Americans fought very had to receive their independence from England. Their determination of self-rule was evident from the very beginning. From early settlement, the colonists gave evidence to this determination. The increase in control of England increased their desire to be treated fairly as English citizens, but England did not give them the feeling of fair treatment.
Ever since the beginnings of settlement, England and America had been growing apart. England was still an aristocracy, ruled by men born and bred to a high station in life. The society was one of culture and refinement. Deprived of abundant opportunity at home, the common people accepted a position of dependence rather than independence. But in America, things had gone differently. The society was rather democratic. There were no lords or hereditary officers. “The wilderness had attracted men of independent spirit, and the stern conditions of the frontier had bred self-reliance and self-respect.” (*) The New World made men enterprising, energetic, and aggressive.
The distance between the colonists and England was as equally wide as their political thinking. British statesmen believed that Parliament had complete authority over the colonies. It could make laws for them, tax them and even abolish their elected assemblies. But, patriot leaders in America denied all this. They believed Parliament was bound to respect certain natural rights of man. The colonists did not think Parliament represented them, therefore they did not respect the taxes it imposed. The English leaders, on the other hand, thought members of Parliament looked after the best interests of the whole empire.
People all over the world believe that government protects life, liberty, and property. “Were it not for government, the world would soon run into all manner of disorders and confusions,” (136,Text). The idea that stable and enlightened government could be achieved by balancing the concepts of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy became a common belief among many individuals. In Europe, individual monarch power was growing. This outraged many of each country’s citizens. Also, poverty was increasing fast, due to people’s belief that nobility, money, and control of land signifies power.
Many early settlers chose to explore the New World, in order to escape from politics and religion in their mother country. In the colonies, the settlers had already become used to taking a share in government. Every colony elected an assembly. The Virginians set up their House of Burgesses twelve years after Jamestown was settled. The House of Burgesses was a promise of local assembly. The House was set up to make the settlers more free. The Pilgrims drew up the Mayflower Compact, a promise of election of governing officials, before settling in 1620. Unfortunately, these assemblies, when in action, made many settlers feel controlled, especially the working class.
Early on in the colonies there was tension concerning many things including power and government. Many rebellions broke out against authorities. In a time when there was no government, the Leisler Rebellion in New York took place. Five hundred men captured guards and attacked wealthy merchants in order to set up their own government, which had been very democratic.
Power of the colonial assemblies was increasing. England imposed various acts on the colonies, such as the Sugar Act, Stamp Act, and the Quartering Act. Trade only offered one source of revenue, so the English government created the previous mentioned acts. The colonists now had to pay import duties on foreign molasses, sugar, wine, and other commodities. Revenue officers inforced important measures to prevent smuggling. Since the new Sugar Act would not gain large revenue for England, it was supplemented by the Stamp Act. The Stamp Act levied a direct tax on all newspapers printed in the colonies and on most commercial and legal documents used in business.
Due to the fact that these two acts would not raise enough money needed for the army, the Quartering Act was created and inforced. This act required each colony to pay part of the expenses incurred by British troops when they were within its border. The Currency Act increased the load of taxes on the colonists. This act directed colonists to pay the whole domestic debt which they had created in waging the French and Indian War.
The Stamp Act was not accepted throughout the colonial assemblies. The colonists refused to buy additional goods while the act remained in force. It was repealed in 1766 because, as English subjects, the colonists could not be taxed with out their consent. However, at the same time, Parliament declared that it had full power to tax the colonies whenever and however it thought best.
In addition to the acts previously mentioned, England placed external taxes on trade in the colonies on many goods such as lead, paint, glass, paper, and tea. Opposition to these taxes was not predicted; the colonists objected very strongly. A clear distinction was made between taxes levied to regulate trade and those that intended to raise money for England. If England could levy a tax simply to increase its income, the colonists’ right of self-government would be at its end. The colonial assemblies had a check on the governors of each colony to prevent the deterioration of self-government. They had the power to withhold the salaries of the British governor; therefore they could make sure that the governor would not dominate the assembly.
In 1773, Parliament passed another act that allowed the British East India Company to ship tea to the colonies without paying any of the import taxes collected in England. The company was practically bankrupt and had an immense amount of unsold tea, therefore it was able to sell their tea cheaper than local merchants, who had to pay high taxes were. The company was willing to pay the Townshend tax when they unloaded their tea in America. The colonists greeted the cheap tea as a bribe offered to the people for their consent to a British tax. In response, New York and Philadelphia did not allow the company’s ships to land at the ports. Meanwhile in Boston, a group of citizens disguised as Indians tossed 15,000 pounds worth of tea into the harbor. This event, known as the Boston Tea Party, was significant in the pre-Revolutionary War crisis because it was the first act of resistance that ended in the destruction of a large amount of private property. This act of rebellion infuriated England.
Parliament responded to the Boston Tea Party with the five “Intolerable Acts.” The acts closed the port of Boston to all shipping until all the destroyed tea was paid for. “They declared British soldiers and officials immune from court trials for acts committed while suppressing civil disturbances” (164 Text). Parliament modified the Massachusetts charter, by taking away the lower house’s privilege of electing the upper legislative chamber. Instead, the governor appointed the members to the chamber. The fourth measure allowed the Massachusetts governor to quarter soldiers at Boston in taverns or any other empty building. Finally, it extended the boundaries of the province of Quebec to the Ohio River. It also gave the Roman Catholics in the province both religious liberty and the double protection of French and English Law. In conclusion, the Intolerable Acts took away many highly prized rights of self-government.
In response to the Intolerable Acts, the colonies set up a Continental Congress, in which they tried to force Great Britain to stop. Nearly all the delegates who attended its first meeting at Philadelphia in 1774 were members of local committees of correspondence, and many of them had been selected by the provincial congresses. The Congress denounced parliamentary taxation and the five Intolerable Acts. “It signed a Continental Association, intended to destroy all trade with England if the British did not yield. The Congress prepared to enforce this agreement by means of the local committees.” (*) Consequently, England did not regard its acts as legal. When the Congress attempted to force everybody to follow a certain course of action, it functioned as a powerless government. The Colonial leaders had now separated into two groups, the Patriots who were willing to accept the Congress as their guide, and the Loyalists, who counseled submission to Parliament decrees.
The colonists had many intellectual themes that they used to create their political theories. Enlightenment, was a theory that meant that the colonies were emerging from centuries of darkness and ignorance into a new age enlightened by reason, science, and a respect for humanity. Not all believed in just one theory. Some said that the Enlightenment theory was a “delusion.” (278, Text) Another theory that was looked upon was the theory of Natural Law. This theory was based on what were assumed to be the permanent characteristics of human nature that could serve as a standard evaluating conduct of civil laws. Also, Whig Ideology who printed many works that railed against corruption and creeping despotism in the reign of George II.
Many people had different thoughts about how the government should be run. When the Americans finally had their Revolution they formed into two main parties, the Federalists and the Anti-Federalist. The Federalists were in favor of a strong central government and the Anti-Federalists were not. It took a long time and hard work to set up the government in which we have today. A lot of controversy still exists in politics today. But, our forefathers worked very hard to free us from England’s unruly control over our country, and secured our right to self-government. It only proves that no government would send our country into a downward spiral of chaos.