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Social Attitudes & the American Revolution

Jul 06, 2010 1620 Words
Social Attitudes towards the Causes of the American Revolution

A revolution is simply described as people overthrowing the government and replacing it with another, in the most common research source- Wikipedia. The American Revolution is by far, the most important historical event of the American history and a beginning of country of the United States. What caused American colonists to overthrow the differences of social classes and the need to break away from the English government and radical dictatorship, and the start of the revolution? There were thousands of books, journals, writings and articles done on this particular topic, where many seem to prioritize different events, where their perspectives and interpretations differ. Furthermore, there are many answers to this question, many writing focus on the intolerable acts put on the colonies as high taxes during tough times, a struggle for freedom during the times of tightening English control over the colonies, etc. There are always two stories to the same dilemma, and English social opinions and attitudes dramatically differed in comparison to the American towards the topic of the causes and beginnings of American Revolution. Nothing gives a better picture of public opinion better than daily newspaper articles, which lead me to Frank Hinkhouse’s book, “The preliminaries of the American Revolution as seen in English Press”. With comparison Richard Morris’, “The American Revolution: a short story” it is easy to notice the differences of perspectives on events of the eighteenth century. A good place to start this debate would be the reason of the settlement of the colonists in America itself, which basically was a starve for freedom. Freedom was, what couldn’t be commemorated in England, since it was fully controlled by the monarchy, which was further controlled by Catholicism; causing any other religion to be not only discriminated against, but eventually leading to an absolute conquer of it. By moving to America the colonists were assured the freedom of religion in a big part, but most importantly from England itself. Social class differences have been on the extreme rise since the earliest times of the American Colonies. In order to become wealthy people needed one- money. The plantation owners became richer and richer with the rising success of export industry, especially tobacco. Life in America was not considered the spare time for the lower-class settlers, causing tremendous amounts of deaths from starvation and lack of survival skills and a drastic struggle for existence. However, England found its roots even on the other side of the Atlantic by dictating, and treating the ENGLISH colonies as a simple expansion and growth of England itself. The strict control didn’t make it any easier; English taxes, laws and regulations put on the American colonies seemed like a desire to finish any sense of freedom the colonists had left. Overtime, the government became tremendously corrupt, favoring the rich and wealthy and showing no interest in bettering the situation of the poor and the lower class. One of the first signs of England pushing it too far was the Stamp Act of 1765, which required a notary stamp on every legal document, which of course was heavily taxed. The Stamp Act was particularly discriminating the colonies, because only the colonies were forced to require it; using them to pay England’s debt after the Seven-Year war. The fact that the colonies were not allowed to have any representative in the parliament, to be able to actually vote against the taxes, put them in a position with no options, which only heated people’s attitudes toward the English government. Then, there was the Townsend Act of 1767, which put new taxes on the most popular imported goods as sugar or tea, at the same time rising prices of those goods and putting pressure on local merchants. This was the act that truly convinced the upper class and local elites, and made them view the new acts as attempts to really hurt the American colonies as a whole not only the lower class. The demonstrations started to attract all social classes within the colonies, of which one of the most heard of was the Boston Tea Party of 1773, in which the colonists boarded the ship of the British East India Company and threw imported tea overboard. It was the sign of opposition to the Tea Act passed through parliament, which excused the British company from taxes on exported goods. The English Parliament didn’t hesitate and passed the Boston Port Act, which closed off the Boston Port until the loss from the Boston Tea Party was fully repaid. The Boston Port was one of the pain roots of American export and practically closed off the export- leaving people with produced goods and no income. The Boston tea Party and the anger towards the Boston Port Act was a step toward the open rebellion against the ridiculous British laws, an inspiration towards uniting the colonies and at the same time a first sign of the approaching revolution. Another demonstration that is definitely worth mentioning was the Boston Massacre of 1770, where English militia opened fire on a group of drunken colonists demonstrated in front of the custom house, killing five colonists. “They marched through the town with all the insight of triumph and (…) the appearance of hostility” (Morris, 107). Morris describes how over time the perception of the English army started to shift, from the assurance of security to a threat. Nevertheless, England knew that the lack of discipline and control over the settlement on the other side of Atlantic could turn into a revolution and knew how important the internal control was. The massacre was not much of a massacre itself, but has a more symbolic meaning. The Boston Massacre became the turning point, in which the colonists finally noticed what England is capable of doing in order to keep control over those territories. The colonies noticed the enemy in the English army, after opening the fire on them – the Englishman. “The cause of the late war was wholly an American one, the expenses attending which has loaded the government with an immense increase of debt” (Hinkhouse, 52). The following quote appeared in Britain’s newspapers before passing of the Stamp Act through parliament. According to the politicians it was the colonies that through the necessity of the war caused England’s debt, and it was the colonies that were obligated to repay it. The colonies as well as their economy was somewhat developing, but not to the point where the colonists could afford additional taxes. It is and definitely was obvious that the colonies are not going to be able to repay the whole debt themselves. Promoting the colonists’ blame and their obligation of repayment was caused by parliament’s bureaucracy and expanding corruption, and in order to pass the laws the administration needed people’s approval, in order to get the approval it needed one- propaganda. Hinkhouse admitted the occurrence of propaganda, its influence of people’s thinking and judgment and of course monarchy’s benefit. The Boston Massacre, for example was represented through “accounts giving the soldier’s version” and Public Advertiser- English gazette even added false statements of colonists starting the “massacre” by killing one of the captain to exaggerate the story. It only heated up the public opinion, where English “became more pronounced in their expressions of friendliness toward their brothers beyond the Atlantic” (Hinkhouse, 159). The Boston Massacre also caused the Bostonians being viewed as the leaders of the American oppression and were described as “the most turbulent of any on the continent” (Hinkhouse, 159). Seeing it through the colonist’s eyes, the events of March 5th, 1770 the reconstruction of the events is at least slightly different. The colonists insist that the English army tried to represent them as “rebellious people”, who were simply punished for what they did. There were other acts that contributed to the rise of the American Revolution in a big way as The Administration of Justice Act, which allowed moving the trials out of the colony even all the way to England, if the administration thought the convict would not get a fair trial. People violating the intolerable acts were most of the time if not supported, then at least understood by the local courts and had a big chance of found not guilty. This act violated the core Englishman right of a judicial hearing by their peers, which also made the colonists doubt their Englishman right and the English government itself. The social opinions caused a great stir on both sides of the Atlantic, but what really amazes me are the differences of the perspectives and views on the same events between both sides. The multiple taxes passed on the American colonies were an answer to a huge debt England got into after the Seven years war, which in the end protected the colonies. They exaggerated the idea of the colonies being solely responsible for the repayment, and it was the major factor that caused the rebellion. The colonies’ eyes saw it in a completely different light- as cruelty and oppression directed specifically toward them. In this paper I focused on the negative effects all the acts and regulations had on the American colonists, but every single one of those contributed to the creation of country of the United States of the America. Without them, the colonies would probably never get to the point of an absolute rebellion and would never get to the place the country is today.


Morris, Richard., The American Revolution: A Short Story, Huntington, 1979 •Hinkhouse, Fred, The Preliminaries of the American Revolution as seen in the English Press, Octagon Books, 1969 •Wikipedia

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