CHAPTER 5 The American Revolution: From Elite Protest To Popular Revolt, 1763-1783 SUMMARY
This chapter covers the years that saw the colonies emerge as an independent nation. The colonial rebellion began as a protest on the part of the gentry, but military victory required that thousands of ordinary men and women dedicate themselves to the ideals of republicanism.
I. STRUCTURE OF COLONIAL SOCIETY
In the period following the Seven Years' War, Americans looked to the future with great optimism. They were a wealthy, growing, strong, young people.
A. Breakdown of Political Trust
There were suspicions on both sides of the Atlantic that the new king, George III, was attempting to enlarge his powers by restricting the liberties of his subjects, but the greatest problem between England and America came down to the question of parliamentary sovereignty. Nearly all English officials assumed that Parliament must have ultimate authority within the British Empire.
B. No Taxation Without Representation: The American Perspective
The Americans assumed that their own colonial legislatures were in some ways equal to Parliament. Since Americans were not represented at all in Parliament, only the colonial assemblies could tax Americans.
C. Ideas About Power and Virtue
Taxation without representation was not just an economic grievance for the colonists. They had learned by reading John Locke and the "Commonwealth men" that all governments try to encroach upon the people's liberty. If the people remained "virtuous," or alert to their rights and determined to live free, they would resist "tyranny" at its first appearance.
II. ERODING THE BONDS OF EMPIRE
England left a large, expensive army in America at the end of the French and Indian War. To support it, England had to raise new revenues. A. Paying Off the National Debt
In 1764 Parliament passed the Sugar Act, which was clearly designed to raise revenue and not just regulate trade. Merchants protested, but most American ignored it.
B. Popular Protest
The Stamp Act united the gentry and the mass of the population. The protest spilled into the streets, and groups of workingmen, organized as the Sons of Liberty, rioted and pressured tax collectors to resign. Boycotts became popular and allowed women to enter the protest. The more moderate protestors met at a Stamp Act Congress and petitioned the King and Parliament for repeal.
C. Failed Attempt to Save the Empire
The American protest coincided with a political crisis in England. A new government took office, sympathetic to English merchants whose business was hurt by turmoil in America. The new ministry wanted to repeal the Stamp Act, but dared not appear to be giving in to the Americans. Repeal was therefore tied to the Declaratory Act of 1766 which claimed that Parliament was sovereign over America "in all cases whatsoever." While the crisis of 1765 did not turn into rebellion, the Stamp Act controversy did cause the colonists to look upon English officials in America as alien representatives of a foreign government.
D. Fueling the Crisis
In 1767, Charles Townshend, chancellor of the exchequer, came up with a new set of taxes on American imports of paper, lead, glass and tea. Townshend also created the American Board of Customs Commissioners in order to ensure rigorous collection of the duties. Americans again resisted. The Sons of Liberty organized a boycott of English goods, and the Massachusetts House of Representatives sent a circular letter urging the other colonial assemblies to cooperate in protesting the Townshend Acts. When the English government ordered the Massachusetts assembly to rescind its letter, ninety-two of the representatives refused, and their defiance inspired Americans everywhere.
E. Fatal Show of Force
In the midst of the controversy over the Townshend taxes, the English government, in order to save money, closed many of its frontier posts in America and sent...
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