Were the Americans justified in rebelling against the British?  

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As mentioned above, the answer to the question depends on your point of view. A traditional United States perspective argues that yes, the colonies were justified based on Enlightenment concepts of Natural Law. Thinkers such as John Locke challenged the Divine Rights of Kings by saying that the relationship between the ruler and the ruled was a contract rather than an inviolable decree handed down by God. This meant that the king had an obligation to treat his subjects justly. If he did not—if he behaved as a tyrant—they had every right to dispose of him.

Using this theory, the colonists, as outlined in The Declaration of Independence, argued that King George III had behaved as a tyrant towards them, burdening them with laws and unfair taxes over which they had no say. According to this interpretation, the colonists had every right to rebel.

Revisionist historians such as Howard Zinn argue that the British were not treating the Americans unjustly. In fact, they had recently spent a good deal of money and spilled their own blood to defend the colonists in the French and Indian Wars. The English were justified in asking the Americans to help pay for the burden that war placed on the English treasury. Zinn argues that the ruling elite in the colonies, made secure after the win in the French and Indian War, wanted to break away not because of tyranny, but so that they didn't have to share their profits with the English any longer. They didn't need them anymore, so they wanted to get rid of them. They therefore focused popular discontent against the British, manufacturing excuses for a rebellion. In his view, the colonists were not justified in rebelling.

A more measured approach might say that the colonies had been in existence, in some cases, for more than 150 years and had evolved their own distinct cultures and ways of life. It was only natural that they would want to be independent of a country and a government with which they had only tenuous ties. Rebellion was one way to force the issue and solve the problem.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Deciding if the Americans were justified in rebelling against the British depends on your point of view. I will explain the thinking on both sides of the issue so you can make an informed decision.

Those colonists who favored rebellion had several reasons for doing this.  They were unhappy with some of the restrictions that the British Parliament placed on them. They didn’t like the Proclamation of 1763 that prevented them from moving to the lands Britain gained in the French and Indian War from France. They also didn’t like that they had to provide housing for the British soldiers who were enforcing this unpopular law.

The colonists also thought the British were violating their rights by passing tax laws such as the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts. The colonists believed these laws were illegal because they didn’t have representatives in Parliament that could vote on these proposed taxes.

The colonists were also concerned about some harsh actions that occurred or were put in place in the 1770s. The Boston Massacre was the first time blood was shed in our dispute with Great Britain. This occurred when the British fired into the crowd of colonists gathered outside the Custom House in Boston. The Intolerable Acts were unreasonable in the eyes of the colonists, and they refused to obey them. They felt the punishment that occurred as a result of these laws being passed was way too harsh. The fighting that took place at Lexington and at Concord suggested war was inevitable against the British.

There were people who supported the British. These people believed the British could do whatever they want to do with their colonies. Since the British owned and ran the colonies, they were free to do as they pleased with them. They believed the British had the right to do this.

Some people felt the British were trying to protect the colonies. They felt the Proclamation of 1763 was passed to protect the colonists from potentially getting attacked by the Native Americans. They believed the presence of British troops in the colonies was also to protect the colonists. They felt the British were acting in the best interests of the colonists.

People who supported Britain felt the British were justified in having the colonists pay for some of the costs of running the colonies. They believed many of the actions that the British took were helping the colonists. Since the colonists benefitted from the British actions, it was reasonable to expect the colonists to share in some of the costs of operating the colonies.

Based on the views of each side, do you feel the colonists were justified in revolting against the British?

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial