How did the colonists' desire for wealth provoke the Revolutionary War?

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larrygates's profile pic

larrygates | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Actually, one might make the argument that the colonists did in fact consider financial gain as another reason to rebel; although it was in all likelihood a minor factor.

For a number of years, England was distracted by affairs at home, such as the English Revolution, the Interregnum, the Restoration and ultimately the Glorious Revolution of 1688. During this time, the colonists flaunted the Navigation Acts with reckless abandon. Smuggling was the order of the day with colonial goods being shipped to French and Dutch ports in the Caribbean; in fact John Hancock made a fortune as one of the largest smugglers of the time. Parliament did authorize the issuance of Writs of Assistance to stop the smuggling; but these were seldom effective. Customs agents who were to enforce the Writs normally sent deputies who were easily bought off by American merchants. Those charged with violating the Navigation Acts were uniformly acquitted by American juries. This time while the British largely ignored the colonies was called by Edmund Burke a "wise and salutary neglect."

This period came to a screeching halt after the end of the French and Indian Wars when George Grenville became Treasury minister. Grenville was determined to place the colonies "within their proper perspective in the Empire." Grenville required Customs agents to be present themselves and enforce the Writs of Assistance. He ordered the British navy to patrol the coast in search of smugglers, and also ordered all smuggling cases to be tried in Courts of Admiralty which had no juries. Convictions were thereby more easily obtained. Grenville's actions put a sudden end to smuggling which had made many Americans (such as Hancock) wealthy. Needless to say, many of the participants became very angry. This was thus part of the gathering storm which led to the Revolution.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

It is somewhat unfair to the colonists to say that a desire for wealth provoked the Revolutionary War.  It is better to say that a desire to be free, which included the freedom to pursue wealth in whatever way they wanted, provoked the Revolutionary War.

The American colonists wanted to have more freedom in both their political lives and their economic lives.  They did not want, for example, to have to trade only with England as the Navigation Acts forced them to do.  They also did not want to pay taxes that were not imposed by people that they had the right to vote for.  Althouhg I do not agree with the argument, it is possible to argue that these factors show that the colonists rebelled out of a desire for wealth.

Many of the colonists' demands were economic in nature.  From this, you can argue that the desire for wealth provoked the Revolutionary War.  However, it is more accurate to say that a desire for freedom (one aspect of which was economic freedom) was the main provoking factor.

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