The Europeans began to make settlements in America in the sixteenth century. Earlier, Christopher Columbus had discovered America in 1492. Amerigo Vespucci made four voyages to America and gave a vivid description of the land. After these voyages, there was a substantial migration of people from Britain and France to this new world (as America was called). Most of the settlers were either landless in Europe, who sought to escape religious persecution or traders, who looked for economic prosperity and were ready to make new ventures. Gradually, England emerged as the most dominant foreign power in America. By the end of the eighteenth century, thirteen English Colonies were established in North America along the Atlantic coast.
These colonies fought a war of independence to free themselves from British control. This is known as the American Revolution.
Causes of American Revolution:
Policy of Mercantilism:
England had been following mercantilism, an ideology that had emerged in the economic field since the latter half of the sixteenth century. Mercantilism emphasized that every country should strive to become rich and powerful for its survival. The mercantilistic ideology became almost a religion. This ideology thrived because of its strength, the imperialistic countries could not establish colonies but also exploit them. In order to safeguard her commercial interest, England organized powerful military and naval forces. Under the mercantilistic policies, England imposed many restrictions on production in American colonies. With that end in view, certain laws such as the Marine Act (1651), the Jaggery Act (1733), the Sugar Act (1764) were passed and put into force from time to time.
Navigation Acts, Trading and Industrial Regulations:
Various Navigation Acts of 1651, 1660, and 1663 ensured that trade was carried only in British or colonial ships; that most European goods had to pass through Britain before entering the American colonies.
Certain goods like tobacco, rice, iron, and untanned leather declared enumerated goods could be shipped only in Britain; that bounties would be paid for the production of certain enumerated goods to promote British economic self-sufficiency. Such Laws fomented great dissatisfaction in colonies because the Dutch and the French traders were ready to buy these goods at higher rates than what the British traders paid but the colonists were unable to sell their goods at profitable prices.
Moreover, colonies were not allowed to export manufactured goods under various Acts affecting wool and woolen textiles in 1699, the hat industry in 1732, and iron products in 1750.
Influence of Seven Year’s War (1756–1763):
France had its colonies in Canada. The people of America were always terrified of the French invasion, hence they did not oppose the British government. But the defeat of France in the Seven Year’s War and England’s occupation of Canada changed the situation altogether. The Americans became quite enthusiastic after the end of French danger and began to make efforts for achieving independence and safeguarding their interests.
Besides this, England had to face economic hardships in the Seven Year’s War. By 1763 the British government had an extreme shortage of money. The British government wanted the people of the colonies should raise huge amounts to write off the debts and expenses of the Seven Year’s War. For this, the argument advanced was that the war was fought on behalf of the colonies. The colonies were not prepared to bear this financial burden, whereas the British government was bent up collecting these funds.
Grenville’s Arbitrary Work:
In 1763 just after the Seven Year’s War came to an end, Grenville, the Prime Minister of England, passeda series of Acts in connection with the American colonies, which enraged the Americans-
The Proclamation of 1763 prohibited the colonists from purchasing lands beyond the Appalachian Mountains.
He established the Admiralty Court to eliminate smuggling. It created discontentment among the people and they began to oppose British rule. It is said that Grenville lost America because he read the American despatches.
Sugar Act (Molasses Act 1764): The Sugar Act, banned the import of rum from overseas countries except England. Under the Sugar Act, the octroi on molasses was reduced from 6 to 3 pence, but it was recovered strictly. Taxes were imposed on wine, silk, coffee, and other articles of luxury. It also created dissatisfaction.
Stamp Act (1765): The British Parliament enacted the Stamp Act, which imposed stamp taxes on all business transactions in the British colonies in the USA. Example– revenue stamps of some amount were made mandatory for all legal documents. The Americans opposed it. They believed that the government of England had no right to interfere in the internal matters; therefore, they raised a slogan, “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.
The Currency Act was intended to ban the prevalent bills of exchange and paper currency of the American colonies so that only the English currency should be used for business transactions.
The Quartering Act obliged the colonies to pay a small portion of expenditure incurred upon the maintenance of British troops deployed in America.
Soon the Rockingham government collapsed and William Pitt formed his temporary government in which Townshend became Finance Minister. He observed that the Americans opposed the imposition of internal taxes but no external taxes. Therefore, he levied custom duties on those five goods (tea, lead, paper, coin-metal, and paints) which were imported by America from England. America refused to pay the customs duties because the Americans had resolved not to pay any taxes imposed by the British Parliament. On March 5, 1770, five Americans were killed by the British soldiers in Boston during the protest. It was known as the Boston Massacre. After this event, the Townshend laws were repealed.
Boston Tea Party:
Boston, the port of the Puritan colonyMassachusetts raised a very strong voice of protest against the North Tea Project. Under the guidance of Samuel Adams, a few Americans disguised as coolies boarded the ships of East India Company docked at Boston port, picked 340 boxes of tea, and consigned them to sea. This incident took place on December 16, 1773, and it was known as the Boston Tea Party. The people of England were greatly annoyed with this action of the Americans. In 1774, the British Parliament passed the Intolerable Acts (i.e. Boston Port act and Massachusett’s Government Act) against the Americans in order to prevent such protests.
Boston Port Act: By this, the port was ordered to be closed. All its trade was transferred to the port of the New Salem which was quite in the neighborhood. This was a punitive measure to punish the colonies for their annoyance to the Government at what had happened in Boston.
Massachusetts Government Act: According to this Act, Massachusetts was deprived of the right of electing representatives to all in the Assembly. The Act annulled the old charter of the colony. Public liberties like holding meetings etc. were curtailed. The American rioters were to be tried in England and not in America.
The first intercontinental conference of the congress started on September 5, 1774, in Philadelphia. It was attended by the representatives of all the colonies except Georgia. The objective of the conference was not to demand complete independence, but only autonomy in internal affairs. A declaration charter was drafted in accordance with the decision arrived at in the conference and was sent to England. It was a charter of rights and complaints which requested the annulment of all regulations formulated after 1765. As a threat, the decision to boycott the use of British goods was also conveyed.
On May 10, 1775, the bloody battles of Concord and Lexington had hardly ended when another intercontinental conference of the Congress was convened in Philadelphia. John Hancock– a rich businessman presided over the meetings of the conference. Delegates from all the thirteen colonies attended this conference. Prominent leaders like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin participated in it. George Washington was made the Commander-in-Chief of the American army. As a last attempt, an Olive Branch Petition was sent to the British King George III, who rejected it. The king proclaimed that the American colonies were in a state of rebellion.
Significance of American Revolution:
American revolution resulted in the consolidation of thirteen American settlements into a modern nation. In fact, the creation of a big and powerful nation in the western hemisphere influenced world politics in the future. It was on several occasions in history that some American leaders and diplomats took such a decision that had to influence the course of World History. Example– Monroe Doctrine, participation in the First World War, Wilson’s 14 point programme, participation in the Second World War, Cold War, etc.
As a result of the American Revolution, the first written constitution in the World came into existence. It definitely encouraged the tradition of Constitutionalism.
American revolution strengthened the position of middle class in America and in Europe and it encouraged the liberal ideas.
After the independence of American Settlements, there was the formation of a republic in America. It was definitely a break with the existing European political system, whose standard was an enlightened monarchy. So this phenomenon encouraged republican ideas in Europe.
The American War of Independence was also called the American Revolution because it inspired the French Revolution. It was not only a war against England but against aristocracy and reactionary elements. It was also a fight against colonial domination.
The American Revolution by establishing democracy in the USA, gave inspiration to the other countries to follow the example of the USA. The Declaration of Independence of 1776 laid great stress on the basic principles of democracy i.e. liberty, equality, and fraternity. It also recognized that sovereignty resides in the people. It also emphasized the fact that people can organize the government to safeguard their rights.
The American revolution necessitated certain changes in the colonial policies and practices of the British. It saw the end of mercantilism or monopoly trade and integrated a new phase of free trade.