The American Revolution
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|Digital History ID 3214|
Unlike many modern revolutions, the American Revolution was not rooted in economic deprivation or in the struggle of an oppressed class against an entrenched elite. But this does not mean that the colonists did not suffer from serious grievances.
The Revolution was the product of 40 years of abuses by the British authorities that many colonists regarded as a threat to their liberty and property. But people do not act simply in response to objective reality but according to the meaning that they give to events. The Revolution resulted from the way the colonists interpreted events.
The American patriots were alarmed by what they saw as a conspiracy against their liberty. They feared that the corruption and the abuses of power by the British government would taint their own society. And, further, they were troubled by the knowledge that they had no say over a government three thousand miles away.
1733: The Molasses Act, which levied a stiff tax on rum, molasses, and sugar produced in the British West Indies for sale to the colonies, produced vigorous opposition on the grounds that it sought to protect English economic interests at the colonists' expense.
1750: After Parliament passed the Iron Act, which impeded the development of iron manufacturing in the colonies, Benjamin Franklin published a treatise denouncing the absurdity of restraining the colony's economic growth.
1751: The British government vetoed colonial laws that would prohibit convicts from entering the colonies, leading Benjamin Franklin to suggest that the colonists ship rattlesnakes to Britain.
1754: For the fourth time since the 1680s, Britain and France go to war. The conflict is known as the Seven Years' War in Europe and the French and Indian War in North America. When it ended in 1763, France ceded Canada and the Ohio River Valley to British rule.
1763: To prevent the colonists from rushing into territories vacated by the French and provoking conflict with the Indians, Parliament adopted the Proclamation of 1763, forbidding the colonists from purchasing land west of the Appalachians. To enforce the Proclamation, the royal government stations 10,000 troops in the colonies--the first time a standing army has been stationed in the colonies in peacetime.
Britain also ordered western settlers to vacate Indian land and restricted Indian trading to traders licensed by the British government. For the first time, westward expansion was placed in the hands of royal officials.
1764: To maintain the army and repay war debts, Parliament decided to impose charges on colonial trade. It passed the Sugar Act, imposed duties on foreign wines, coffee, textiles, and indigo imported into the colonies, and expanded the customs service.
Britain required colonial vessels to fill out papers detailing their cargo and destination. The royal navy patrolled the coast to search for smugglers, who were tried in special courts without a jury.
1764: The Currency Act prohibited colonial governments from issuing paper money and required all taxes and debts to British merchants to be paid in British currency.
1765: To increase revenues to pay the cost of militarily defending the colonies, Parliament passed the Stamp Act, which required a tax stamp on legal documents, almanacs, newspapers, pamphlets, and playing cards. This was the first direct tax Parliament had ever levied on the colonies and a violation of the principle that only the colonies' legislative assemblies could impose taxes. Suspected violators were tried in admiralty courts without juries.
Colonists boycotted British goods and intimidated stamp distributors into resigning. They protested the Stamp Act on two grounds: that it represented taxation without representation and that it deprived colonists of the right to trial by jury. Outside of Georgia, no stamps were ever sold. London merchants ultimately persuaded Parliament to repeal the act.
The Stamp Act made many Americans realize for the first time that the British government could act contrary to the colonies' interests.
1765: Parliament unanimously passed the Declaratory Act, asserting its right to make laws governing the colonists.
1765: Parliament approved the Quartering Act, requiring colonial governments to put up British soldiers in unoccupied buildings and provide them with candles, bedding, and beverages. When the New York Assembly resists, the British governor suspended the assembly for six months.
1767: Chancellor of the Exchequer, Charles Townshend, imposed new duties on imports of glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea to the colonies. The Townshend Acts also expanded the customs service. Revenue from the acts paid the salaries of colonial governors and judges and prevented colonial legislatures from exercising the power of the purse over these officials.
1770: British soldiers under Captain Thomas Preston fired on a Boston crowd, killing five and wounding six. In a subsequent trial, in which John Adams defended the soldiers, all but two of the soldiers were acquitted of murder.
After discovering that the Townshend duties have raised only 21,000 pound sterling (while sales of British goods in the colonies have fallen more than 700,000 pounds), the British government repealed all the Townshend duties, except the duty on tea, to remind the colonists of Parliament's power to tax.
1773: Parliament passed the Tea Act that authorized the East India Company to bypass American wholesalers and sell tea directly to American distributors. Cutting out the wholesalers' profit would make English tea cheaper than tea smuggled in from Holland.
Colonists in Boston, disguised as Indians, boarded three vessels and dumped 342 canisters of British tea into Boston harbor.
The British government responded harshly; it closed Boston harbor to trade; modified the Massachusetts colonial charter; forbid town meetings more than once a year; called for the billeting of British troops in unoccupied private homes; provided for trials outside the colonies when royal officials are accused of serious crimes; and named a general to serve as Massachusetts' royal governor.
1774: The Quebec Act enlarged French Quebec to cover the area as far west as the Mississippi River and as far south as the Ohio River. French law prevailed in this area and the Catholic Church would have a privileged status there.
1774: Virginia took the lead in opposing British policies. Local committees called for the support of Boston and the elimination of all trade with Britain.
1774: In September, the first Continental Congress met in Philadelphia to orchestrate resistance to British policies. It declared that all trade with Britain should be suspended.
1775: British General Thomas Gage was ordered to use military force to put down challenges to royal authority in the colonies. To curtail colonial military preparations, he dispatched royal troops to destroy rebel supplies at Concord, Massachusetts.
On the night of April 18, Paul Revere and William Dawes alerted patriots of the approach of British forces. Revere was seized and Dawes was turned back at Lexington, Mass., but the Concord militia moved or destroyed the supplies and prepared to defend their town.
On April 19, British redcoats arrived at Lexington and ordered 70 armed "Minutemen" to disperse. A shot rang out and drew fire from the British soldiers. Eight Americans were killed. The British moved on to Concord, destroyed the supplies they found, then returned to Boston, as American patriots fired from behind hedges and walls. British losses were 65 dead, 173 wounded, and 26 missing. American casualties were 49 dead and 46 wounded or missing.
1775: In May, the second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia and appoints George Washington commander-in-chief.
1776: On July 2, the Continental Congress approved a resolution that begins: "that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent."