The Causes of the Revolution

A. Laws to regain the control of American colonial commerce irritate the colonists.

The purpose of European countries in planting colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was to establish trade centres for the extension of their commerce. In accordance with this theory of colonization, England valued her American colonies according to the wealth they produced. To regain control of their trade, which the English had lost during their wars with the Dutch, Parliament began, in 1651, to pass Navigation Laws and Acts of Trade. These laws required (1) that the colonies should ship such colonial products as sugar, tobacco, iron, furs, and lumber only to English ports; (2) that they should buy European goods only in England and bring them to the colonies only in English ships; (3) that the colonies should not manufacture any article that could be manufactured in England. These laws, so beneficial to English trade, would operate unjustly for the colonists in the following ways: (1) Whatever colonial products the English manufacturer needed he could buy of the colonies at his own price; (2) as the colonists were compelled to buy European goods in England, they had to pay whatever English merchants charged, or not buy at all; (3) while the law providing that all European goods should be imported in English ships would put money into the pockets of the English ship-owner, it would almost ruin the ship-building industry in the colonies and throw thousands of American sailors out of employment.

B. How the Sugar Act injures the West India trade and increases smuggling.

In 1733 the English Parliament passed the famous Sugar Act, by which a heavy duty was laid upon sugar and molasses' imported from the French islands of the West Indies in exchange for lumber and fish. Its purpose was to protect English planters in those islands. But there was a special advantage to New England in trading with the French, for they would buy inferior qualities of fish which were not salable elsewhere, while their low-priced sugar and molasses could be made into rum, for which there was a good demand in New England. Some of it was used in exchange for African slaves, to be sold to the Southern colonies. The Sugar Act, therefore, if enforced, would greatly injure New England trade with the West Indies, and this trade was one of the principal sources of wealth to New England merchants. Threatened with financial ruin, they had to choose between that and smuggling. Believing the law was an unjust interference with their natural rights, they chose smuggling, and for a time England allowed it to pass unnoticed.

C. New British policy of taxation is unpopular in the colonies.

However, after the Last French War the British Government adopted a new colonial policy and the situation changed. The wars with France had been costly and England now had a huge national debt. The king's representative in the ministry, Lord Grenville, maintained that since this debt was in-curred in the defense of the colonies, they should pay their share of it. Grenville seemed to forget not only that the colonies were themselves heavily in debt on account of the war, but also that the wars were fought quite as much to protect English trade as to defend the colonies.

The truth was that for a hundred and fifty years Great Britain had been so taken up with her home troubles and with her life-and-death struggle with France for world empire that she had left her colonies pretty much to themselves. They had been free to make their own laws, levy their own taxes, and manage their own affairs with little interference. In fact, theAmerican colonies had now become a people of 3,000,000 with interests of their own, and with a belief in their own strength and high destiny. In the new country, where it was easy for men to own their homes, they led a self-reliant, independent life, and were ready to insist upon their rights--the rights of nativeborn Englishmen. The mother Country was not aware of this situation when she started out on her new policy of enforcing the trade laws, and while it was of the highest importance that she should keep the colonies contented and loyal to herself, those in control of the government acted toward them as if they were merely great trading centres existing only for the good of the mother country. Thus far the colonists had submitted to taxes upon their trade and industries because (1) it was usual the world over for colonies to have their trade thus taxed by their mother country; (2) the English navy protected the commerce of the colonies; and (3) the trade laws were not strictly enforced. The new policy, which was expected to strengthen the unity of the British Empire by bringing the colonists more directly under control, failed by driving the Americans, first into a closer union with each other, and then into open rebellion against the mother country.

D. James Otis attacks the right of Great Britain to tax the colonies.

One of the first methods adopted to enforce the trade laws was the use of legal papers called writs of assistance. The writs were in the nature of general search-warrants that empowered officers to go into any warehouse or private dwelling in search of smuggled goods. In this way many thousand dollars' worth of private property was seized and confiscated. The people were indignant. In a test case against what they considered an invasion of their rights (1761), James Otis, of Massachusetts, defended the colonial merchants. He made an impressive speech, in which he earnestly contended that the colonists were not bound to obey the laws which were not passed by their own representatives or to pay taxes to any country in the legislature of which they were not personally represented. The key-note of this speech was "Taxation without representation is tyranny," and it sounded from Massachusetts to Georgia.

E. The Stamp Act

Unwilling to believe that the colonies could not be brought under subjection, the British Government, in 1764, took another hazardous step by levying a direct tax upon them. The measure, known as the Stamp Act, became a law in March, 1765. It required the colonies to use stamped paper for newspapers, almanacs, pamphlets, advertisements, and all kinds of legal documents. The stamps cost all the way from one cent to fifty dollars each. Grenville said this tax would be fair because it would fall upon all the colonies alike. He had asked them to devise a plan of their own ;and had given them one year to work it out, but they had done nothing.

Although the wars with the French had ended, a standing army of 10,000 men was to be kept up in America for the purpose of protecting the colonies from the Indians or from any foreign foe. If such an army was to be maintained in the colonies for their defense, Grenville and the British ministry reasoned that the colonies should share in the expense. It should be noted also that all of the money to be raised by the Stamp Act was to be spent in America. Yet it was for the purpose of maintaining what many regarded as a foreign army, and was taxation without representation.

The Stamp Act aroused a storm of angry opposition throughout the colonies. There were public demonstrations everywhere. Organizations called "Sons of Liberty" were formed. Merchants banded together to import no more goods from England until the Stamp Act should be repealed. They urged the necessity of manufacturing their own goods in the colonies. They decided to stop eating mutton so they would have more wool for making cloth. The day the Stamp Act went into effect was made a day of mourning. Bells were tolled, flags were lowered, and business houses were closed to indicate that liberty was dead.

F. Patrick Henry attacks the taxation policy of the British Government

In May the Virginia legislature met at Williamsburg. It included the most eminent men of Virginia, and they were anxious to act wisely. They were men stanchly loyal to America and yet, being attached by many ties to England, they hesitated to separate themselves by an act of war. In the midst of the general doubt and perplexity Patrick Henry, a new member with no recognized standing among the political leaders of Virginia, arose and introduced a series of resolutions. In these he declared that the "General Assembly of the colony had the sole right and power of laying taxes in the colony." An exciting debate followed. George Washington was present, and Thomas Jefferson, a young law student, stood at the door, earnestly listening. He tells us later that the discussion was "most bloody." The opposition only fired the passion of Henry, and in a burst of wrathful eloquence he ended his speech in words never to be forgotten: "Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and George the Third"-- "Treason! Treason !" wildly shouted some of the members. The orator paused a moment and then calmly added--" may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it." The excitement caused by this speech travelled like wild-fire through the colonies. It helped to unite them for open resistance.

G. The Stamp Act Congress meets for a common purpose (1765).

In passing the Stamp Act the English Government had made the huge blunder of giving the colonies a common grievance. This measure furnished them a common ground for resistance and a common purpose for united action. Accordingly, it had a most important and significant result in strengthening the union of the colonies. In June Massachusetts sent out a call for a general congress, to discuss the situation and agree upon some plan of action. Representatives from nine of the colonies met at New York in October and passed resolutions similar to those of Virginia. They sent a remonstrance to Parliament, declaring that it had no right to tax them because it did not represent them; and that the people of the colonies could not, "from their local circumstances," be represented in Parliament. To this warning George III gave no heed. But the most effective action of the colonies was their agreement to buy no goods from England. It succeeded when argument failed. As one-third of England's trade was with the colonies, this boycott on English goods caused a serious loss to English merchants, and they eagerly begged Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act.

The debate in Parliament over the repeal showed that many English statesmen stoutly defended the colonies in their opposition to the direct taxation without representation. Among these were Pitt, Conway, and Barre in House of Commons, and Camden and Shelburne in the House of Lords. The greatest of these friends of America and the most powerful English leader at that time, as we have already noticed, was William Pitt. In words that thrilled the House of Commons and that stir our hearts to-day he exclaimed: "In my opinion this kingdom has no right to lay a tax on the colonies ....The gentleman tells us that America is obstinate; America is almost in open rebellion. I rejoice that America has resisted." At these words the members started up as if they had received a blow. The speaker repeated: "I rejoice that America has resisted''; and then continued: "Three millions of people so dead to all the feelings of liberty as voluntarily to submit to be slaves would have been fit instruments to make slaves of all the rest." Parliament voted to repeal the act, but declared its right to bind the colonies in all cases whatsoever. And yet it was this very right to tax an unrepresented people that the colonies had called in question. They claimed that as native-born Englishmen in America they had, according to their charters, the same rights and privileges as native-born Englishmen in the mother country. The difference between the man of Kent (England) and the man of Massachusetts was that the first was taxed by Parliament and the second by the Massachusetts colonial assembly. In Massachusetts, as in all the other colonies, each member of the colonial assembly was supposed to represent the people in whose district he lived and by whose votes he was elected. This was the American idea of actual representation, according to which the colonies were not represented in Parliament. However, many Englishmen who argued that the colonists should cheerfully submit to the stamp tax or to any other tax levied by Parliament contended that the colonists were "virtually" represented in Parliament. These men declared that every member of Parliament not only represented all the people in England, but also all the people in the British Empire. Said Mansfield in the House of Lords: "There can be no doubt .that the inhabitants of the colonies are as much represented in Parliament as the greatest part of the people of England are represented .... A member of Parliament, chosen by boroughs, represents not only the constituents and inhabitants of that particular place, but he represents the inhabitants of all the colonies and dominions of Great Britain." On the other hand, William Pitt with deep feeling exclaimed: "The idea of virtual representation of America in this House is the most contemptible that ever entered into the head of a man !"

But even in America a small group, including royal governors and office-holders under the king, upheld the British Government. A larger group did not approve of Parliament's oppressive measures, but declared that, as loyal subjects, they were opposed to violence. Both these groups of Loyalists, or Tories, as they were called, deplored open resistance because they feared that it might lead first to the use of force by England and later to war. A third group of Tories feared war because it might injure their business, or even cause the loss of their property. All these groups stood out against the Patriots, or those who would not submit to the British Government's unjust policy of taxing the Americans without their consent. The issue between the Patriots and the Loyalists was becoming more clearly defined every day.

H. Taxation without representation in England

The Revolution in America was more than a local movement. A similar struggle was at the same time going on in England, and just as there were some Americans who did not oppose England, there were some Englishmen who upheld America. It was in each country a prolonged struggle between hostile principles. There was taxation without representation in England as well as in America, and many Englishmen like William Pitt and Edmund Burke were as much opposed to it there as men like Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry were opposed to it in America.

At that time the membership of Parliament did not fully represent the people of England. Great towns like Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, and Leeds, for instance, were not represented at all, while members were returned for boroughs that had no existence except in name. In a population of 8,000,000, only about 160,000, or one-tenth of the men of voting age in England, could vote. A few great families controlled the House of Commons. Certainly the majority of Englishmen suffered like the colonists from taxation without representation. Among those who urged upon the people the justice of parliamentary reform, with a fair and full representation of English people in the House of Commons, was William Pitt.

But just as George III determined to establish his own personal rule in England by making Parliament represent him and a few great families that were in agreement with his views, so he made the problem of taxing America a personal one. If America should succeed in the struggle for "no taxation without representation", there was little doubt that in time a similar struggle would succeed in England. King George, therefore, was much disturbed when the Stamp Act was repealed. He could not let the matter rest, and in the very next year (1767) he again tried to force new taxes upon America. We shall now see whether he succeeded.

I. A new kind of tax is levied (1767).

In 1767 Charles Townshend, acting forthe king, induced Parliament to levy new port duties on a few articles, including glass, lead, paper, and tea. The colonies had objected to a stamp tax because it was a direct tax. As these new taxes were indirect, Townshend and King George thought the Americans might not refuse to pay them.

The money raised by these taxes was to be used to pay the colonial governors and judges, as well as to support a standing army. When we recall the bitter struggle between the people and the royal governors over this very question of salaries, we can appreciate how unpopular the measure was. Still more intolerable was the idea of supporting an army, the real purpose of which was to maintain the authority of the king and deprive them of their rights as citizens.

The new taxes, therefore, were opposed quite as violently as the Stamp Act had been. Massachusetts led in the opposition. She sent out a circular letter, proposing to the other colonies united action; and the colonies agreed to import no goods from England, thus making their displeasure keenly felt by English merchants and ship-owners.

J. The Boston Massacre (1770).

To suppress the open rebellion and to enforce the revenue laws, King George sent troops to America. In the autumn of 1768 they arrived in Boston, where their presence was regarded as a menace. They were a constant source of annoyance, and quarrels between them and the people were of frequent occurrence. Finally in March, 1770, the crisis came in a disturbance which took place in State Street, in front of what was then the Custom-House, now the old State-House. The soldiers fired upon the people, killing three and wounding many others. Excitement ran high. News of the "Boston Massacre" spread swiftly to the near-by towns.

The next morning Governor Hutchinson was advised by his council to remove one of the two regiments from Boston. But this plan did not satisfy Samuel Adams and the people. In the afternoon an immense town meeting was held in the Old South Church to take action on the critical situation; and when the question was put as to what should be done, 3,000 voices shouted: "Both regiments or none !" It seemed expedient to the governor to yield to the people's demand, and all the troops were withdrawn to an island in the harbor.

K. Committees of correspondence are formed (1772-1773)

United action among the Massachusetts towns became a pressing need. No one could tell what new danger might threaten at any hour. So on the proposal of Samuel Adams in town meeting, committees of correspondence were appointed in the various towns (1772). In the following year Dabney Carr, of Virginia, suggested committees of correspondence for all the colonies who could thus easily keep in touch with one another through letters carried by swift messengers and could act quickly. This step was a bold one. It led first to the Continental Congress and then to open war.

Colonial merchants refuse to import goods, and taxes are repealed except on tea.

The resistance of the colonies was so obstinate that the new taxes were no more successful than the Stamp Act had been. Colonial merchants refused to import goods, and English merchants and ship-owners begged Parliament for a repeal of the law. But the king would not yield. He resorted to a foolish device by which he hoped to maintain his point. He took off all the taxes except the one on tea. "There must be one tax to keep the right to tax," he said. The tax on tea was so small that the colonists could buy tea cheaper than it could be bought by the people in England; cheaper even than it could be bought when the colonists smuggled it from Holland. Still they refused to import the taxed tea.

L. The Boston Tea Party

Then England arranged with the East India Company to ship cargoes of tea to such important ports as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston. When the tea arrived the people in New York and Philadelphia refused to let it be landed, and the people in Charleston stored it in damp cellars where it spoiled. In Boston the people were determined to send it back, but Governor Hutchinson refused to let this be done. For nineteen days the struggle continued. On the nineteenth day the excitement in Boston was intense. If the cargo of tea should stay in the harbor until the twentieth day, the law would permit it to be landed. Therefore a town meeting was called in the Old South Church and it lasted all day. At the meeting in the church and the streets outside, were 7,000 men from Boston and the surrounding towns, waiting anxiously for the outcome. At nightfall a messenger brought word from the governor that he would not permit the tea to be returned to England. Then Samuel Adams, moderator of the meeting, arose and said, "This meeting can do nothing more to save the country." As if this was a signal, a war-whoop was heard, and forty or fifty men dressed as Indians proceeded down the street toward Griffin's Wharf. Boarding the tea-ships, they ripped open every chest and spilled the tea into the harbor. A large party of people stood by while the "Indians" were emptying the chests, but every one was quiet and orderly. This was the famous "Boston Tea Party," at which some of the leading citizens of Boston were present (1773).

King George was wrathful at these high-handed proceedings. To punish Boston, Parliament passed the Port Bill, which closed the port to all trade until the town should pay for the tea that had been destroyed, valued at about $90,000. No vessel was allowed to sail into or out of the harbor. Another law, known as the Massachusetts Act, annulled the colony's charter'and took away free government from the people. A military governor, General Thomas Gage, was appointed. Like Andros, the Stuart governor, Gage stood for the tyranny of the British king. By thus making an example of Boston, the English Government hoped to frighten the other colonies into submission. Contrary to expectation, the effect of the oppressive measures was to unite the other colonies in sympathetic support of Massachusetts. Through the committees of correspondence they acted promptly. Provisions were sent from every direction to suffering Boston. Help came from even the far-away Carolinas. Patrick Henry angrily cried: "We must fight. I repeat it, sir; we must fight. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death."

The excitement was everywhere intense. United action was necessary. The Continental Congress, meeting in Carpenter's Hall, Philadelphia, was the outcome (September 5, 1774). All the colonies except Georgia were represented. This Congress declared the colonies had a right to govern themselves and levy their own taxes. It further declared that, should England attempt to force Massachusetts into submission, the other colonies would join Massachusetts in forcible resistance. A long step had been taken toward independence.