The American Revolution: Causes of Conflict
Taxation Without Representation
Excerpts of Kennedy HickmanAs tensions regarding colonial lands and taxation increased during the 1760s and 1770s, many American leaders were influenced by the liberal and republican ideals espoused by Enlightenment writers such as John Locke.
Key among Locke's theories was that of the "social contract" which stated that legitimate state authority must be derived from the consent of the governed.
Also, that should the government abuse the rights of the governed, it was the natural responsibility of the people to rise up and overthrow their leaders.
The ideas of Locke and other similar writers contributed to the American embrace of "republican" ideology in the years before the Revolution.
Standing in opposition to tyrants, republicanism called for the protection of liberty through the rule of law and civic virtue.
While many of the Founding Fathers may have had contact with the writings of European thinkers, many other Americans came to their republican beliefs through dissenting churches such as the Puritans and Presbyterians. Through religious study, men like Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, were taught key tenets such as: that all men are created equal, that there is no divine right of kings, and wicked laws should be disobeyed.
Across the colonies, these philosophies were preached by Revolutionary clergy in their sermons....bringing the ideals of republicanism to the masses.
As the British government assessed methods for generating funds, it was decided to levy new taxes on the colonies with the goal of offsetting some of the cost for their defense.
Passed on April 5, 1764, the Sugar Act placed a tax of three pence per gallon on molasses as well as listing specific goods which could be exported to Britain. While this tax was half of that stipulated by the 1733 Sugar and Molasses Act, the new Sugar Act called for active enforcement and struck the colonies during an economic downturn.
The passage of the Sugar Act led to outcries from colonial leaders who claimed "taxation without representation," as they had no members of Parliament to represent their interests.
On March 22, 1765, Parliament passed the Stamp Act which called for tax stamps to be placed on all paper goods sold in the colonies. This represented the first attempt to levy a direct tax on the colonies and was met by fierce opposition and protests.
In several colonies new protest groups, known as the "Sons of Liberty" formed.
Delegates from nine colonies gathered at the Stamp Act Congress in New York.
Guided by Pennsylvanian John Dickinson, the congress drew up the Declaration of Rights and Grievances which stated that as the colonies had no representation in Parliament, the tax was unconstitutional and against their rights as Englishmen.
In London, colonial representative Benjamin Franklin argued a similar point and warned that continued taxation could lead to rebellion.
Still seeking a way to generate revenue, Parliament passed the Townshend Acts on June 29, 1767. An indirect tax, the acts placed import duties on commodities such as lead, paper, paint, glass, and tea.
As with past taxation attempts, the colonists protested with claims of taxation without representation.
While colonial leaders organized boycotts of the taxed goods, smuggling increased and efforts commenced to develop domestically-produced alternatives.
Over the next three years, boycotts and protests continued in the colonies.
These came to a head on the night of March 5, 1770, when angry colonists began throwing snowballs and rocks at British troops guarding the Customs House in Boston. In the commotion, British troops opened fire on the protesters, killing five (5) Colonists.
Parliament repealed most aspects of the Townshend Acts in April 1770, but left a tax on tea.
Across the colonies, British tea was boycotted and attempts were made to produce tea locally.
In Boston, the situation climaxed in late November 1773, when three ships carrying East India Company tea arrived in the port.
Rallying the populace, members of the Sons of Liberty dressed as Native Americans, boarded the ships on the night of December 16. Carefully avoiding damaging other property, the "raiders" tossed 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor.
A direct affront to British authority, the "Boston Tea Party" forced Parliament to take action against the colonies.
In response to the colonial attack on the tea ships, Parliament passed a series of punitive laws in early 1774.
The first of these, the Boston Port Act, closed Boston to shipping until the East India Company had been repaid for the destroyed tea.
This was followed by the Massachusetts Government Act which allowed the Crown to appoint most positions in the Massachusetts colonial government.
Supporting this was the Administration of Justice Act which permitted the royal governor to move the trials of accused royal officials to another colony or Britain if a fair trial was unobtainable in Massachusetts.
Along with these new laws, a new Quartering Act was enacted which allowed British troops to use unoccupied buildings as quarters when in the colonies.
The colonial leaders began planning a congress to discuss the repercussions of the Intolerable Acts.
Meeting at Carpenters Hall in Philadelphia, representatives from twelve colonies (Georgia did not attend) convened on September 5, 1774.
In the discussions that followed some delegates argued in favor of establishing a new governmental system while others desired to work towards reconciliation with Britain.
In Boston, royal authority was asserted with the arrival of Lieutenant General Thomas Gage
In the spring of 1775, Gage began a series of raids with the goal of disarming the colonial militias. On the evening of April 18, Gage ordered some of his troops to march to Concord to seize munitions and gunpowder. The next morning, British troops encountered colonial militia in the village of Lexington.
While the two forces faced off, a shot rang out.
Though the source of the shot is unknown, it touched off eight years of war.
America is coming full circle......