Was the American Revolution Justifed?
When Christopher Columbus decided to sail west to get to China, he landed on a new land instead. Many European countries rushed to colonize the new land, Great Britain was among them. British government sent out colonists and left them there to survive on their own. Colonists struggled through the first few years, but they were well off after. After the colonies stabilized, British government began to turn its attention to them. All of the sudden, British government began to interfere with the decision making of the colonies. British government wisely uses its law making power to pass out many unreasonable laws for the colonists to follow. It was then the colonists decided that they wanted change, so they rebelled, and led the American Revolution. The American Revolution was justified because the British government treated the colonists unfairly and violated their rights. Colonists justified the revolution by stating that the British government treated them unfairly and violated their rights. Under the Social Contract Theory, people have the right to rebel against a government that fails to protect their rights.
British government made decision based on the benefit of Great Britain rather than the benefit of the colonist, this act went against the Enlightenment philosophy that stated government is form for the benefit all the people it govern. Government should not focus only on the needs of a certain group, but the need of all people. Britain took goods from the colonies to give to England. In the old time, there was two quick ways of gaining wealth for a country, war and exploration. The purpose of creating New England colonies was for the sake of wealth, the colonies were used as money making tool for the British. Mercantilism was the economic system that ran between the colonies and Great Britain. Under the system, the British factories would convert the materials into products and sell them back to the colonists for a higher price. Certain raw materials (such as tobacco, sugar and cotton) were only permitted to trade with England by law. Colonists were encouraged to specialize in producing raw materials. Britain discouraged colonies to advance on industries, because colonies wouldn’t have to trade with England if they can convert the raw materials into products themselves. As a result, the British government passed the Wool Act, Hat Act, and Iron Act. Wool Act was passed in1699, this act forbid the colonies to export wool, wool yam, wool cloth to places outside of the colonies. To sum it up, it forced the colonies to sell wool products to Britain, then the British would resell the wool products to people of the British empire for higher prices. Hat Act of 1732 placed limit on the manufacture, sale, and exportation of American-made hats. It limited the amount of workers a hat maker was allowed to employ, it also limited the number apprentices a hat maker can have. Colonists have to pay four times the amount of money for hats and cloth imported from Britain than for local goods due to these acts. The Iron Act (June 24, 1750) increased the duty on pig iron and bared iron, and banned engines for slitting or rolling iron from New England. This act discouraged colonists from advancing in industries so they don’t create competitions for the British merchants. When Britain ship the raw materials out of the colonies, they did it for the future of England not for the future of the colonies. With the raw materials gone, colonists will have no future, they’ll have no resource for trade, and they’re not advance in technology because Britain discourage it.
British merchants make money from getting hold of the raw materials colonies provide. In order to keep the colonies’ raw resources for itself, British government passed the Navigation Acts. Navigation Acts were a series of acts that stated all trade with British territories must be made on British ships and routes so that the trade duties can be pay. British government pass out this act without putting the concerns of the colonial merchants in mind, the routes extended some extra traveling time for the merchants. Certain product such as tobacco, sugar, and cotton were only allowed to be trade with British under those acts. Eventually the types of goods allow to trade with other nation decrease, only a small portion were allowed, and colonial merchants didn’t earn much from these trades. Navigation Acts violated the colonists’ freedom in choosing their business partner, which was somewhat harmful to the colonies’ economy, because without the act they can make more profits in less time with other nations. Currency Act(September 1, 1764) prevented the colonists from making their own paper money, because the British fear the colonists’ currency system would devalue their currency value. Currency Act was passed to please the British merchants. This act cause a lot of confusion for the colonists, they didn’t have a standard value of trade. This act also made the colonial merchants realized that they will always be sacrifice for the interest of the British merchants.
Although colonists and British citizens were both protected by the British laws, unlike the British citizens, the colonists’ Englishmen’s Rights were violated by the British government time after time. British government’s act went against John Locke’s theory of human equality. John Locke stated a human’s position in relationship toward another human is equal, because they were created equal by god. If British citizens were treated with respect then the colonists should be treated with too, however that wasn’t the case. British government passed a bunch of unreasonable acts, and the colonists were required to follow the acts. British government passed the Quartering Act of 1774, an act that forced colonists to house soldiers. This act violated the colonists’ rights because the English Bill of Right stated that the people are not responsible to house or aid soldiers. To prevent the colonists from smuggling, the Writ of Assistance was passed. This act allowed royal officials to search through colonists’ properties such as warehouses, homes, and ships, however, it violated the colonists’ rights that were protected under British law. The British laws stated that a government official cannot search a person’s property without a good reason for suspecting that the person has committed a crime. A series of acts call the Coercive Acts(1774) were passed, one of them was called the Massachusetts Government Act. Massachusetts Government Act restricted Massachusetts town meetings, it stated that elected assembly representatives were to be replace by people that was elected by the British officials, the executive council members would no longer be elect by the people, but appoint by the king, no town meeting can be hold without the royal’s confirm, and only one town meeting was allow per year, unless it’s permitted by the governor. To hold meeting under British government’s watch violated the colonists’ natural right to liberty, they were not given the right to make judgment because their action will be limited by the royal government officials. Sedition Act stated that if colonists criticized elected official then they’ll be throw in jail, because it is considered an act similar to treason. Administration of Justice Act allows British officials to hold their trial in another colony or even in England if they were ever charge with a crime. The judges usually end up protecting the British officials because the king controls their salaries. Although witness can have their traveling expense cover by the government, but most of them cannot afford to get off their works for days. These conditions all benefit the British officials. Colonists called Administration of Justice the “Murder Act”.
The British has a Constitution, but it was not written. The British Constitution is full of customs and traditions that protect the people’s rights. Colonists and the British citizens have different ideology. British people believe that all laws made by the Parliament is added to the British Constitution and alter the Constitution, therefore they do not question the Parliament’s power to change the Constitution. Boston lawyer James Otis argued that there are certain rights that even the Parliament cannot touch, they are called the “Englishmen’s Rights” or inalienable rights. Colonists argue in the Declaration of Rights and Grievances that they share the Englishmen’s Rights too. They mentioned that when the first colonists emigrated from Britain, they were British men who hold Englishmen’s Rights, therefore their children should also hold the same right. The British government of 1700s did lay hand on the inalienable rights with the acts that they passed. Tax imposed on the colonists without a formal reply from them was considered unconstitutional. To keep army in colonies during the time of peace without the legislature’s approval was against the law. A complain colonists directed at the Massachusetts Government Act was, in all free government the people have a right to participate in government. By taking away the election of different colonial government positions, the British government has taken away the colonists’ rights to be represented. Since the representatives were not elected by them, it cannot represent them, their voices cannot be heard.
King George III was also a reason to why the colonists chose to rebel. The king was not suit for ruling, he favored his subjects who pleased him with lies, and dislike those who did not agree with his idea, he used the same logic on the colonists. The king tried to get rid of wise men and replace them with the people he favored. He sees the patriots as people who tried to surpass his rulings rather than people who fought for their rights. He was against the repeal of Stamp Act, but he fail to prevent the repeal from happening. He was the one who insist on keeping the duty on tea even after the Townshend Acts were repeal. King George III only look at the colonies as a tool to gain wealth for England, his subjects said “He referred to the years as money England has invested in the Colonies.” Since colonies were tools in the eyes of King George III, he didn’t even bother to listen to their opinion. For example in 1785, Virginia suffer from poor harvest. 16,000 pound of tobacco was suppose to be harvested and sold at the price of 2 pennies per pound, but due to poor harvest the price raise up to 6 pennies per pound. Raise of tobacco price led to the raise of clerical salaries. House of Burgesses passes Parson’s Cause to make economic adjustment, but it was veto by the king. The veto was unreasonable because the adjustment was simply to improve the colonies’ economy, England will not lost anything from that. Colonists dislike the king for his selfishness, his statues were pull down everywhere in the colonies. Some of his wrongdoings are listed in the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson:
“He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the right of the people.
He has [given] his assent to [these] acts of pretended legislation:
For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering, fundamentally, the form of our government;
For suspending our own legislature and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever…”
One of the other factors that were often ignored by the British government, but led to the revolution was the Admiralty Court. The Admiralty Court gained more power than it use to have. The court can take hold of a case anywhere in the British Empire. It can move the trial to anywhere the court members want, even to England. If the defendants were unable to make it to England or anywhere else that the case was hold, then they automatically lose the case. Judges were pay based on the amount of fine they pull out of the defendants, and navy officers were pay for bringing successful case. The results of the cases were determined by the judge rather than a jury. Under this court system, the right of trial by jury was abused. Whether or not the defendant actually committed crimes, they were charge because the judge and naval officers benefited more from the result. Another ignored factor that caused the American Revolution was the Quebec Act. To gain loyalty from the Canadian colonists, the British government passed the Quebec Act. This act extended Quebec’s boarder, and allowed practice of Catholicism. Many colonists were angered by the fact that the new Quebec territory included the Ohio Country, because many colonies have already claimed that territory to be theirs. Other religious colonist were angry by the tolerance of Catholicism, they fear the spread of Catholicism. The Proclamation Act of 1763 also played a small part in the cause of the American Revolution. The Proclamation Act of 1763 prohibited colonists to settle in anywhere beyond the Appalachian Mountains. This act angered a lot of colonists. The colonists fought hard in the French and Indian War, so when the war ended with Britain gaining new territories, colonists expected the land to be theirs. Many colonists receive land grants for fighting in the French and Indian War, while other had bought land in the new territories. When the Proclamation was made, colonists were outraged, many ignored the proclamation and push the proclamation line further west.
During 1600s -1700s, the Colonies went through a period of time call the salutary neglect. The British government left the colonies to self-govern during the 1600s- early 1700s. Britain focused fully on war and local issue. However, after the French and Indian War, British government began to pay more attention to the colonies. French and Indian War left Britain in huge debt. British government held the colonies responsible in paying the debts, thereby overloading the colonists with taxes. The amount of tax passed put the colonist’s right to own property in danger. Sugar Act was passed after the French and Indian War. It increased the duty on molasses and duties on foreign goods such as sugar, wines, coffee, Pimiento, Cambric, and printed Calico. The intention was to increase the price of foreign goods so colonists will buy British products. Stamp Act was passed in 1765, it required document such as playing cards, magazine, news paper to be produce on stamped papers that were made in London. This was an act of direct taxing from the Parliament. Colonists protested by burning stamp, they claimed that they have the Englishmen’s Right to only be tax on their will through their own representative assemblies. In 1764 the Revenue Act (Townshend Duties) was passed, it was one of the Townshend Acts. British government placed direct duties on lead, glass, paper, and tea. The Townshend Acts repeal later on, but the duties on tea act remained. There’s a principle in Marta Charta that stated no taxation without representation, British government has violated that principle by taxing the colonists without letting them have a say in the government.
Protests against the overwhelming amount of tax could be heard in different colonies. Instead of trying to listen to the protests, the British government chooses to tax more to punish the colonists. Eventually the colonists decided to let themselves be heard through actions. One example of colonists protest against high tax was the Boston Tea Party. On Dec 16, 1773 a group of colonist dressed up as Native Americans, they threw out imported tea from ships in Boston Harbor. The colonists’ act provoked the Parliament, it resulted in the passing of the Coercive Acts. The Coercive Acts were nicknamed by the colonists “Intolerable Act”, due to its intolerance. Intolerable Acts is made up of four acts: Boston Port Act, Massachusetts Government Act, Administration of Justice Act and Quebec Act. Boston Port Act moved the capital to Salem and close down the Boston Port to the outer world until the East India Company is repaid for its lost. This act punish the whole city instead just the few that was responsible. One of the acts made it legal to quarter troop in Massachusetts, another act lay more duties on trade goods. In reaction to the Intolerable Acts, Colonists gathered up and signed the Olive Branch Petition. The Olive Branch Petition was a document prepared by the colonists themselves to declare their loyalty to the King, in hope of repealing the Intolerable Acts. The petition was rejected by the king, which provoked the colonists into rebelling even more.
When the British government agreed to let colonists have their representative in the British Parliament, colonists argued that they cannot be represent because they were too far away. There were no communication tools that would allow the colonists’ opinions to be heard. Even if British government try to deliver messages to ask for the colonists opinion on different issues, the process will take months back and forth, not to mention different colonies had to gather up for issue that regard all the colonies. Colonists also complained that their representative in British Parliament would be out number when it comes to votes regarding the colonies. If the Parliament were to vote on whether or not they should sacrifice colonies to benefit England, no doubt the majority would vote yes because they want to benefit the land they represent and the citizens that live on it.
One of the last triggers for the American Revolution was Thomas Paine’s book Common Sense, the writing was largely influenced by different Enlightenment ideas. Thomas Paine included in his book that government officials represent people, they are to make decision base on people’s will. The king and his Parliament were considering two tyrannies, they got their position by heredity and contributed nothing to the people. He wrote from a biblical sense that when the world was first created all men were equal, there was no king and there were no war. It is the pride of king that caused war. He gave an example of how Holland has no king and it enjoy longer peace than any monarchical governments in Europe had last century. He said that the role of king is brought to the world by the heathen (Islam), their custom was to honor their king after he die. The Christians adopted the custom and honor the king while he is alive. Direct his thought to the people who inherited their position, Thomas Paine said while one man might have work his way up to his position, he had no right to appoint his family to that position because they have not done what is require to earn that position, they are unworthy of it. He said nature itself is against heredity rights, that’s why there are kings that are unsuitable for ruling. He pointed out that while the ancestors might have chosen a leader for themselves, it is not of their rights to decide that their children will have to serve under the children of the leader they chose. He argued that if people look back to the first generation of the royal line that declared themselves kings, they’ll notice the kings are no better than any human being, they are just normal humans. Thomas Paine was concern that the custom of heredity put the country in jeopardizes of civil war, by then he listed England has already had eight civil wars and nineteen rebellions. Lastly he presented a setup of the future colonial government if the colonies decide to rebel. He also mentioned how the colonies can quickly build up a navy that will surpass the British.
An Enlightenment philosopher John Locke stated that humans are born with the rights of “Life, Liberty, and Property”. The right to “Life” indicates people have the right to live and government should be responsible for its people’s safety. The right to “Liberty” allows people to think freely and make their own judgment. The right to “Property” prevents others from stealing from them. Government is responsible for the protection of Natural Rights, if it fails to perform its duty then it’s the people’s responsibility to rebel. British government’s act of keeping troops in peace time put people’s “Life” in danger, causing incidents such as the Boston Massacre to occur. Unreasonable laws such as Massachusetts Government Act took away people’s “Liberty”, people were not allow to make decision based on their own will because they were watch by the British officials. Overwhelming amount of tax put people’s right of “Property” in danger, government do not steal bread from the mouth of the people yet some colonists drop from middle class to lower class after the taxes were passed. In the Social Contract Theory, John Locke stated that people enter a contract with the government when they gave up their freedom to be governed by others in exchange for the protection of Natural Rights. If the governing force cannot protect the Natural Rights of the people, then people can rebel because the government broke the social contract.
The Declaration of Independence was written to explain to the world why the colonists chose to broke apart from Britain. Many of ideas in the Declaration of Independence were adopt from the Enlightenment philosophies. Thomas Jefferson wrote “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” He adopted these ideas from John Locke’s Natural Right Theory, but instead of Life, Liberty, and Property, he replaced it with Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. The right to “Pursuit Happiness” gives people the right to live for their own will rather than the will of the society, it clarify that people has the right to make decision for their own benefit. The decision to break away from England is the people’s rights, and it is their wills to pursue after what they want.
Colonists were protected by the British laws, yet time after time British government violated their rights. British officials treated colonists differently from British citizens, they treated colonists with less respect. The American Revolution is justified because the colonists were violated of many of their rights. Under the Social Contract Theory, colonists have the right to rebel against British government, because it fails to protect their rights. It is the colonists’ rights to pursue after their wills, which were to break away from England.