Every historical event has its reasons, prerequisites, characteristics of development and further consequences. Particular feature of historical events is that their meaning changes with each epoch’s interpretation of it. There were events which contemporary scholars called insignificant and even harmful for the development of their society. On the other hand, representatives of the next generations would consider those events essential for the development of modern social order which is more advanced and democratic than the former one. In other words, history is an interpretative science and it gains new half-color each time scholar from a new epoch looks into it. The event of the American Revolution of 1775-1783 is a good example of such interpretations. It terms of the modern law and old-fashioned royal rule, the event can be judged as a mutiny and breach of all ties with the mother country1. On the other hand, it was a proclamation of a new order – freedom and independence, the right for the colonists to decide by themselves. This long introduction gives an opportunity to understand that reasons and motives of a specific event might be judged in various ways, but the fact of the event remains the same. Subsequently, the main aim of the present paper is to discuss the main reason of the American Revolution. In this context, specific attention is paid to social mood and conditionality of colonists’ behavior concerning specific legislature imposed by the Crown. Thus, the central thesis of the paper is that there were different prerequisites for the American Revolution but the reason was only one – inconsistency between colonists’ life style and British rule. In this framework, an example of Stamp Act is given in order to understand conflict’s escalation in its fundamental reasoning.
In order to understand the reason it would be enough to emphasize the interests of each side and how American colonists were suppressed by the Continental rule. One would have to see preconditions of such situation. In other words, the fundamental reason of American colonialism should be compared to the British Crown’s vision of the same process2. First of all, there was a difference in ideologies of further development of each entity. The main desire of the new settlers and the main motive for colonization was to start a new life and to build a new order3. Inevitably, such desire was conflicting with the strategic plans of the British Crown, for which colonization of America was seen as a spread of influence towards another continent and part of the world. The main benefits were seen in the improvement of foreign trade, diversification of products and country’s enrichment through the imposed taxes on the overseas subjects of the Crown4. Subsequently, the motives of the British government and actual settlements were entirely different from the very beginning of colonization. Therefore, it was a matter of time, when the clash of interests would take place5.
Some of the historians believe that the main reason for the American Revolution was geographical distance between colonies and mother country6. In fact, this suggestion is partly true. The distance had contributed to the decrease of British influence and control over the vast and remote territory, but it was hardly the reason for the Revolution itself. On the other hand, it might be seen as one of the reasons for its success, since British forces could not react immediately and no urgent support from England would come on time7. Another often suggested reason is that thirteen colonies were favoring too much of autonomy and independence in the legal issues, meaning that the reason for the Revolution was independence of colonial legislatures8. Such statement would be also arguable. The independence of colonial legislatures is rather a consequence of fundamental essence of colonialism – desire to be free from the old rule, in this case, from the Rule of the British Crown. Subsequently, this reason is rather an argument in favor of the statement that the American Revolution was conditioned by inconsistency of essential motives of settlers and British government.
Another reason, which is popular in the British literature, is a weakness of the Empire after French and Indian wars preceding the Revolution9. In fact, the exhaustive impact of those wars, irrespective of their general success, forced the Empire to use colonies as means of resolution of their problems. This, in its tern, resulted in discriminating acts in various spheres of the colonists’ life. The subsequent Acts on Sugar (1764), Currency (1764), Quartering (1765), Stamp (1765), Tea (1773) and finally the Intolerable Acts (1774) were limiting productive, financial and civil capabilities of the local colonists10. Although exactly those acts had triggered the chain reaction of the public anger and finally led to the Revolution, they were not the main reason for a revolt, but rather an excuse for the existing dissatisfaction with the British presence and dictation of laws, delivered by the Parliament which was an ocean apart from the colonies11. Under other conditions, if general dissatisfaction with a British presence was not already strong in the colonialist society, the conflict would have taken longer to escalate into an armed confrontation12. Thus, it can be assumed that the dissatisfaction and desire of freedom from the mother country was present in the thirteen colonies for a longer time than the imposing of the aforementioned acts.
In order to understand the contribution of those acts to the beginning of the American Revolution, historical and political meaning of one of those acts should be outlined in specific details. In order to understand the whole scale of social dissatisfaction with the Royal rule, Stamp Act was chosen for the practical analysis. In this context, the essence of the act should be outlined in its historical conditionality and socio-economic implications. As it was mentioned above, the British Empire was in need for economic and financial recovery after Indian and French wars. The most efficient way to do that was to impose financial and economic burden on colonies. Previous economic initiatives in form of Molasses Act of 1733 and its substitution with Sugar Act of 1764, proved to be less efficient than it was expected in London13. The essence of the first act was to impose taxation of 6 pence per each gallon of overseas molasses incoming to colonies14. Although such action aimed at increase of compatibility of the sugar from the West India (another British colony), it did not work well in colonies, since locals preferred to buy sugar on black market rather than British sugar on the official market15. The following Sugar Act of 1764 aimed at problem resolution and reduction of taxation to the point 3 pence per gallon.
Inability of the British Crown to gain substantial and fast profit from taxes imposed on essentials forced it to change the approach. The main rational of further taxes was that they targeted administrative and political aspects of colonies’ life. Stamp Act of 1765 imposed direct tax on printed materials. The main requirement for any official or semi-official document to be considered legal and functional was to be printed on the stamped paper imported from England and stamped in London16. The main reason why it was called “Stamp Act” was due to the embossed stamp used on each paper sheet. The main difference from the previous ones was that it was unavoidable since any paper without stamp was void and illegal. Just as in previous taxes the payment method was also different. Colonies could no longer pay with their own issued money; the only acceptable currency was British pound17. The last aspect was especially negative for the colonies because they were losing their hard financial reserve in the amount of gold, since in order to pay taxes in British pounds, colonies had to buy them for the gold18. The main reason for such decision was desire of British Crown to gain hard currency in order to pay its army which fought in the previous wars and to keep Royal Treasury untouchable.
The main reason why Stamp act and previous taxes were unacceptable by colonies was not in a reluctance to pay additional taxes but in reluctance to lose the autonomy it already favored. First of all, by demanding British currency and depriving colonies of their golden reserve, England was binding American economy closer to its financial and economic environment. The further implications of such activities might have been return to the British pound as a currency in colonies, significant increase in prices for the essentials and quotas for import-export transactions19. From the political and legal perspectives, imposing this taxation was entirely illegal and unjustified. According to British law, taxes could have be imposed on the Crown’s subjects only if they were aware of it and their rights had been represented by their own elected representative in the Parliament20. Of course, in this case, just as in previous cases of imposed taxes, no representation in Parliament was present.
This Act was imposing another substantial threat which referred to the religious independence of the colonies. Unlike previous acts, which referred mainly to financial or political issues, this act had a long-termed provision of effecting bishops’ paper procedures. The main problem was that there was no institute of bishops in the colonies; thus, it was understood by locals that Britain had a far-reaching plans for reforming colonial society and making it more favorable for the Royal control, in which anglicanization of colonists could be one of the greatest assets21.
The further implications of this act included political and legal debate of colonies’ subordination to the metropolis and break of law due to the lack of Parliamentary representation of colonies and their subsequent status as Crown’s subjects. In this context, main officials from New York sent official complaints to the British Parliament and the King22. While political representatives and upper classes of colonial society were fighting the act by legal means, local population went to more radical actions. Exactly this act had started streets riots and massive turmoil in the cities of Massachusetts, particularly in Boston, where some Englishmen officials were murdered for distribution of the stamps23.
The reason why this act was taken, as an example of reasonable prerequisite for the American Revolution and not the reason for it, is that this act was one of those focal points in American history when all classes of society were united against one enemy and the idea of fighting him was conditioned by social readiness to do so. In this context, Stamp Act showed the existence of the initial struggle between colonists and the Crown24. Although, during the first decades of colonization, their interactions were relatively stable and suitable for both, the moment the Crown decided to interfere into spheres of administrative, political and personal liberties of colonists, it was doomed to trigger the conflict. If taxations referred mainly to import-export issues, the clash could have been avoided for another decade, but imposing stricter and wider limitations challenged local dissatisfaction with the Royal rule and gave the beginning of the revolutionary spirit in the colonial society25.
In a long-termed perspective and strategic thinking, it should be emphasized that the whole military conflict and disruption of the existing connection between the Crown and colonies could have been avoided if taxes were imposed on other items, rather than political and administrative issues26. Even if they were not as immediate and straightforward as Stamp Act, their successful results were more likely to be achieved, since they were not denying the existence of colonies as autonomous elements, and influenced only its trade and local consumption market27. On the other hand, making a hint that those colonies would never gain independence and that their autonomy was a questionable issue was the main miscalculation of the British Crown. Even worse than that was its idea of returning an institute of bishops and religious influence on the colonists, which was basically the main reason of their escape from England on the first place28.
Taking into consideration everything mentioned above, a distinction between fundamental and immediate reasons for the Revolution should be made. In this context, a fundamental one is the aforementioned difference in essential motives for colonization. On the other hand, the immediate reason, which is based on the fundamental one, is that British Crown and thirteen colonies had different views on survival strategies29. Subsequently, the mother country saw colonies as means of its survival, and the weakness of the Empire after wars had shown the need for those means exploitation. On the other hand, the thirteen colonies were favoring autonomy and even independence in state rule. Thus, the final target for them was to gain independence. Therefore, when the Empire had applied draconian methods, it became clear that independence of colonies was never in Crown’s plans. Thus, the conflict was inevitable. From the perspective of survival, it was either the Empire ending all kinds of colonies’ autonomy or colonies were throwing away the Royal rule30. There was no third way possible under those conditions.
Overall, it can be concluded that various factors were favorable for the American Revolution to take place. First of all, among them is geographical remoteness of the Empire and colonies, which resulted in an inability of the Crown to control its colonies and provide a sufficient military support during the Revolution. Secondly, colonies had favored autonomy in various fields, including independence of legislatures and trade preferences. Thirdly, the Empire was weak after exhaustive wars with France and India; thus, it needed resources from the colonies. Irrespective of the vivid contribution of those issues on the American Revolution occurrence, the main reason was a fundamental inconsistency of the initial motives for settlers to colonize the continent and for the Empire to sanction colonization. Additional contribution to this inconsistency was English inability to understand how far colonist society had evolved from its initial Crown’s subordination and self-perception as Crown’s subjects. In this framework, different surviving interests resulted in the American Revolution. Stamp Act showed that if gradual taxation policy was applied, the military conflict could have been delayed and the story might have taken entirely different turn.
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