The American Revolution was a momentous event that changed the face of the whole world. Though the Revolutionary War lasted only a few short years, the American Revolution was a process that started long before the first shots of war were fired. The rebellion was permeated with the legacy of colonial political ideals, aggravated by parliamentary taxation, escalated by the restriction of American civil liberties and ignited by British military measures.
England had a hard time controlling its American colonies from the very beginning, leaving them to develop relatively on their own for several generations. The North American continent is close to 3,000 miles away from England and the trip from England to American by boat in the 1600s took six to eight weeks if not longer. The trip was not easy and many died along the way, but when immigrants did reach the New World they arrived a bit changed by their harrowing journey. These new immigrants were met with a clean, new, virgin land, virtually unchanged for thousands of years. It was as if they had landed on a whole separate planet.
These immigrants, then, established new societies based on whatever personal religious or political values they had, far from the shadow of England. Over 150 years later these values still lived strongly in the descendants of these original settlers. The rights of the individual were dominant in every aspect of American life in 1763. From the relative religious freedom, to the independence of the press, to the coveted public town meeting, Americans, unlike many Europeans at the time, enjoyed the right to choose how they lived their lives.
Theoretically, under the concept of mercantilism, which affirmed that the sole purpose of a colony was to provide for its mother country, Americans were restricted economically. But, until 1763, with England’s practice of salutary neglect, Americans enjoyed economic freedom and were able to trade covertly with whomever they wished. In 1763, England won the French/Indian War at a heavy financial. The high cost of the war forced England to take a firmer hold on its North American colonies. Since the French/Indian war was fought on American soil for the protection of the American people, the English government thought it elementary that the colonists should help pay off some of the debt incurred by the war.
But the Americans were outraged. When the Stamp Act of 1765 was passed colonists reacted with widespread anger and violence. Mobs attacked the homes of government officials, looting their property and giving the poor stamp collectors a good coat of tar and feathers. With the Townshend Acts of 1767, the colonists unified and began widespread boycotts of British goods, rallying around the motto “No taxation without representation.”
For the English the final straw came in 1773 when a group of young colonists, dressed as Indians, boarded three vessels docked in Boston Harbor and dumped hundreds of cases of British East India Company tea into the ocean. England could not ignore such a blatant slap in the face, and in 1774 passed the Coercive Acts, closing off Boston Harbor and holding the colonists responsible for the cost of the tea. Many Americans saw these acts as direct infringements on their civil liberties and the conflict escalated to new heights. When England tried to dissolve several state legislatures, colonial leaders assembled in secret, organizing such military groups as the Sons and Daughters of Liberty and the Minutemen.
As tempers ran high, the British started to tighten their military control over the major cities of America. In April 1775, a regiment of British redcoats on their way to seize rebel gunpowder clashed with a group of colonial minutemen at Concord, Massachusetts. This encounter was the beginning of the Revolutionary War and appropriately called by contemporaries “the shot heard round the world.”
The Revolutionary War, then, was a conflict that had roots deeply intertwined in a generations old colonial sense of autonomy and personal liberty. This well developed sense of individual freedom, combined with the English policy of taxation without representation, the eventual restriction of colonial civil liberties, and British military actions, led to what is now known as the American Revolution.
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