American Revolution


During 17th to 19th century, there arose movements in different parts of Europe to overthrow the existing political systems. The first successful revolution which overthrew the autocratic monarchy took place in England in the 17th century. Simultaneously, there was also the rise and growth of national consciousness and movements to unite the different territories inhabited by the people of a nation if they were divided into different states, and to overthrow foreign imperial rule if the territories of a nation were part of a larger empire ruled by an alien emperor.

American Colonies

Colonization of America was made possible by the voyages and discoveries of the early explorers from Europe. In the 16th century, European countries began to colonize America. The geographical discovery of Americas led to the destruction of the civilizations of the Incas and the Aztecs. During the 16th century, the work of Colonization in America was left almost entirely to Spain. Their programme to colonize was concentrated into South America. As the Spanish empire grew, explorers forced the native population into slavery and to convert them to Christianity. Soon, other European nations started the colonization of North America.

In North America, colonies were set up by France, Holland, Spain and England. In the 18th century, England drove France out of the eastern part of the continent and Canada. England had earlier driven out Dutch from New Netherlands, changing its name to New York. By the mid-18th century, England had 13 colonies in North America along the Atlantic coast. Soon, England and France became the major contesting colonial powers in America.

There were 13 British colonies in America on the Atlantic coast of North America founded between 1607 and 1733. These were the colonies that later rebelled against the colonial rule, and came to be known as the USA. A large number of immigrants from Europe settled in these colonies. Along with the increasing population, the colonies expanded westwards.

England and France became arch rivals in these colonies. They sought to expand at the cost of the other. The 13 colonies of the Britain were surrounded by the French colonies from North and West. In early 1750s, French expansion into the Ohio river valley brought the two into armed conflicts. This culminated into the Seven Years War in 1756-63. In this war, the French got the support from the native tribes of America, while the 13 colonies sided with Britain. The 13 colonies’ representatives met at Albany Congress in 1754 and advocated for a union of the British colonies for their security and defense. The Albany Congress also adopted the proposal of Benjamin Franklin to establish a colonial union. George Washington, the first President of US, played an important role in the war.

Causes of the American Revolution

The Commercial Revolution, which commenced in the middle 18th century led to a considerable expansion in American imports and exports. Each colony, in America, had a local assembly elected by qualified voters. These assemblies enacted laws concerning local matters, and levied taxes. However, they were under the rule of the mother country. By the 18th century, the colonists found the laws, which the English government imposed upon them, more objectionable. Thus, the idea of being an independent nation grew and developed into the Revolutionary War in which the colonists gained their independence.

The main causes of the American Revolution can be summarized as:

Political

On the eve of American revolution, there was a stark difference between the political life in America and Britain. The relative weakness of the aristocracy, the existence of a large body of land owning farmers, the absence of a large indigenous population and the possibility of acquiring land by westward movement imparted a strong republican flavor to the politics of the 18th century America. Also, the British legacy of parliamentary politics and constitutional monarchy inspired the American Revolution to a great extent. The settlers in the American lands were independent minded and intrepid.

Much political power has been delegated to America from Britain. In these colonies, people voted for the representatives to make up popular institutions. There were arrangements for military governors in most of the colonies. Thus, the stage was already set for parliamentary politics in America, unlike the Asian and African colonies.

Economic-

The colonial policy of England were the primary cause of resentment in the American colonies. England’s policies did not encourage the American colonies to develop an economy of their own. The English Parliament had forbidden the use of non-British ships in their trade. Certain products, like tobacco, cotton and sugar, could be exported only to England. Heavy duties were imposed on the import of goods in the colonies from other places. Colonies were also restricted to start certain industries, like iron works and textiles. Thus, they were forced to import these goods from England. English also angered the colonists by issuing a proclamation to prevent them from moving west into the new lands. English aristocrats had bought lands in America and got rents from the farmers.

As a result of continuous wars in Europe, the English government was burdened with debt. It needed money. Thus, in 1765, English Parliament passed the Stamp Act which imposed taxes on all business transactions in the American colonies. This Act aroused violent resentment among all sections of the colonists and led them to boycott English goods. The colonists claimed that since English Parliament had no representatives from the colonies, it had no right to levy taxes on them.

Philosophical

American revolutionaries were inspired by the ideas of the English philosophers of the 17th century, like- Locke, Harrington and Milton, who believed that men had certain fundamental rights which no government could infringe. American thinkers, like Thomas Jefferson, were also inspired by the French philosophers. Jefferson asserted the colonists’ right to rebellion. Similarly, support for independence was forcefully expressed by Thomas Paine, who detested the inequalities of English society. The religious revival, known as the Great Awakening, also weakened the traditional authority and the position of the gentry and the established Anglican clergy. All this paved way for a thriving intellectual life in America.

Part 2 on the events of Revolution coming soon…

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