After the fragmentation of the USSR, the image of the USA as a foremost superpower of the world is irrefutable. But the USA was subjugated by Great Britain during the early eighteenth century. The subjugation of America could not last for a long time because of the two significant ideals- freedom and equality- which emerged strongly in the eighteenth century in Europe and America. The occurrence of some events and the emergence of certain thoughts between 1775 and 1783 gave birth to a new nation.
The immediate cause of the American Revolution indeed lay in the imposition of undue taxes upon the colonists, but there were several other causes of the revolution. As a matter of fact, the development of a new outlook in the American Colonies and Great Britain burst out in the form of the American Revolution in the late eighteenth century. On the one side, the Americans were not prepared to bear with their subjection under British sovereignty, and on the other, after 1763 the British government formulated and followed such policies, as could reinforce their control over the American colonies better than it was earlier. Consequently, a hard struggle between imperialistic Britain and the American colonial states became inevitable.
The discovery of America by Christopher Columbus was a sudden epoch-making event. America was named after an Italian Amerigo Vespucci, who traveled across Brazil in 1501. Spain primarily remained engaged in destroying and looting the two civilized races: Aztec and Luca which originated from the upper region of South America and dwelt in Mexico and Peru; but England, Holland, Sweden, and Portugal were equally interested in those regions. In the terrible sea war of the sixteenth century fought between Spain and England for seizing American gold and silver, Spain was defeated and weakened and could not withstand British supremacy over the North-American coast. On the strength of open support accorded by Queen Elizabeth, England started opening colonies in America. The British King James I allowed two companies- London and Plymouth to build colonies and start businesses in certain specific regions. Under the leadership of Captain Christopher Newport, 120 English people founded the James Town colony in 1607 on the bank of river James in Virginia. It was the first English colony in the United States of America established by the London company. People of this first colony had to face great troubles and three-fourths of its population perished within a few days, even then the business prospects of tobacco inspired the rest of the people to survive at any cost. It is noteworthy that the first cargo ship loaded with tobacco sailed from James Town and reached England gradually in 1614. After the establishment of James Town, the English gradually built other colonies. By the end of 1775 the following 13 British colonies had been established:
The population in these colonies comprised 90% British people and 10% Dutch, Germans, French and Portuguese. These thirteen North American colonies made a remarkable contribution to the fields of agriculture, forestry, commerce, fisheries, and shipbuilding during the seventh decade of the eighteenth century.
Causes of the American Revolution:
Only thirteen British colonies were situated in America. There was no economic, religious and political uniformity among them. Every colony had its own separate legislature. Great Britain maintained only nominal control over its colonies and a governor was appointed by the British government to look after the work of the colony. Although it was the responsibility of the British Government to safeguard the colonies in her possession, in fact, the security measures were taken by the colonies themselves. Great Britain used to import raw materials from these colonies and exported manufactured articles to them. Although comparatively, the condition of the British colonies was far better than in the other ones in Europe, however, the people of America were dissatisfied with their present lot and they resorted to their War of Independence due to following reasons:
Attitude of Americans Towards Britain:
The people who were exiled to America had a natural feeling of discontentment toward the British government. They used to excite the people of America against the British government. Gradually, the spirit of independence developed in the Americans and they began to oppose the restrictions of the British government imposed upon them.
Dissatisfactory Administration System:
There were several demerits in the administration system of the colonies and constant frictions between the people’s representatives and the nominated executives caused great trouble. The Governor General was authorized to reject the Act of Parliament. The colonies regarded their council as powerful but the government did not recognize it. Thus, an intricate situation arose which embittered the relationship between England and America.
Policy of Mercantilism:
The most significant cause of the American Revolution was the basic contradiction between the interests of the metropolis and the colony. The colonial powers have all along been responsible for this, as these continued to exploit their colonies much to the annoyance and displeasure of their people. Apart from this, the political awakening has been gradually coming in every part of the world. This is what happened in America as well.
Britain adopted mercantilist policies in colonial America which were designed to promote British economic interests mainly in the form of a favorable balance of trade. Various Navigation Acts of 1651, 1660, and 1663 ensured that trade was carried out only in British or colonial ships; that most European goods had to pass through Britain before entering the American Colonies; that certain goods like tobacco and rice were 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. 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.
Impact of Seven Years’ War (1756–1763):
The ultimate cause of severe conflict setting in the colonies was the worldwide Seven Years’ War which was fought between England and France, in America, India, and central European countries. The war influenced the world extensively. The Americans did not extend sufficient help to the British army during the war. Besides, the consignment of provisions meant for the British army was looted and sold clandestinely to the French troops. In addition to it, the Americans carried on trade with France. The colonies siphoned out immense benefits during the war. They seized upon an opportunity for the development of their industries. A governor of New York predicted, “If once the Americans succeeded in independently procuring the cloth they needed, they would never accept the intervention of England.” An opportunity cropped up at that time when farmers sold their crops at exorbitant prices and laborers were charged excessive wages. But at the end of the war, they were deprived of the benefit of war and began to search for a solution for their miseries.
After the end of Seven Years’ War, England occupied Canada and America was relieved of the French danger in the North. It is noteworthy that the American colonists were always afraid of an invasion by the French immigrants settled in Canada and the colonists had to depend upon England for their security. Now the English colonies realized that their connection with England was of no use. Therefore, after the end of the Seven Years’ War there emerged a great change in the attitude of the colonies and they began neglecting the power of England.
Another result of the war was that the colonies realized their strength based on their meritorious participation with the British soldiers. The colonies learned from their experience how to wage a war with their resources and troops to achieve a common aim.
After the Seven Years’ War, England possessed a vast area from the Mississippi River to the Algain Mountain range. The inhabitants of American colonies then decided to extend their boundaries towards the West and wanted to drive out the natives from there. So the natives on the West Front revolted during 1763-64, and there was heavy bloodshed. The Red Indians of North America hated the English from the beginning but they liked the French too much. The colonists were very keen to make good use of their rapidly increasing population in the conquered territories. In this way, there was a great clash between the British government and the specific interests of the colonies. To meet the demand for more land, various colonies claimed their right of extending their boundary up to the river Mississippi in the West. The British government maintained that the Red Indians should be allowed some time to regain peace of mind otherwise there might start a series of wars. Therefore, by means of a Royal Proclamation made in 1763 the entire area stretching from Ellengnes, Florida, and Mississippi to Quebec was earmarked for the Red Indians. It stopped the colonists from marching toward the West and they thought the British government to be their enemy.
Ideas of Jefferson and Paine:
The American revolutionaries were also inspired by the ideas of the philosophers like Locke, Harrington, Milton, etc. They believed that human beings had certain fundamental rights which no government had the right to disobey. Thomas Jefferson was one of the prime American thinkers and was deeply inspired by the ideas of the French philosophers of the time. Jefferson asserted the colonist’s right to rebellion and encouraged their increasing desire for independence. He drew up the “American Declaration of Independence“, which stated that all men are equal and had certain inalienable rights- like the right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness- that could not be taken away from them.
Thomas Paine also expressed his thought forcefully for equality and the overthrow of external power. The ideas floated during the American Revolution later inspired and influenced many movements in different corners of the world.
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 for 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. For 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 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.
Rockingham’s Declaratory Act:
After the fall of the Grenville government in 1765, Rockingham formed his government in England. The Stamp Act was immediately annulled by Rockingham. But another Act was passed which declared that “The British Parliament was fully empowered to impose taxes on America.” It was ridiculous that England had to revoke the tax under compulsion but she was not prepared to part with the obsession of proclaiming her right of taxation. This proclamation also became the butt of a strong reaction in America. Consequently, the prestige of the British government received a shocking setback.
Soon the Rockingham government collapsed and William Pittformed 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 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:
In 1773, Lord North bargained with the East India Company to carry a large quantity of tea to Boston. On its arrival in the harbor of the town several American youths, disguised as Indians boarded the tea ships broke open the tea chests, and poured tea into the sea. This is known as Boston Tea Party. At this time the representatives of Massachusetts collected at Concord against the order of the British Government.
The Boston Tea Party was an event that brought England and the colonies to the brink of war. It posed a challenge to the British Parliament. The supremacy of the British Parliament was called into question. The Parliament thought that the moderate attitude of the British government towards the colonies had caused the crisis. George III and Lord North took this event for a challenge. The British Parliament adopted five stern measures to suppress the revolt of the colonies. Those severe steps were as follows:
Boston Port was put under an embargo until the damages for the destroyed tea had been paid. It meant the economic ruin of Boston.
The advisors of Massachusetts would be appointed by the Emperor. Earlier they were elected by the colonists.
Murder cases were transferred from the American Courts to courts in England and other colonies.
The deployment of the British force in any city of Massachusetts was held valid. The local officers were assigned the task of making suitable arrangements for the boarding and loading of the British soldiers.
The Catholics who settled in Canada were treated with religious moderation and the boundary of Quebec was extended up to the Ohio river.
The Laws mentioned above were condemned in America and some important persons like- Rockingham and William Pitt (Chatham) also raised their voices against them.
The first intercontinental conferenceof the congress started on September 5, 1774, in Philadelphia. It was attended by the representatives of all the colonies exceptGeorgia. Congress passed the “Declaration of Rights and Grievances” and appealed for the removal of restrictions on trade. The declaration drawn by the representatives asserted that the British Parliament had no right to tax the colonies without their consent. As a threat, the decision to boycott the use of British goods was also conveyed.
The second intercontinental conferenceof the congress met in Philadelphia on May 10, 1775, and they declared themselves the government. They also named George Washington Commander in Chief of the newly organized Continental Army. The Continental Army was supplemented by local militias and other troops that remained under the control of the individual states.
After the repeated pleas to the British monarchy for intervention with Parliament, any chance of a compromise ended when the Congress were declared traitors by royal decree, and they responded by declaring the independence of a new sovereign nation, the United States of America, on July 4, 1776. On July 4th, 1776, Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence.
Outbreak of War:
The first battle of independence of America was fought at Lexington in 1775. No decision could be arrived at in this battle. In a meeting of the colonizers, all loose states were combined and given the name of the United States of America, and the Declaration of Independence was announced on July 4, 1776. WilliamHowe, the British General achieved success for the first time in 1776, when he defeated George Washington, the Commander-in-Chief of Philadelphia Congress in the battle of Bunker Hill. Philadelphia was captured soon after. But in October 1777, George Washington attacked the British General- Burgoyne at Saratoga and made him surrender. Burgoyne’s defeat proved to be a turning point in the war. The defeat of the British army at Saratoga encouraged some European countries like France and Spain to make up their mind to launch a war against England. It is noteworthy that France had been taking interest in that battle since 1776, and was bent upon taking revenge on England for the consequences of the Seven Years’ War. On February 6, 1778, a compromise was reached between the American colonies and France on these points:
Nobody would settle a peace pact individually with England.
The war would be continued until the American colonies achieved complete freedom.
Benjamin Franklin played a decisive role in finalizing the compromise. France entered the war in 1778. Spain also launched a war against England in 1778, because it wanted to get Gibraltar back. In 1780, Holland declared war against England because it wanted to keep England entangled in the Atlantic Ocean so that it might stretch its feet in the Far East and South East Asia. Russia, Denmark, and Sweden too declared their armed neutrality which was against England.
The participation of France and Spain in the war with their marine force proved to be a turning point in the war. The British goods were safeguarded by the British Admiral Rodney on American seas and by Sir George Elliot in Gibraltar. But the American and the French armies had become so superior that the Britsh Commander-in-Chief Lord Cornwallis had to capitulate on October 19, 1781, in Yorktown. But the marine war continued. France and Spain continued their fight against England. At last, the war of American Independence ended in 1783, with the settlement of the Paris Pact.
Paris Pact (September 03, 1783):
In 1783, the British Parliament decided that it was pointless to carry on the war. Lord North resigned as Prime Minister. King George lost control over the House of Commons. The new Prime Minister Lord Rockingham started the peace talks. A peace treaty was signed between Great Britain and America in 1783 in Paris. George Washington (1732–1799) became the first president of the United States of America. One of the founding fathers of America, he played a significant role in the American Revolution first as a military officer and later as an astute politician.
The significant provisions of the Paris Pact are as follows:
England gave recognition to the independence of 13 American colonies. The new nation (the United States of America) also got possession of British regions that lay between the River Mississippi and the Algerian mountains.
France obtained from England, Saint Lucia, and Tobago in the West Indies; Senegal and Gouri in Africa, and some regions of India.
Spain got Florida and the Isle of Minorca in the Mediterranean sea.
Holland and England maintained the status quo that prevailed before the war.
The boundary of America was demarcated along the river Ohio.
The Constitution of America:
At last, America achieved independence. With the settlement of the Paris Pact after the end of the war, some differences rose among the American states which were sorted out after some time. The newly-drafted constitution containing four pages was signed by fifty-five persons on September 17, 1787, and came into force on June 21, 1788. Democracy was established in America and the Federal system was adopted. Under the Federal system, the separation of powers was maintained between the Federal and the State governments. The new constitution endowed the Americans with several rights. The significant rights were the freedom of speech, press, and religion and the right to get justice according to the law. The new constitution guaranteed the security of life, property, and freedom of every person except in matters of judicial proceedings. According to the constitutional provisions, a new government was formed in March 1789 and George Washington was elected the first President of America.
Nature of the American Revolution:
Undoubtedly, the war of American Independence was a very remarkable event in the world. But historians hold different opinions about the nature of the American Revolution. Americans themselves have debated at length over the form of their revolution. People have tried to seek an answer to the question whether it was a revolution or not. A few scholars have asserted that the revolution in terms of its demands was rigid and defensive and those demands signified conventional liberal attitude of the Englsih people. The Americans were fully satisfied and still they were united against England. Other scholars have contrary opinions. They maintain that the American Revolution was highly reformative. It divided the people in to two classes: patriots and loyalists and put the whole country into these two camps. The Revolution achieved its objectives. The American Revolutionaries were as much progressive as the persons who launched the great French revolution after an interval of a few years.
Results of the American Revolution:
The American Revolution knocked the bottom of the colonial system. The British politicians came to know that they should have to give up the policy of exploitation of the colonies, only then they would be able to maintain their sway on the colonies.
The personal rule of George III came to an end as a result of this war, and Lord North had to resign from his post.
As a result of the American Revolution, a new English empire flourished as a large number of English people settled in American Canada.
Ireland was permitted to make laws as a result of this war and she was granted legislative Independence in 1782.
American Revolution created many problems for England. Her trade suffered a serious setback and the national debt went up considerably. She also had to find employment and settlement for about 20,000 people, who remained loyal to Britain during the war but had to migrate after the war was over.
American Revolution was a great source of inspiration for the French Revolution. The people of the American colonies by their brilliant success against resourceful England inspired the people of France to fight against the arbitrary rule of her own king.
Though England had to give up her authority over America as a result of this war, her sway over India was strengthened.
Causes of American Success or British Failure in the American Revolution:
The Britishers failed to guess the strength of the American colonies. They considered this war of Independence merely a revolt and expected an easy victory over the Americans.
America was at a great distance and it was not possible for England to conduct the war successfully. The topography of America was not known to the Britishers.
The battlefield was extended far and wide and there were no fast means of communication. The existence of forests and the lack of roads were a great hurdle in the way of the English soldiers.
The British War Minister Germaine was an inefficient person. He did not pay any attention to the condition of English people living in America. He did not act according to the scheme of Pitt which ultimately proved dangerous for England and she was defeated.
The obstinate tendency of George III and his inefficiency also contributed to the failure of the English people against the Americans. Warner-Martin-Muir expressed their views, “The colonies, by the time of the accession of George III, had grown up, but the mother country had failed to realize it and that was perhaps the chief cause of the difficulties.”
The intervention of France and Spain proved disastrous for England. They supported the Americans wholeheartedly.
The Personal Rule of George III annoyed the people and they did not support him at the time of war.
Britain did not concentrate on American colonies only. Her attention was divided at the time of war.
Thus, we see that England failed in her goal and the American Revolution eclipsed her power and prestige. Ramsay Muir writes, “The triumph of faith and courage which the leadership of Washington inspired in the colonists led them to the final victory in the great but arduous struggle.”
Significance of the American Revolution:
The American Revolution was an event of great importance not only in the history of the USA and Great Britain but also in the history of the entire humanity.
The American Revolution led to the emergence of a new independent state, namely the United States of America. It gradually became one of the two most powerful countries in the world.
The Revolution encouraged the spirit of nationalism and patriotism in America as well as abroad. It recognized the rights of the people to revolt against their autocratic rulers and regain their freedom.
The American Revolution, by establishing democracy in the USA, gave inspiration to other countries to follow the example of the USA. After the revolution, the Americans adopted a democratic form of government, based on the principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity, instead of the monarchial form of government. The Declaration of Independence of 1776 not only recognized that sovereignty not only resides in the people but also emphasized the fact that the people can organize the government to safeguard their rights.
As a result of the American Revolution, the first written constitution in the World came into existence. It definitely encouraged the tradition of Constitutionalism.
The success of the Americans in bringing about a revolution and establishing democracy greatly inspired many people in the world.
It became a source of inspiration to the colonies in Latin America, who began to fight for their independence from their mother countries.
Encouraged by the defeat of Britain in America, the Irish people launched a struggle for the legislative independence of their own country and ultimately succeeded in getting the same.
The success of the Americans affected England also. The personal rule of George III was brought to an end, and the party system and the Cabinet form of government were strengthened.
France too was influenced by the American Revolution. After their return from America, the French officers wrote down their experiences. Lafayette infused the spirit of the American Revolution among the French public. Franklin enjoyed significant prestige in French society as a renowned writer and philosopher of America. His writings greatly inspired the French philosophers. The American Revolution paved the way for the French Revolution and played a great role not less than that of Diedero, Voltaire, and Rousseau. In the words of a great historian Hayes, “The torch of freedom, that was lighted in America and by which democracy was established, left an indelible effect on France and drove her forward on the path of revolution. The French public like the Americans craved for freedom. The key concepts of the French Revolution- liberty, equality, and fraternity are inferred from the American struggle. It is noteworthy that France, which was already facing an economic crisis suffered heavy losses as a result of cooperating with America in the war of independence. These hardships made the French Revolution inevitable.
The American Revolution had its impact on England in many a way. In the first place, it brought commercial loss to the British. The thirteen colonies served as markets for the finished goods of England and provided different kinds of raw materials. The loss of the colonies, therefore, proved quite harmful to the commercial and industrial development of England. In the second place, it necessitated certain changes in the colonial policies and practices of the British. The English were now forced to grant more responsible government to their colonies in other countries so that they might not lose them. For example- Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and later India. Thus the British colonies passed from one stage to another, i.e., from the mercantile or monopoly stage to the free trading stage.