What caused the growth of conflict between the American colonists and the British empire?
When considering the causes of the American Revolution, we typically think of events like the Stamp Act, the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre, etc. It is true that all of these events (and numerous others that occurred in the same time frame) were important in pushing the colonies into war with England, but there is another older cause that is not cited as often.
Ironically, it was an Englishman named John Locke who proposed many of the ideas that early American revolutionaries adopted and incorporated into the arguments for independence and the actual Declaration of Independence itself. Specifically, Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government appealed to key Americans.
This treatise, which was not popular with the British monarchy, supplied the following key ideas:
- No one, not even a king, has the right to take property from an owner.
- Governmental authority is derived from something called a “social contract” that exists between the people and their rulers. The ruler’s behavior is bound by this contract just as are the people.
- People have the right to revolt when their ruler(s) do not recognize the rights of citizens.
According to www.Monticello.org, Thomas Jefferson referred to Bacon, Newton, and Locke as
My trinity of the three greatest men the world had ever produced.
We can clearly see the influence of Locke’s ideas in Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.
According to www.ushistory.org:
The single most important influence that shaped the founding of the United States comes from John Locke, a 17th century Englishman who redefined the nature of government.
While specific events in the mid-eighteenth century helped ignite revolutionary sentiment, Locke’s ideas provided the philosophical underpinning for the Colonies’ justification in throwing off British rule. Without such ideas, we might well have continued to accept the authority of monarch.
There were several things that caused conflict between the colonists and the British Empire. The first event was the passage of the Proclamation of 1763. The colonists wanted to move west to claim the land Great Britain received from France as a result of the French and Indian War. This law prevented this from happening. The colonists were upset, and some refused to obey the law. When the British passed the Quartering Act, the colonists weren’t happy they had to provide housing for British troops to enforce the Proclamation of 1763.
When the British began to pass tax laws, such as the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts, to have the colonists help pay for some of the costs of running the colonies, the colonists protested. They felt these taxes were unfair and illegal since the colonists had no representatives in Parliament who could speak about and vote on these proposed taxes. The colonists began to boycott British products as a form of protest.
After the Boston Massacre, where five colonists were killed, more colonists felt their dislike of the British intensify. When the colonists dumped tea in Boston Harbor, the British responded with the Intolerable Acts. These laws were designed to punish the colonists, mainly those in Massachusetts, for the Boston Tea Party. The colonists refused to follow these laws and formed their own armies. When fighting broke out at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, many colonists believed independence and war were inevitable. As a result of all these events, the colonists declared independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776, beginning the Revolutionary War.
The basic cause of the growth of conflict was the tension between the British need for revenues and the American desire for autonomy.
Before the French and Indian War, the American colonies had been left more or less to themselves. During this time, they got used to having relative autonomy and came to see it as a right. At the same time, the colonies were growing in population and economic strength and becoming less dependent on the "mother country."
After the French and Indian War, the British needed funds to pay for the war and other costs of empire. They felt the Americans should help to pay so they imposed taxes and tried to increase British control of the colonies to ensure the smooth flow of revenues. This need came into conflict with the expectations the colonists had built up over the years.