The American Revolution: a Restoration of Colonial Society

Payton Rose

Nicolette Gable

History 216

3 August 2014

The American Revolution: a Restoration of Colonial Society

Although the residents of the American Colonies considered themselves Englishmen and loyal subjects to the king, they also enjoyed a much different lifestyle from those in the mother country under the salutary neglect of a distant authority. Upon the resolution of the Seven Years’ War, King George III doubled the land under his rule. Empires were expensive, and the crown needed money. Out of this need, he levied taxes on the British colonies across the world. These taxes caused civil unrest, and the crown promptly repealed them. The churning masses threatened the royal governors, who needed to re-establish their control. This resulted in varied overreaches, including the dissolution of local assemblies, the Intolerable Acts, and the blocking of Boston harbor. Such actions provoked resistance, and groups of prominent citizens convened across the American colonies. Virginia suggested at the first Continental Congress that the colonies secede from the British Empire. After much deliberation, the other twelve agreed. Those in attendance, now known as the Founding Fathers, fought the succeeding Revolutionary War to restore the society prior to the Seven Years’ War, not to develop a more perfect, democratic nation. The colonies had economic freedom, democracy and representation, and after attempting to reconcile, the Founding Fathers could calculate only one way to restore colonial society: war.

Before the Seven Years’ War, the only limitations the crown placed on the American Colonies were the Navigation Acts, which the British lackadaisically enforced. The only inspections of goods appeared in departing ports, which opened the massive loophole of changing course in the open ocean. While the crown was fully aware that such transgressions occurred, it maintained its position of salutary neglect. This position also afforded the colonists the right to govern themselves. In 1619, the residents of Jamestown held the first assembly of elected officials in the New World in the local church. This House of Burgesses, as it would later be called, blossomed into the most powerful legislative authority in the British Empire with the exception of the King and Parliament. It produced a representative democracy, in which the yeomanry and gentry of a county selected burgesses to represent their interests at the Capitol in Williamsburg. (Sydnor, 39) While there were still appointed royal governors present, they worked with the House of Burgesses in their legislation. Although Virginia is the largest and most notable example, the system also existed in the other colonies. This state of salutary neglect granted the colonies economic and political flexibility, therein producing a cordial relationship where both the king and colonists benefited. When the Seven Years’ War stretched the royal coffers to the breaking point, the king taxed the colonies. The American colonists quickly grew resentful of the increased taxation and resorted to civil disobedience. In order to restore peace, the crown cracked down on the colonies, which bred only more civil disobedience. The Continental Congress wished to resurrect the more peaceful society. After attempts of reconciliation with the king, the only remaining option was to secede from the Empire and go to war.

The Seven Years’ War broke out in 1754 between England and France. In the Americas, it consisted of a conflict where some the Native American tribes and the French fought against the British and the American colonists. The British handedly won the war, forcing France to cede much of its territory. The French cessions gave King George III his empire, which nearly circumvented the Earth. The empire was expensive, so the crown levied taxes on its royal colonies. The least popular of these was the 1765 Stamp Act, which required colonists to pay fees to the government for a peace of legal paperwork to be validated. Although the crown repealed it the following year, the damage was done. As the Stamp Act was thrust upon them without their consent, the populace grew frustrated with King George’s interference with the colonies. In Boston, civil unrest grew into the Boston Massacre of 1770 and the Boston Tea Party of 1773. By 1774, the colonists boycotted British imports across the socioeconomic classes. (Breen, 214) After the Tea Party, the king was furious. Parliament rapidly passed the Coercive Acts. This legislation dissolved assemblies, closed the port of Boston, and allowed British soldiers to stay in colonists’ homes. In Virginia, the House of Burgesses was enraged. After a day in nearby Bruton Parish church where the members of the House of Burgesses gave the Bostonians spiritual support, Lord Dunmore, the governor at the time, dissolved the legislative body. (St. John’s Church) After its dissolution, the royal governor took the militia’s gunpowder and threatened to arm the gentry’s slaves. (Colonial Williamsburg) Such attempts at intimidation only enraged the populace further. These rising tensions led to the meeting of the first Continental Congress. The congressmen convened with the goal of restoring the previous, cordial system. After attempting to diplomatically end the conflict, it became evident that the only way to restore colonial society was to secede from the British Empire, therein starting the Revolutionary War.

Even under the rule of the King of England, the American colonies enjoyed economic and political freedom and independence from the mother country. This is clear due to the Americans’ tolerated violation of the Navigation Acts and the king’s allowance of and cooperation with the colonial assemblies. Both countries benefitted in this cordial relationship. When the Seven Years’ War concluded, France ceded much of its empire to Great Britain. Now saddled with the expenditures of a massive empire, King George III’s coffers emptied, forcing the king to increase revenue. Therefore, he began to tax the colonies against their consent. The American colonists did not welcome such taxes and protested for their repeal. While the king quickly repealed them, civic unrest was already present. To alleviate the instability, the crown cracked down on Boston. This move cultivated more resistance, which the king and governors quelled through actions including the Coercive Acts, the confiscation of militia arms, and the threats to arm the native and slave populations. As the previous colonial society that satisfied those in power had vanished, the wealthy members of the society called for the first Continental Congress to discuss the issues. With the goal of restoration, the Continental Congress decided to secede from the British Empire and fight for the society they lost. We now call this war the American Revolution, but this is a misnomer. This “revolution” is merely a war to restore the freedoms the king gave the colonists before overreaching in his authority.

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