Causes of the American Revolution. After the French and Indian War established the English and colonists as the victors

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1 Causes of the American Revolution After the French and Indian War established the English and colonists as the victors in America, growing intellectual thought about individual liberties and discontent over British economic and political oppression resulted in increased protest and rebellion within the colonies. The formation of an opposition to the English was channeled into three fronts: the mob action of the Loyal Nine and Sons of Liberty, economic actions of boycotts, and organized political action against British control. Against all odds, the colonial forces eventually gained their independence from the British after a bloody war and years of domestic and international turmoil. Although not caused by one single factor, the American Revolution was precipitated by the legacy of the Puritan Ethic, volatile parliamentary measures, and most importantly the thriving democratic philosophies and intellectualism of the New World, an over-arching theme largely responsible for much of the sprouting oppositional beliefs of the colonists; these factors were crucial in the development of resistance to British control and ultimately the formation of the democracy of the United States of America. Though the revolutionaries were far from the devout, zealous Puritans of early America, many aspects of the revolutionary spirit were heavily influenced by elements of the Puritan Ethic that were integrated into their fundamental beliefs and ways of life. Collectively, the ideas and thoughts of men during Pre-Revolutionary and Revolutionary times were reminiscent of the Puritan Ethic: a collection of beliefs focused around the idea of a calling to useful occupations to serve society. Idleness and neglect were strongly looked down upon, yet recreation was acceptable if it led to continued work with a renewed vigor. Frugality and modesty were admired above most traits, as man was not encouraged to

2 value unnecessary indulgence. In addition, the same value of working for the common good of society and rejecting idleness was very much characteristic of Puritan Americans as well as the colonists in later times. (Morgan, Puritan Ethic, 78-79). Puritan focus on the calling and self restraint instead of indulgence in luxury was reflected in many of the movement s leaders, as they shared common beliefs, yet differed greatly when it came to the degree of religious zealotry. The economic boycotts of British goods were meant to send a message to Parliament about the colonies objections to increased taxes, yet the self-denial and rejection of luxury goods that ensued was a basic value of the Ethic; nonconsumption and nonimportation were even sold to the public by appealing to the importance of ancestral values from Puritan America. It was this bond between self-denial and the Revolutionary spirit that further intertwined the Puritan Ethic with a new value: political liberty. To the colonists raised with the values of productivity, frugality, and modesty, the English began representing the corruption, luxury, and idleness they were warned against. Following one s calling to serve society was everyone s role in life, including the monarch; yet many began to believe that the government in England had grown continuously more corrupt and powerhungry, failing to serve the country and its territories in their people s best interests. Thus the values of the Ethic created a fundamental difference and a point of conflict between the colonists and the British. (Morgan, Puritan Ethic, 82-87). The Puritan Ethic essentially prepared the colonists for independence and influenced how the government would be established by reflecting similar values. The Puritan qualities of frugality, virtue, and the importance of being industrious were strongly intertwined with the colonists sense of freedom and liberty, and many were persuaded to fight and sacrifice for these truly American ideals. Though inherited values are seldom the direct cause of social movements,

3 these ingrained cultural beliefs were very much responsible for sowing the seeds for Revolution; they created the moral resistance against the British acts of domination. Perhaps one of the primary causes of the surge of rebellion and protest against the British, parliamentary taxation and other measures angered colonists and resulted in massive boycotts and ultimately, calls for independence from the oppressive British Empire. The colonists were by far the freest population in the world during the second half of the Eighteenth Century, with the highest incomes and standard of living. The cost of maintaining and protecting the colonies was a great economic burden for the British, whose subjects were taxed far more heavily and made far less money than those across the ocean. In charge of the British budget, George Grenville enacted taxes and duties in order to help pay for some of the enormous costs of running the Empire (Morgan, Stamp Act Crisis, 25). The Sugar Act of 1764 was enacted as a first measure to raise revenue by raising duties on molasses in the colonies, and, not surprisingly, was received with distain and anger. The colonists responded with boycotts of these products, establishing a preliminary attempt at running the economy somewhat independent of the mother country by promoting domestic industry and manufacturing. A secondary tax was enacted the following year called the Stamp Act, an excise tax on all legal documents, newspapers, contracts, pamphlets, etc., while the Townshend Acts of 1767 taxed common products regularly imported to the colonies. The resulting tensions created an atmosphere of Revolution. After the Tea Tax was passed and tensions were at an all time high, members of the Sons of Liberty boarded a ship in the Boston Harbor and destroyed over 90,000 pounds of tea. The Boston Tea Party of 1773 was a direct result of the taxation and an example of how these Parliamentary Acts were resisted. During this time, men and women began to see the English as oppressors,

4 shackling and destroying the economic and political freedoms they had enjoyed all their lives. These taxes were instrumental in creating resistance to British control, as they were the final straw for those growing weary of increased English measures designed to increase revenue for the crown and emphasize the power of the mother county. The taxes represented English dominance and abusive use of power to the colonists who were already selfsufficient and began channeling their frustrations into movements for independence (Morgan, Stamp Act Crisis, 25-40, 68-72, 150). Many important documents were published during this era, explaining the colonists views and some strongly declaring the intention of the colonies to break away from such subjugation. Jefferson s Declaration of Independence enumerates grievances against the King of England as reason for the colonies separation from the tyrannical British, including imposing taxes without consent, cutting off trade with the rest of the world through the Navigation Acts, forcing the quartering of soldiers, and suspending the rights of legislative bodies (Jefferson, 54-55). Jefferson s immortal declaration of the colonies independence from England was the revolutionary first step towards the establishment of a United States of America. The formation of the Continental Congress in 1774 was one final act against the English before the declaration of war that helped finalize the plan to move forward with independence. Jefferson s task to create a formal proclamation of the colonial intentions was great, but the product succeeded in mobilizing a resistant force against the British. The English, it was claimed, were overstepping their bounds and intruding in the fundamental rights of the colonists. (Zinn 70-75). Though the Parliamentary measures were a strong force and cause of the Revolution, the thought and underlying ethic of the Revolutionaries were truly the root cause of this

5 movement; the objections in the first place originally came from the colonists own ideas and beliefs on the proper rights of their fellow man. Intellectual thought in conjunction with the various social, political and economic factors was most important in influencing revolutionary changes in a time of flourishing Enlightenment philosophies about democracy and liberty by fundamentally altering views on the rights of man; the colonists began adopting these new ideas and rejecting the monarchial systems of old world Europe. Perhaps one of the most famous idealist Revolutionaries, Thomas Paine published Common Sense in which he examined the origin of man as equals and the societal paradox of class ranking and wealth distinctions, dissolving any pretense of equality. Worst of all, he argued, is the distinction of men and kings, whose vanity and power seeking qualities are the root cause of wars and misery. According to Paine, England s treatment of the colonies was tyrannical and abusive far different than should be allowed of a mother country to its capable territories abroad. The only solution, then, was to break away from this oppression and create a newly independent region (Paine). With this pamphlet, Paine places the blame for all the suffering within the colonies on the oppressive King George III. Common Sense became an instant national success and was instrumental in the development of a firm opposition against British rule. Paine was one of the first to make a bold argument for independence and his easily understood message resonated across the developing nation. By laying out well-constructed and persuasive reasons for separation, Paine certainly impacted the Revolution by popularizing his extreme views on the subject (Zinn 69-70). Paine was undoubtedly a child of Enlightenment-era philosophies. The Enlightenment had produced new ideas and theories about mankind and nurtured intellectual thought and actions throughout the world. America,

6 with its sense of freedom and self-righteous love of liberties, fostered these feelings that were inevitably the cause of the Revolution. An underlying current of intellectual fulfillment was key to the development of objections that were soon mobilized into actions. The American Revolution was a truly unique kind of revolution, as Americans faced no real burdens under violent or oppressive tyranny compared to many other European nations and their colonies, and enjoyed the highest quality of life in the world. They had no real chains to throw off, a most curious situation to nurture a growing sentiment for rebellion and revolution. This lack of real cause is a prime example of why the Revolution was an intellectual movement; the ideas and thought of the time primed the way for a movement for a new kind of government. This generation of Americans was born during a time of newly developing ideas about western democratic principles, and ideas of freedom and liberty from the Enlightenment played a key role in influencing Patriots to fight to maintain their sense of freedom living in the colonies. (Wood 54-60). The American Revolution fostered a shining example of how western democratic theory can be effective. The leaders of the Revolution established a precedent for political organization in a time of monarchy and old world political systems. Though the intellectual causes were the most influential origins of the Revolutionary movement, just simply theory without the political, economic, and social stimuli would most likely not have resulted in the same struggle for independence. The American Revolution was a radical event in the history of western politics brought about by ingrained cultural ethics, oppressive economic and political Parliamentary measures, and most importantly Enlightenment thought that allowed the ideas of liberty and independence to be accepted and encouraged by a great portion of the public. The ancestral values handed down from the Puritan Ethic was a root cause of the resistance to increased

7 taxes and reforms that the colonists felt were stripping them of their freedoms, and these combined with new philosophies on politics and social theory culminated in an momentous fight for self-government. The American example partially influenced later movements for the end of tyranny, including the French Revolution in Despite numerous rebellions and revolutions around the world following the Revolutionary War, only the United States was able to maintain an independent and democratic system of government without succumbing to further tyranny or totalitarianism, as the French government ultimately became with Robespierre s Reign of Terror. The American Revolution was only the first step in the creation of a nation that would become an essential part in the world economy, a crucial figure in international politics, and eventually a world super power.

8 Works Cited Jefferson, Thomas. The Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States. New York: Bantam Books, Paine, Thomas. Common Sense. Bartleby. February 14, April < Morgan, Edmond S. The Puritan Ethic and the American Revolution. In Search of Early America. Ed. College of William and Mary. Richmond, Virginia: William Byrd Press, Inc., Morgan, Edmund S. and Helen M. Morgan. The Stamp Act Crisis. Williamsburg Virginia: University of Virginia Press, Wood, Gordon S. Rhetoric and Reality in the American Revolution. In Search of Early America. Ed. College of William and Mary. Richmond, Virginia: William Byrd Press, Inc., Zinn, Howard. "Tyranny Is Tyranny. A People's History of the United States. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc,

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