Throughout the colonial period, there were many factors that led to the Revolutionary war, and it was when Britain began passing increasingly oppressive restrictions that colonists began to see independence as the only alternative to British rule. More than anything else, the actions of the British government fostered the feelings of nationalism in the loose collection of isolated colonies. There were many classical examples of British encroachment against liberty in the eyes of the colonists.
After the French and Indian War, Britain changed its policies regarding the colonies. These changes in policy, especially the British attempt to raise revenue through direct taxation aroused resentment and in the colonies. Because of the war, Americans gained self-confidence and military experience, saw the need for colonial unity to meet common problems, and had the danger of attack by the French and certain Indian tribes removed from their frontiers and thus become less dependent on Britain.
The British policies enacted were meant to place the colonies under strict British political and economic control, compel the colonies to respect and obey British law, and make the colonies bear their part of the cost of maintaining the British Empire (Gordon, 1993). The series of British decrees that followed faced strong opposition in the colonies and did little but encourage nationalism. The Navigation Acts and Writs of Assistance greatly hindered the colonists’ freedom to pursue maximum profit from their labor, as well as freedom from unfair searches by British authorities.
No single act did more to unify opposition to imperial rule as the Stamp Act, which led directly to colonists taking the name of “Patriots” to show their solidarity and opposition (“The American Revolution: Causes and Consequences,” p. 4). The Stamp Act was the first internal tax levied on the colonies and negatively affected influential lawyers, clergy, and printers, who would increase the sense of national unity and opposition to the crown. The Townshend Acts were a new tax levied on colonial imports, and those colonists in violation were forced to submit to a military trial instead of trial by jury in colonial court (Gordon, 1993).
The Quartering Act also imposed upon colonists to provide food and shelter to British soldiers. These taxes and acts, mostly designed to create subordination amongst colonists, had the opposite effect. Colonist began to protest, and delegates from nine colonies even created a Stamp Act Congress in 1765 to protest British tax and boycott British goods. With widespread opposition continuing to grow, the Boston massacre enraging colonists, and the Intolerable Acts coming as the final blow, the First Continental Congress was formed in 1774 and the first steps towards complete national unity had been taken (Gordon, 1993).
By 1776, the colonists were ready for a complete break from Britain, no matter the costs, even war against a world power. Despite being untrained and outgunned, the American colonists enjoyed many advantages that enabled them to win the war. The colonies were separated from Britain by 3000 miles of ocean with contacts maintained only by slow moving ships. This slow and sometimes non-existent communication only widened the gap between the genteel British nobility and forces in America. Although most colonists were British in origin, their environment had transformed them into Americans, with intimate knowledge of the makeup of the land.
Interaction with Indians, the often difficult North American environment, and the feeling of independence from home rule created a situation in which the Americans were simply more motivated and willing to fight than their British counterparts. Furthermore, many Americans had come from countries hostile to Britain, contributing to the anti-British sentiment. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a small but highly active minority resented the British monarchy and desired independence which inspired the country to fight. Likewise, the British authorities failed to comprehend the seriousness of colonial resolve.
King George III, seeking to revive executive power in Britain, considered the colonists ungrateful and disloyal, rejected efforts at compromise, and pursued a policy of suppressing the colony by force (Gordon, 1993). Presented with a harsh, growing opposition from Britain, colonists began to see themselves as something unique—Americans. Their European way of living was modified by the American environment, especially the frontier with its great tracts of available land, its danger from the Indians, and its challenges from Nature.
In adjusting to the new environment, the colonists were forced to change and it only aided their separation from British rule. They developed a spirit of individualism, self-reliance, independence, and faith in the future. With the passing of time, a new person emerged that was no longer a European, but an American in character and outlook (Gordon, 1993). This independent spirit did echo many of the ideals that encouraged British peasants centuries earlier to challenge the monarchy for increased rights, and may have been inevitable.
The former British quest for independence saw the creation of the Magna Carta, Parliament, the passage of English Common Law, and eventually the English Bill of Rights during the Glorious Revolution of the late seventeenth century. American desire for self-rule and democracy was uniquely British in that regard, and the distance from the kingdom allowed the colonists to actively seek full independence in a way that the British common man could not. And, through perseverance and high ideals, the colonies succeeded in uniting to defeat their common enemy and create the United States of America.