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The origins of the American War of Independence

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Problems for Britain had existed in America from the start of colonisation. The first settlers were escapees from religious and social persecution - Quakers, Baptists and so on. These people are epitomised by the Pilgrim Fathers. The early settlers were free-thinking, independent, rugged, hardy and individualistic. Human factors were far more important than geographic factors as a cause of the final split from Britain.

Although there was little communication between England and America, the same was true of other colonies such as India, the West Indies and Canada (after 1763). However the other colonies had had autocratic rule before Britain took control: things remained the same but with a different ruler.

There had been little British intervention in America from 1621 until 1756. This 150 year period is known as one of 'salutary neglect'. Other than the operation of the Navigation Acts to regulate trade, Britain allowed the colonies to go their own way. Pitt the Elder began the first large-scale intervention during the Seven Years' War, ending the virtual independence of the thirteen colonies.

By 1760 the British controlled the eastern seaboard of America. The colonies were:

Massachusetts
New Hampshire
Connecticut
Rhode Island

THE NEW ENGLAND COLONIES
New York
Pennsylvania
New Jersey
Delaware
Maryland

THE MIDDLE COLONIES

Virginia
North Carolina
South Carolina
Georgia
THE SOUTHERN COLONIES

In America, only partial British rule applied. Each of the thirteen separate colonies had a Governor appointed by the Crown. He was responsible only for trade and defence. The daily administration - by-laws, internal taxation and so on - was in the hands of local, very democratically elected colonial assemblies. Each of these had two Houses: the Assembly (the colonial equivalent to the House of Commons) and Council (the equivalent to the House of Lords). The Council was made up of important persons in each colony.

The colonists thought of themselves as Englishmen, with the rights of Englishmen as set out in the Bill of Rights of 1689. Politically, the colonists were highly developed. Given the conditions in existence, national independence was highly likely once the idea of independence matured. The seed was already there: the American Revolution was only evolution.

A break with the mother country became imminent when democratic radicals, who were products of the self-governing colonies, emerged with the idea of continental independence. Leaders of the independence movement included Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, James Otis and Thomas Jefferson.

Samuel Adams

The New England colonies and Virginia led the movement towards independence because

Early Developments

After about 1700, the conflict between French and English settlers in North America became endemic. The French had built a series of forts down the Ohio-Mississippi river complex that prevented the westward movement of English settlers from the seaboard colonies to the interior of the continent.

In 1754, George Washington failed to capture Fort Duquesne from the French but his failure exacerbated already strained Anglo-French relations that degenerated into the French and Indian War - which in 1756 became part of the Seven Years' War. Britain decided that she was obliged to protect America to defend British trade and prestige. British troops were sent to America and the colonists were required to raise money to support them. The colonists also were expected to provide militiamen to fight the French. Pitt promised to repay the colonies at the end of the war for all the money they raised. There was friction between Britain and the colonies during the Seven Years' War over several issues:

1763 Peace of Paris

The British victory in North America had been overwhelming.

The British victory of 1763 led to further problems and grievances. As a result of the lack of co-operation from the colonists in the Seven Years' War a new policy for the American colonies had been formulated over a period of years by Britain. This was to be implemented at the end of the war. The new policy was aimed at ending salutary neglect and at attaining better control over the colonies. The policy was formulated by Bute but was implemented by Grenville.


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Last modified 4 August, 2014

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