September 22, 2012
To what extent was the growing spirit of independence in America the product of Enlightenment philosophy, and to what extent was it a result of British policy?
The Enlightenment was in its hay day between 1650 and 1800, and brought new importance to ideas such as equality, liberty, reason and rights. These ideas majorly contrasted with those of leaders in Britain who instead had a mercantalist view that the colonies were to be exploited for the improvement and prosperity of the mother land. Although British policy did play a major role in the growing spirit of independence in America, the revolutions against Britain were majorly shaped by Enlightenment philosophy, and many of the new writings and doctrines of this philosophy helped the colonists band together, and gave them hope for a new and improved America. British policy during the 1700s sparked an intense hatred towards Britain. After the Seven Years War, Britain began to impose new tax regulations on the colonies to help pay for the immense war debt. The colonists saw these taxes as threats to their economic well-being, as well as their freedom. These taxes were placed on everyday items – sugar, currency, stamps – that the colonists could not really work around, although they did try. The real opposition began when the Stamp Act became effective in November 1765. This brought about the first organized systems of protest – strongly worded resolutions by the House of Burgesses and creation of the Stamp Act Congress (Nash, 121). These efforts were mostly ineffective. Because none of the people who were forced to pay the taxes were represented in Parliament, they had no choice but to resort to civil disobedience (Head). This resulted in the creation of the Sons of Liberty, composed mostly of artisans, shopkeepers, and ordinary citizens, who burned effigies of British officials, and completely leveled their offices and mansions. They also “forced custom...