Turning Words into Actions: Revolution in the British Colonies Before the American War for Independence
The American Revolution was the series of events in which groups of colonists, like The Sons of Liberty, helped lead the colonies to break away from oppressive British rule before the American War for Independence. The American Revolution began with unreasonable British taxation on American goods, which eventually led to general resentment of the British caused by a lack of colonial representation in British government. Colonists attempted to gain the attention of the British government through protests like the Boston Tea Party and even in the aftermath of the Boston Massacre. When the colonists’ needs were not met, representatives from the majority of the colonies came together to renounce British rule in favor of forming a new nation. It was the transfer of the power to make decisions from Britain to the colonists that constitutes this rebellion as a revolution. The series of events preceding the War for Independence was the American Revolution in which the colonists decided they no longer wanted to be ruled by Britain.
The American Revolution began when the British taxed non-essential items in Colonial America following the Seven Years’ War, leading to the colonists demanding from the British the right to tax themselves. In 1765, journalists and newspapers throughout the colonies protested taxation. Writers, like colonists B.W., riled up common people in order to persuade them to protest against the British government, and it worked: “It is your duty to fight this tax. Future generations will bless your efforts and honor the memory of the saviors of their country.” For B.W. and many other colonists, the shift from allegiance to Britain to themselves and future Americans had already begun in 1765. Shortly thereafter, colonists began to view British government as less of a parent country and more of an oppressive foreign power. Other writers expanded on this same message: “If the Parliament succeeds in this attempt, other statutes will impose other duties” (Bailyn). If the colonists were being oppressed then, nothing would stop Britain from issuing more demanding taxes in the future. Bailyn chose his words carefully, hinting that it may not even be taxation in future, but any other statutes limiting the rights of the colonists. Eventually, whole colonial legislatures like the Virginia’s House of Burgesses became involved and issued statements that demonstrated a new spirit of colonial autonomy:
The taxation of the people by themselves, or by persons chosen by themselves to represent them, who can only know what taxes the people are able to bear, or the easiest method of raising them, and must themselves be affected by every tax laid on the people, is the only security against a burdensome taxation.
While The House of Burgesses served as a form of government in Virginia, they virtually held no power as they were unable to change the taxation. But, they were out to change this. The House of Burgesses argued that Britain was incapable of governing the colonies without understanding what taxes the people could and could not handle, and that this power of taxation should be controlled by the colonies themselves. This change in ideology seen in individual writers and in the words of legislative bodies was the beginning of the Revolution. Colonists began to discredit Britain’s rule as well as provide alternatives to the current system of government by pointing out that taxation was unfair. The new taxation on the colonists’ goods in the 1760s prompted a change in colonists beliefs about their government and their future, leading to protests that urged the British to comply with their demands.
The new revolution in thought among the colonists led to a revolution of actions, in which colonists rebelled in order to attain the right to govern themselves without British interference. On the night of March 5, 1770, colonists harassed a British soldier at a time of rising tensions between the two groups. In one of the first recorded incidents of violent protesting between the colonists and British soldiers, five colonists died from these British gunfire (Goodenough). While this event did not directly contribute to a new system of government, the Boston Massacre more clearly divided the colonists into two groups of people: the majority, who felt wronged by Britain and wanted change, and loyalists who believed the colonies would not survive without Britain’s help. Additionally, the Boston Massacre served as a reason for colonists, like John Adams who was skeptical of the Revolution to join the fight for freedom, to join the cause by helping groups like the Sons of Liberty. In one of the more known acts of rebellion, the Sons of Liberty organized the Boston Tea Party to gain Britain’s attention. “The Boston Tea Party occurred in November 1773, after mass protests and meetings, 130 men, some dressed in the Mohawk warrior disguises, boarded the three vessels carrying British tea and, over the course of three hours, dumped all 342 chests of tea into the water” (Goodenough). After realizing the colonists would not gain Britain’s attention through small protests and meetings, they threatened Britain’s economy by destroying a large sum of The British East India Company’s tea. While Britain used taxation to take away money from the colonies, the Sons of Liberty’s goal was to treat Britain the same way they treated the colonists: take their money without their permission or compensation of any kind. Yet, this act of rebellion would prove to be unsuccessful, which only led colonists to strengthen their claim for liberty.
The Coercive Acts were a series of punitive laws passed by the British Parliament in 1774 after the Boston Tea Party. They were meant to punish the Massachusetts colonists for their defiance of throwing a large tea shipment into Boston Harbor in reaction to changes in taxation by the British to the detriment of Colonial goods.
The Coercive Acts showed the colonists that Britain was deterring them from attempting to have any control over their government. It was apparent to the colonists that Britain’s only use of the colonies was to make profit, not to support colonists as equals to British citizens. The Coercive Acts would serve as the tipping point for colonists, and as a result, they formed a government representing the entirety of British Colonial America that had one intention: to break away from its mother country, ultimately elevating America’s state of rebellion in to the beginnings of a revolution.
Several attempts of forming a united government in British Colonial America would distinguish the colonists’ full fledged revolution from a rebellion. In response to the Coercive Acts, the colonies came together to try to solve the dilemma of a lack of representation. “The first call for a convention was made over issues of the blockade and the Intolerable Acts penalizing the Province of Massachusetts, which in 1774 enabled Benjamin Franklin to convince the colonies to form a representative body” (Goodenough). Through Franklin’s efforts, the first attempt of establishing a new government found some success, and the colonists were able to prove to England that the colonies were fully capable of unification. More specifically, in one of the Continental Congress’ meetings, “the delegates organized an economic boycott of Great Britain in protest and petitioned the King for a redress of grievances” (Goodenough). In addition to substituting Britain’s government with their own, the colonists showed that they were capable of supporting themselves within their own country and without the aid of foreign imports. The criteria of a revolution is to substitute one form of government with another. Not only did the colonists form a new government, but they were financially independent of Britain as well. While the colonists were not entirely rid of Britain, they had finally achieved revolution. The last stage of revolution before the War for Independence came in The Declaration of Independence by declaring that “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government” (Declaration of Independence). By formally telling Britain that they were no longer a part of their empire, the colonists would have gone on to further organize the already established government if the British did not interfere. Yet, this was not the case. The revolution was not officially over as Britain set out to stop the colonists from establishing this new government. While the revolution was not officially completed, the criteria of a revolution were met and exceeded before the start of the war.
Revolution is considered the overthrowing and replacement of a government. By establishing the Continental Congress, the colonists met their goal. Originally, colonists rebelled against the harsh taxation enforced by Britain through articles and other forms of media. Following these verbal and written protests, colonists attempted to show Britain how they were being done wrong. Yet, it was not until the colonists decided that the only way they would attain the ability to govern themselves was by creating their own government even if that was not accepted in the eyes of the British. Ultimately, the Continental Congress proved to be capable of coming together and pushing America to be independent of Britain. When The Declaration of Independence was issued, the colonies were fully independent, the only thing stopping them was British retaliation.