The American Revolution can be considered as the most important event within American history. Through this event, a collection of colonies transformed themselves into a unified government and society, one that embarked on the longest and most successful demonstration of democracy in world history.
During the 18th century, England and France were embroiled in a series of wars that were ultimately meant to establish one or the other as the dominant European force. The first three wars had no true impact on the colonies, but the last war – the French and Indian War – would lead to a huge change in the relationship between the colonies and England.
During the early years of the war, prior to 1758, the colonists continued trading with the French while refusing to contribute money to the British war effort. The first problem was solved through the efforts of the William Pitt, Prime Minister of England. He offered to reimburse the latter for part of any war expenses they incurred on behalf of England. The second issue resolved itself through victories the English had in Canada and the Caribbean.
Unfortunately, the English did not realize that their war policies would end up putting their realm in severe debt. Once it was realized, however, it opened the door for reform programs that would ultimately push the American colonies to seek independence from England.
Following William Pitt as Prime Minister were several men, all of whom tried to enforce strict laws on the American colonies with the goals of replenishing the English treasury and reestablishing English authority over the colonies. The first of these men was George Grenville, who became Prime Minister following William Pitt.
Grenville assessed the situation in the following manner: the colonies had an extremely light tax burden as compared to that being endured by the English; therefore, it would be logical for the prosperous colonies to share in the expenses that had been racked up trying to defend and protect them.
Grenville further discovered how lax the royal customs service in the American colonies was. This, combined with the need for England to replenish its treasury, lead to the implementation of several acts that would meet with ever increasing anger and protest on the part of the American colonists.
First, Grenville saw to it that the Navigation Acts that had been ignored for so long were now implemented to the last letter. Next was the passage of the Sugar Act in 1764, which put new taxes on foreign imports such as wine, textiles, coffee, indigo, and sugar. The goal behind this particular tax was to bring in enough money to offset the expenses of “defending, protecting and securing” (Shi & Tindall, 2007) the colonies. Following the Sugar Act was the Currency Act of 1764, which put a stop to the colonies printing their own paper money.
Following the implementation of the Sugar Act was the Stamp Act of 1765. This act stated that all printed material within the colonies had to had a revenue stamp on them. The final act implemented by Grenville was the Quartering Act, which applied to all colonies, but most seriously affected New York. It required that soldiers of the British army be given lodging within the homes of any colonial family at any given time.
In the minds of the colonists, all these various acts infringed on their rights. They strongly believed that England had no right to tax them if the colonists had no representation within the English Parliament. Therefore, each act that was passed was met with great protest and outrage within the colonies. Eventually, the slogan that could be heard throughout the colonies was: “No taxation without representation” (Shi & Tindall, 2007).
The outrage over the various acts, particularly the Sugar and Stamp Acts, ultimately led to the downfall of Grenville, and the repeal of these two offensive acts. However, Grenville’s successor went down the same path in passing the Townshend Acts. These laws were intended to bring the colonies, particularly New York, to heel. Instead, they simply increased colonial resentment and resistance.
Yet, the level of resentment and resistance varied among the colonists. John Adams stated during the first Continental Congress that, with regard to where the colonists stood on independence, one third were for independence, one third were against independence, and the final third were undecided.
Adams was extremely accurate in this statement. From the start, there had been a select group of colonists that agitated for immediate independence in response to the way Parliament and England treated them. Just as adamant were a group who believed that the colonies owed everything to England, and therefore, could not see breaking away from England as a good thing. Finally, there was the group who could not decide either way. Like all undecided groups, they could see valid points on each side of the issue, but were unable to make a definitive choice.
Ultimately, one of the deciding factors that rallied all the colonists to approve gaining independence from England was Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. In this pamplet, Paine outlined points that the majority of the colonists agreed with. He did not just attack Parliament, but also the concept of monarchy.
For Paine, the responsibility for the troubles in the colonies did not just lay at the feet of Parliament, but also at the feet of King George III himself. Paine used his pamphlet to present the following conclusion: “Americans should consult their own interests, abandon George III, and declare their independence” (Shi & Tindall, 2007).
Another aspect that unified the majority of American colonists in seeking independence was the outbreak of war in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. These two battles occurred before a formal break with England had been pronounced. The fact that English soldiers would attempt to initiate warfare with the colonists before they had even completely decided on breaking away from England was more than enough evidence that England did not have any consideration for the colonial point of view. Therefore, the formal break England thought would never occur did occur via the writing and proclaiming of the Declaration of Independence in July of 1776.
Overall, the American Revolution occurred for one reason: it was the right time and moment to establish country that ruled in a manner completely different from the norm of monarchy. Many of those watching the Revolution unfold believed it was nothing more than an experiment in the misguided concept of democracy that would ultimately fail. Yet, that it did not fail is a testament to the hard work of and constant discussing and debating of the issues by the colonists.
They took what they felt was best from monarchical government and adapted it to fit into a new, democratic form of government and society, one in which all inhabitants of that society would have a say in the governing of that society. This is the legacy of the American Revolution: the ability of Americans to utilize the democratic process in governing of America.
Shi, David Emory and Tindall, George Brown. America: A Brief Narrative History-
Volume One. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007.