The war of American Independence was one of the greatest movements in human history for freedom. Up to 1763, the 13 colonies in America were more or less loyal to Britain. Yet only 12 years later the American subjects took up arms against Britain.
By 1783 their independence was recognized and the British Empire was stiffed off its most valuable possessions. While the inhabitants of the 13 colonies did not yet desire independence in 1763, it was therefore easy to observe that the colonists being so self-sufficient would not willingly submit to Britain which was 3000 miles away. The American Revolution was therefore brought about by the developments of new attitudes in the colonies.
While the new attitude was developing among the colonies, the British still adhered to the old mercantilists theory according to which colonies exist primarily for the benefit of the mother country and so they must be kept insubordination.
The British neither recognized any limitations upon the power of the parliament. They did not share the American belief that Parliament’s authority was restricted by some kind of fundamental law. Moreover, by the treaty of Paris 1763, Britain gained Canada from France which means that it had a far larger American empire to govern. Moreover, during the seven years’ war, Britain had a heavy war debt. It, therefore, seemed desirable to make British officials recognized imperial administration.
The British government knew that it will not be able to get the cooperation of the colonies in this matter and the American colonists will be most unwilling to pay any additional tax and Britain was seeking to hold the colonies in their traditional position of subordination.
However, that was done just at the time when the most vigorous elements in the American population were beginning to feel economically self-sufficient and that they were entitled to equality. This clash in the attitude of the American colonies and Great Britain brought about the start of the war of American Independence in 1775.
The American Revolution was a complex struggle with two objectives. It was partly a revolt of planters and merchants against the restrictions imposed upon American economic growth by British mercantilism and partly a revolt of farmers and mechanics against aristocratic privilege.
British officials studied colonial attitude during the seven years’ war and analyzed post-war problems and came to a logical but disastrous conclusion. If the colonial system was not working satisfactorily then laws must be passed to bring the colonies under control and the British cabinet try to put this policy into effect. Leadership in this job was given to George Grenville who was at that time the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Beginning with 1764, Grenville started to make the official system more efficient. To this end, he issued an order directing all those holding colonial offices that they must either go or take up their post or resigned at once. He also proposed to make some British officials in the colonies independent of the local assemblies.
The next measure in Grenville’s program was the Revenue Act of 1764 also popular as the Sugar Act. This Act reduced the import duty on French molasses from 6 pence to 3 pence or gallon.
He also saw to it that the duties were actually collected. The same measure imposed duties on coffee and wine which for so long had entered the colonies free of duty. Timber and iron were then added to the list of enumerated commodities.
The sugar Act of l 764 had no effect on the plantation colonies of the South. But it resulted in strong protest from the merchants of the North. In New York, the merchants met an appointed committee to petition their assembly and to seek a repeal of the Sugar Act.
In 1765 Grenville passed the Stamp Act. The Act provided for stamp duties on a variety of documents such as ships, paper, licenses, and deeds bonds and also on newspapers, pamphlets, advertisements, and even playing cards. Stamp duty was to be affixed on these things.
In fact, the profits from these were to pay for English troops on the frontiers. Thus the money raised would also be spent for defense in the American colonies. The colonists were very much angry so that they boycott the English goods. There were uprisings in many places where tax collectors were killed. They argued that since they did not have representatives in the parliament in England, the British government had no right to tax them. Their cry was “No Taxation without representation”. They said that the revenue from the stamp was used for the interest of the British Empire and not for the colonists.
As a result, Stamp Act was repealed in the year 1766. And on the 18thof March 1766, the British Parliament passed another Act known as the Declaratory Act and declared that the colonies in America ought to be subordinated and dependent upon the Parliament of Great Britain and that the British Parliament had every right to tax the American colonists.
The new Chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Townshend declared that on the strength of the Declaratory Act more taxes might be imposed on the colonies in order to produce considerable revenue. Thus new tariff duties were imposed on paint, paper, glass, and tea (1767). The revenue derived from these taxes was to be used primarily to pay the salaries of colonial judges, governors, and other royal officials. And any surplus which might remain after the salaries were paid would be used to pay the troops on the frontiers.
The colonists make an effort to defeat the program of Townshend and the colonial leader began to plan to bring economic pressure on the English merchants and manufacturers. The Boston town held a meeting on the 28th of October 1767. In this meeting, everyone agreed not to purchase a long list of imported articles and also to encourage the manufacture of paper and glass locally.
In August 1768, the Boston merchants signed an unconditional agreement binding them not to use British paper. Also, in the same year, two regiments of British were stationed in Boston to prevent illegal smuggling. Finally, in March 1770 an incident took place which caused widespread indignation. Friction arose between the troops stationed at Boston city to prevent the riots. Three citizens were killed. This incident came to be popular as the Boston Massacre.
When Lord North became the Prime Minister he adopted measures to reconcile the colonists. He retained duty only on tea and placed attacks of three pence for a pound of tea. But the American colonists were not satisfied by this measure of Lord North. So, they refused to pay the duty and smuggled tea from Island.
In 1773 the British government committed another crucial mistake. Due to the financial crisis faced by the East India Company, the British government passed an Act popular as the ‘Tea Act’. This Act gave a monopoly of tea trade to the East India Company. The colonists opposed the tea Act. So, they decided that they would not allow any tea to enter the colonies until and unless the tax on tea was renewed.
In 1773 three ships laden with tea entered the harbor of Boston. Some Americans disguise as Red Indians boarded the ships and threw 342 tea chests into the sea. This incident is known as the Boston Tea Party. The incident precipitated a great crisis and caused widespread resentment in England. The British government closed the harbor of Boston to trade and passed a series of severe measures which the colonists pointed to as coercive acts on the part of the British government.
About the same time parliament also passed the Quebec Act. This Act alarmed the Americans not only because it annulled the colonial claims to the lands north of Ohio but also because it provided for an autocratic regime in Canada and gave a privileged position to the Catholic church in the province.
To protest against these coercive measures undertaken by the government the first continental congress was called at Philadelphia. The continental congress was represented by all colonies except Georgia in 1774. Congress pressed the British government to withdraw all coercive measures. The congress also declared that the British Parliament had no authority to levy taxes on the colonists without their consent. They also made preparation for a war of Independence which began in 1775 and drag on for 7 years till it was ended by the Treaty of Paris in 1783.
Effects of the American war of Independence
The American war of Independence was won by the American colonists in the teeth of bitter opposition from the British. The war is a turning point in the history of the world and is highly significant. The words of the Declaration of Independence regarding the equality of all men and the inalienable rights of man electrified the atmosphere in America and outside.
Most of the countries of the world which opted for a federal form of government drew inspiration from the Constitution of the USA. It declares the doctrines of popular sovereignty and equality of all men. The revolution inspired many revolutionaries in France and later in Europe. The French soldier who had returned home after the war began to spread the ideas of liberty and equality throughout the country. It also encouraged Spanish and Portuguese colonies in Central and South America to rebel and gain their independence.
The main effect of the American war of Independence was the establishment of a Republic. This republic was, however, not truly democratic. The right to vote was limited. The slaves (Negroes), American Indians, and women had no vote. Election laws in all states favored men of property for many years. But progress towards democracy had begun. In some states, they abolish state religion, along with religious qualifications for holding public offices.
The immediate effect of the American war of Independence was the rise of a new independent sovereign state, the “United States of America” as a great nation. It was the first emerging nation of modern times. In fact, it was also the first ‘underdeveloped’ area to throw off its colonial status and became an independent country.
The American war of Independence and the Treaty of Paris 1783.
The Second Continental Congress met on the 10th of May 1775 in Philadelphia. This Congress representing all the 13 colonies sent a petition to King George III for the removal of all the colonial grievances. This petition was known as the Olive Branch Petition. The Congress also appointed George Washington, a Virginian planter as the commander of the Liberation Forces. George III was in no mood to consider the petition. On the 23rd of August 1775, George III issued a proclamation declaring the colonies to be in a state of rebellion.
The Third Continental Congress met again in the year 1776. On the 4th of July 1776, the Third Continental Congress adopted the famous “Declaration of Independence”. In fact, it was one of the most important documents drafted in human history.
The Declaration runs as follows: “We hold these truths to be self-confident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain rights. Those among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.
The next year i.e., in 1777 the British suffered a great defeat at Saratoga. This defeat could be considered as the turning point and this news reached Europe, the European powers i.e. France, Spain, and Holland entered the war on the side of the colonies. The British government now had to concentrate its efforts not only in America but also in the Mediterranean Sea, in India, and in the West Indies. The new English general, Lord Cornwallis won several battles in the colonies.
In 1781, General Cornwallis and the British soldiers advanced to Yorktown in Virginia. But there he had to face the combined army of the colonies and France. He was cut off from all communication and finding his position hopeless. Thus, Cornwallis surrendered at North Ford in October 1781.
With the fall of Yorktown, the war came to an end in America. However, England’s war against France and Spain continued throughout the next year. Finally, in 1783 the American war of Independence came to an end by the Treaty of Paris signed on September 3rd, 1783.
The terms of the Treaty are:
- Great Britain recognized the Independence of the 13 colonies in America.
- It handed over to the colonies all territories in America, except Canada, which she kept, and Florida and Minorca which she returned to Spain.
- France received from England the West African settlements and the islands in the West Indies which she had lost during the Seven year’s war.
- Americans won her Independence and owed their victory to British incompetence, French help, and to George Washington.
- The Americans agreed to recommend the separate states. Also, it allows loyalists to recover their property and British traders to recover the debts owed to them before the war.
The American Constitution
The successful war against England gave the American people an independent place in the family of nations. It gave them a change in social order in which heredity and privilege counted for little and liberty and human equality for much. It gave them a thousand memories of mutual hope and struggle. But most of all it gave them the challenge to prove their capacity for a totally new government.
During the revolutionary period, it did not seem likely that the Americans would succeed in creating a stable government to replace that of the British Crown. Yet within a few years of the winning of Independence, they were able to create a government that combined freedom with order and local self-government with the national community.
Necessary arrangements were thus made and a constitutional convention was called in Philadelphia in 1787 to frame a new constitution, which came into effect in 1789. The first session of the Philadelphia convention took place on May 25th, 1787. It was attended by delegates from 12 states the only exception being Rhode Island. It consisted mainly of practical men, experienced in the management of a business or of public affairs. Many of them were relatively young men. Washington was elected presiding officer of the Convention. James Madison who had a vast knowledge about the theory and practice of different governments was the most active and useful member.
The Philadelphia convention was called to amend the articles of the Confederation. But the delegates found that amending the articles was a hopeless task. They, therefore, decided to draft a new constitution. It was this constitution that turned the American people into a nation. It established a republican form of government at a time when states in other parts of the world were governed by monarchies.
The American constitution set up a federal system. Under the system, powers were divided between a central or federal government and the state governments. The makers of the American Constitution believed in the theory of Separation of powers i.e. executive, legislative, and judiciary. The constitution guaranteed many rights to the American people. The most noted of these is freedom of speech, press and religion, and justice under law.
The constitution marked the emergence of the United States of America as a nation in World history. It was the first written republican constitution ever Earned in history, which is still in operation.
History of Modern World
(15th Century to World War II)
By: BARBARA F.Jala
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