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American Revolution (1765-1783)

While British Mercantilism created an environment of resentment among the White Americans, the Seven Year War created conditions, which became the immediate trigger for the American Revolution.

Causes of American Revolution

  • Mercantile Capitalism
  • Proclamation of 1763
  • Role of Enlightenment Thinkers
  • Recovery of (Seven Year) War Expenditure
  • Stamp Act in 1765 →  No Representation in British Parliament
  • Boston Tea Party of 1773
  • Intolerable Acts of 1774 & Philadelphia Congress
  • American War of Independence (1775)

 


Mercantile Capitalism 

  • Mercantile Capitalism was the British policy in the 18th century.
  • Government should regulate the economy at home and colonies abroad, so as to increase the national power and achieve a positive Balance of Trade.

 

This policy manifested in form of placing trade barriers on the colonies and establishing a monopoly of the British companies on trade done by the colonies. Such restrictions, which were part of the British colonial policy of Mercantile Capitalism, prevented the Americans from developing their indigenous industry.

The colonies were barred by British law from using the non-British ships for trade. The export of certain raw material goods from American colonies could only be made to Britain. Further, a very heavy duty was levied on import of non-British goods into America.

Further, the Americans were forbidden by law to setup industries like iron works & textiles. The exports of finished iron and textile goods were very profitable to the British businessmen and thus, the Americans were forced to fund the British growth in these sectors of economy.


Proclamation of 1763 

As a truce with the American Indians, who had started an armed rebellion at the end of the Seven year War, the British Parliament issued a “Proclamation of 1763” which banned the expansion by the US settlers to the west of Appalachian Mountains, as this area was now reserved for the native American Indians.

Another reason for issue of such a proclamation was the lobbying by the Aristocrats in Britain, who did not want the westward expansion. They had bought land in the American colonies and made profits from the rents they extracted from the white settlers.

The American settlers, who had fought in the Seven year War along the British with the purpose of westward expansion, felt cheated and thus ignored this proclamation. Their local militia forces continued to bring the area in the west under their control.


Role of Enlightenment Thinkers 

The Enlightenment or “Age of reason” was a movement that began in 1600s with ideas proposed by thinkers on the form of government and the rights of the people. It reached its height in mid 1700s.

Around 1750, many Thinkers were challenging the status-quo and demanding freedom & liberty for the people. They placed before the people idea of a democratic form of governance. They helped in development of ideas of Republicanism and Liberalism that militated against colonialism.

The Enlightenment thinkers in mid-1700s in France gave following ideas, which influenced both, the American Revolution and the French Revolution:

Reason Truth could be discovered through reason or logical thinking
Nature There were natural laws of economics and politics, just as there were natural laws of motion
Happiness Happiness not misery on earth for humans as said by churches to find joy after death
Progress With a scientific approach, they believed, society and humankind could be perfected
Liberty envied the liberties that the English people had won in their Glorious Revolution (1688)

Recovery of (Seven Year) War Expenditure 

The Seven Year War had cost a lot of money to Britain. When they decided to make up for the costs of war by taxing the people in British colonies in North America, the latter opposed it.


No Representation in British Parliament 

The British Parliament enacted the Stamp Act in 1765, which imposed stamp taxes on all business transactions in the British colonies in USA. The Americans responded by boycotting the British goods and soon many uprisings in the towns followed where the tax collectors were exterminated.

Since the British Parliament had no American representation, the American leaders opposed the right of Britain to levy any taxes on them. Moreover, the Americans felt that the money thus collected was used in interest of the British and not for development of the peoples of America. In the Massachusetts Assembly, the leaders of all 13 colonies gathered and adopted the slogan of No Taxation without Representation. The threat by the American leaders to stop the import of British goods forced the British into repealing the Stamp Act.

Further, the Americans opposed the tax on consumer goods imported by the colonies by cutting British imports by half, which coerced the British into withdrawing all taxes except on Tea. The tax on Tea was not very high but it was not withdrawn by British because they wanted to retain their right to levy tax in US colonies. 

Boston Tea Party of 1773 was a protest against this Tea tax. A ship carrying tea was anchored in the Boston port. Initially Americans did not allow the ship to unload & this resulted in a standoff for many days. Finally, when the pro-Britain Boston Governor ordered unloading, white settlers dressed as American Indians destroyed all the tea by offloading all the containers into the sea. The infuriated British responded by closing the Boston Port to all trade and by passing the Intolerable Acts of 1774.


Intolerable Acts of 1774 & the Philadelphia Congress 

1st Continental Congress in Philadelphia (1774), which had representatives from 12 colonies (Georgia did not participate because it wanted British help in dealing with militancy of American Indians) was held in response to the Intolerable Acts/Coercive Acts passed by the British Parliament earlier in 1774 to punish the colony of Massachusetts for the incident of Boston Tea Party by taking away its right of self-government.

Americans also appealed to King George III to remove restrictions on indigenous industry, allow Americans to trade with all the countries at reduced tariffs and not to tax the American colonies without their consent. Britain interpreted these demands as a Mutiny & attacked the colonies in 1775.

This led the American representatives to proclaim Declaration of Independence in 1776 (drafted by Thomas Jefferson), stating American colonies ought to be free and independent states.


American War of Independence (1775)

France, Spain and Dutch Republic helped the Americans secretly. In 1777, Britain tried to encircle the Americans by invading from Canada. Their failure in this Battle proved to be a turning point in favour of Americans.

After this victory of Americans, France entered the war openly in 1778. Spain and Dutch Republic also fought with Britain in Europe and Asia. Spanish Army expelled the British army from Florida (Florida was with British since Seven Year War’s end. Later US bought Florida from Spain). In 1783, the British commander Cornwallis surrendered before the army led by George Washington.

American Revolution


Second Treaty of Paris 1783 

  • Perpetual Peace between USA and Britain
  • All US Colonies were recognized as free, sovereign and independent states, with Britain giving up all claims on government, property and territory.
  • US would give back confiscated lands of Loyalists (who fought from British sides)

Spain signed a separate treaty with Britain got back Florida (lost to Britain after the 1st treaty of Paris, 1763)


Constructive Criticism of American Revolution 

In 1789, United States Constitution came into effect. It was the first written Republic Constitution. The American Revolution established the first democratic Republic in the world & USA soon embarked on Industrial Revolution. It also expanded its territory within the continent of North America by westward expansion and purchase of territory like Louisiana from France in 1803 and Florida from Spain in 1819.

The Republic was not truly democratic as the women, the blacks and the Native Indian Americans did not get the Right to Vote. Slavery was a blot on the principle of equality and it could be finally abolished, only after the Civil War of 1861-65 between the Northern and the Southern States of USA.

The Southern States were against Slavery abolition as their economy was farm based and required the cheap black labour. They also profited from the Slave Trade and even desired that slavery be expanded to the newly acquired territory.

It can be argued that the Men referred to in US constitution were Men of Property, as only those who held property were given all of the promised rights. Still, the most important contribution of American Revolution was its contribution to ideas of Liberty, Equality, Fundamental Rights, Nationalism and anti-colonialism.

The idea of equality with no special privileges to Nobility was radical at a time when much of the world was under Feudalism, where the Nobles were the prominent class. The idea of no taxation on property, which flowed from the Right to Property, was also novel in those times.

Thus American Revolution was a revolution in ideas and system of Polity and it impacted the future events, the most prominent of them being the French Revolution of 1789.

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