged by British proclamations and taxes. In Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766 Fred Anderson writes, “The French and Indian War ended in the…dramatic rearrangement of the balance of power, in Europe and North America alike. Without the Seven Years’ War, American independence would surely have been long delayed.”
There were many causes of the American Revolution, some notable and others of lesser importance. The key factors were the colonists being taxed without representation and a general feeling that the rights of the colonists were being eroded by Britain. The effects of the French and Indian War along with the Boston Massacre helped galvanize sentiment for independence and helped cause the American Revolution.
Adams, Charles Francis and Adams, John Quincy. The Life of John Adams, Volume 1. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Company, 1871.
Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766. Visalia: Vintage Press, 2001.
Bourne, Russell. The Red King’s Rebellion: Racial Politics in New England 1675-1678. New York: Atheneum Press, 1990.
Cave, Alfred A. The French and Indian War. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2004.
Gregg Kenneth R. Seider/Richardson Event: A Prelude to the Boston Massacre. Boston Massacre Historical Society. http://www.bostonmassacre.net/seider-richardson-event.htm (accessed August 12, 2013).
Hiller, Zobel B. The Boston Massacre. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1970. Pg. 385.
Lee, James Melvin. History of American Journalism. Garden City: Garden City Publishing, 1923.
Linder, Doug. The Boston Massacre Trials: An Account. Social Science Research Network. www.papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1021327 (accessed August 12, 2013).
Office of the Historian. U.S. Department of State. “French and Indian War/Seven Years’ War, 1754-63.” http://history.state.gov/milestones/1750-1775/FrenchIndianWar (accessed August 13, 2013).
 James Melvin Lee. History of American Journalism. Garden City, Garden City Publishing, 1923. Pg. 84.
Russell Bourne. The Red King’s Rebellion: Racial Politics in New England. New York: Atheneum Press, Pg. 215.
Alfred A Cave. The French and Indian War. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004. Pg. 6.
Gregory Evans Dowd. A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745-1815. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1992. Pg. 25.
Alfred A. Cave. The French and Indian War. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004. Pg. 109.
Doug Linder. The Boston Massacre Trials: An Account. Social Science Research Network. http://www.papers.ssrn. com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1021327.
Kenneth R Gregg. Seider/Richardson Event: A Prelude to the Boston Massacre. Boston Massacre Historical Society. http://www.bostonmassacre.net/seider-richardson-event.htm.
Zobel B Hiller.The Boston Massacre. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.1970. Pg. 385.
Doug Linder. The Boston Massacre Trials: An Account. Social Science Research Network. http://www.papers.ssrn. com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1021327.
 Zobel B Hiller. The Boston Massacre. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.1970. Pg. 385.
 Alfred A. Cave. The French and Indian War. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004. Pg. 1.
 Office of the Historian. U.S. Department of State. “French and Indian War/Seven Years’ War, 1754-63.” http://history.state.gov/milestones/1750-1775/FrenchIndianWar.
Alfred A. Cave. The French and Indian War. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004. Pg. 85.
Charles Francis Adams, John Quincy Adams. The Life of John Adams, Volume 1. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Company, 1871. Pg. 124.
Fred Anderson. Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766. Visalia: Vintage Press, 2001. Pg. 410.
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