This post begins a new series (to come out, typically, on Thursdays) on the American Revolution. I learned I am a descendant of a Patriot, Israel Moseley, who fought in the Revolutionary War. I researched and prepared a series of summaries as part of my learning experience about the Patriots who helped form our country 250 years ago. …
In 1578 Humphrey Gilbert, the author of a treatise on the search for the Northwest Passage, received a patent from Queen Elizabeth to colonize the “heathen and barbarous landes” in the New World which other European nations had not yet claimed. It would be five years before his efforts could begin. When he was lost at sea, his half-brother, Walter Raleigh, took up the mission.
In 1585 Raleigh established the first British colony in North America with a group of colonists (91 men, 17 women and nine children) on Roanoke Island off the coast of North Carolina. The colony was later abandoned.
It would be 20 years before the British would try again. This time – at Jamestown in 1607 – the colony would succeed, and North America would enter a new era. (Alonzo L Hamby)
The early 1600s saw the beginning of a great tide of emigration from Europe to North America. Spanning more than three centuries, this movement grew from a trickle of a few hundred English colonists to a flood of millions of newcomers. Impelled by powerful and diverse motivations, they built a new civilization on the northern part of the continent.
The Early Colonists Wanted to Remain English, Even Though They Were Persecuted and Arrested
Seeking the right to worship as they wished, the Pilgrims had signed a contract with the Virginia Company to settle on land near the Hudson River, which was then part of northern Virginia. The Virginia Company was a trading company chartered by King James I with the goal of colonizing parts of the eastern coast of the New World. London stockholders financed the Pilgrim’s voyage with the understanding they would be repaid in profits from the new settlement.
Between 1620 and 1635, economic difficulties swept England. Many people could not find work. Even skilled artisans could earn little more than a bare living. Poor crop yields added to the distress. In addition, the Industrial Revolution had created a burgeoning textile industry, which demanded an ever-increasing supply of wool to keep the looms running. Landlords enclosed farmlands and evicted the peasants in favor of sheep cultivation. Colonial expansion became an outlet for this displaced peasant population.
By 1750, some 80 per cent of the North American continent was controlled or influenced by France or Spain. Their presence was a source of tension and paranoia among those in the 13 British colonies, who feared encirclement, invasion and the influence of Catholicism.
In 1700, there were about 250,000 European settlers and enslaved Africans in North America’s English colonies.
How Did the Colonists View Britain Before 1763?
When asked what the ‘temper of America towards Great Britain” was before the year 1763, Benjamin Franklin responded,
“The best in the world.”
“They have submitted willingly to the government of the Crown, and paid, in all their courts, obedience to acts of parliament.”
“Numerous as the people are in the several old provinces, they cost you nothing in forts, citadels, garrisons or armies, to keep them in subjection.”
“They were governed by this country at the expence only of a little pen, ink and paper. They were led by a thread. They had not only a respect, but an affection, for Great Britain, for its laws, its customs and manners, and even a fondness for its fashions, that greatly increased the commerce.”
“Natives of Britain were always treated with particular regard ; to be an Old England-man, was, of itself, a character of some respect, and gave a kind of rank among us.” (Franklin in Examination related to repeal of the Stamp Act)
In the 1600s and 1700s, Europeans came to North America looking for religious freedom, economic opportunities, and political liberty.
They created 13 colonies on the East Coast of the continent. Each colony had its own government, but the British king controlled these governments.
In the early years, voluntary contributions supported spending on civic activities and church ministers. Too many free riders induced leaders to make contributions compulsory.
But taxes were not long in coming.
Growing populations in the colonies necessitated defensive measures against Indians and other European intruders, along with the need to build and maintain roads, schools, prisons, public buildings, and ports and to support poor relief. A variety of direct and indirect taxes was gradually imposed on the colonists.
In 1638, the General Court in Massachusetts required all freemen and non-freemen to support both the commonwealth and the church. Direct taxes took two forms: (1) a wealth tax and (2) a poll, or head tax, which in some instances evolved into or included an income tax.
Direct taxes were supplemented by several import and export duties in the New England colonies (save in Rhode Island). For several brief periods, Massachusetts imposed a “tonnage duty” of 1s. per ton on vessels trading, but not owned, in the colony, which was earmarked to maintain fortifications.
Taxation Without Representation in the British Parliament Led to War
John Adams wrote a letter to Otis’s biographer William Tudor, Jr., in 1818. After quoting that letter at length Tudor wrote in his book:
“From the navigation act the advocate [Otis] passed to the Acts of Trade, and these, he contended, imposed taxes, enormous, burthensome, intolerable taxes; and on this topic he gave full scope to his talent, for powerful declamation and invective, against the tyranny of taxation without representation.”
This was followed up by declarations at the Stamp Tax Congress in New York in October 1865. The Stamp Act Congress passed a ‘Declaration of Rights and Grievances.’ This claimed that American colonists were equal to all other British citizens, protested taxation without representation, and stated that, without colonial representation in Parliament, Parliament could not tax colonists. In addition, the colonists increased their nonimportation efforts.
By 1775, on the eve of revolutionary war, there were an estimated 2.5 million people in the colonies.
The American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) was sparked after American colonists chafed over issues like taxation without representation, embodied by laws like The Stamp Act and The Townshend Acts. Mounting tensions came to a head during the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, when the “shot heard round the world” was fired.
It was not without warning; the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770 and the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773 showed the colonists’ increasing dissatisfaction with British rule in the colonies.
The Declaration of Independence, issued on July 4, 1776, enumerated the reasons the Founding Fathers felt compelled to break from the rule of King George III and parliament to start a new nation. In September of that year, the Continental Congress declared the “United Colonies” of America to be the “United States of America.”
France joined the war on the side of the colonists in 1778, helping the Continental Army.
But, was the ‘Revolution’ really the ‘War?’
George Washington, Commander in Chief of all Virginia forces (and later First President of the United States) wrote to Robert Dinwiddle on March 10, 1757 expressed some thoughts about the changing conditions,
“We cant conceive, that being Americans shoud deprive us of the benefits of British Subjects; nor lessen our claim to preferment …”
“As to those Idle Arguments which are often times us’d—namely, You are Defending your own properties; I look upon to be whimsical & absurd; We are Defending the Kings Dominions”
“and althô the Inhabitants of Gt Britain are removd from (this) Danger, they are yet, equally with Us, concernd and Interested in the Fate of the Country”
“and there can be no Sufficient reason given why we, who spend our blood and Treasure in Defence of the Country are not entitled to equal prefermt.”
“Some boast of long Service as a claim to Promotion – meaning I suppose, the length of time they have pocketed a Commission –“
“I apprehend it is the service done, not the Service engag’d in, that merits reward; and that their is, as equitable a right to expect something for three years hard & bloody Service, as for 10 spent at St James’s &ca where real Service, or a field of Battle never was seen”
John Adams, Second President of the United States also spoke of the Revolution; in a letter to Thomas Jefferson (August 24, 1815) Adams stated, “What do We mean by the Revolution? The War?”
“That was no part of the Revolution. It was only an Effect and Consequence of it. The Revolution was in the Minds of the People, and this was effected, from 1760 to 1775, in the course of fifteen Years before a drop of blood was drawn at Lexington.”
“The Records of thirteen Legislatures, the Pamphlets, Newspapers in all the Colonies ought be consulted, during that Period, to ascertain the Steps by which the public opinion was enlightened and informed concerning the Authority of Parliament over the Colonies.”
“The Congress of 1774, resembled in Some respects, tho’ I hope not in many, the Counsell of Nice in Ecclesiastical History. It assembled the Priests from the East and the West the North and the South, who compared Notes, engaged in discussions and debates and formed Results, by one Vote and by two Votes, which went out to the World as unanimous.”
Thomas Jefferson, Third President of the United States, noted, “Societies exist under three forms sufficiently distinguishable. 1. Without government … 2. Under governments wherein the will of every one has a just influence … 3. Under governments of force …. To have an idea of the curse of existence under these last, they must be seen.”
“I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. … . It is a medecine necessary for the sound health of government.”
These leaders help us understand that there is a difference between the ‘Revolution’ and the ‘War.’ The Second Continental Congress declared American independence on July 2, 1776.
The Lee Resolution, also known as the resolution of independence, was an act of the Second Continental Congress declaring the United Colonies to be independent of the British Empire. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia first proposed it on June 7, 1776; it was formally approved on July 2, 1776.
The document justifying the act of Congress – Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence – was adopted on the fourth of July, as is indicated on the document itself. In it we learn more about the difference between the ‘Revolution’ and the ‘War.’
By the time the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776, the Thirteen Colonies (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia) and Great Britain had been at war for more than a year.
That war lasted from April 19, 1775 (with the Battles of Lexington and Concord) to September 3, 1783 (with the signing of the Treaty of Paris.) It lasted 8 years, 4 months, 2 weeks and 1 day; then, the sovereignty of the United States was recognized over the territory bounded roughly by what is now Canada to the north, Florida to the south, and the Mississippi River to the west.
Click the following link to a general summary about the American Revolution: