American Revolution

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What caused the growth of conflict between the American colonists and the British empire?

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A central cause of the growth of conflict between the American colonists and the British empire was the restrictions the British Parliament imposed upon the colonies, such as the Proclamation of 1763 and the Intolerable Acts, following the French and Indian War.

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The main source of conflict was Parliament's insistence on closely regulating American commerce after the French and Indian War in 1763. While Parliament had always passed laws concerning the colonies, during the period of salutary neglect between 1660–1763, it failed to enforce those laws. British officials in the colonies saw...

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how American merchants ignored taxes and the Navigation Acts, and they vowed that the Americans would have to pay their fair share. The Americans were upset because they felt as though their contribution to the empire's defense during the French and Indian War was being ignored.

Parliament's first step in angering the Americans was passing the Proclamation Line of 1763 in order to keep the colonists next to the coast. While Parliament claimed that this was done to protect colonists from marauding Indians, the colonists argued that it was to keep them easy to control. Parliament then sent more tax collectors and started to tax things such as sugar, stamps, and paint. The colonists rebelled by intimidating the tax collectors and boycotting British goods. Parliament then taxed British tea when it arrived in the harbor, whether or not the Americans chose to use it. This led to the Boston Tea Party and Parliament treating Boston as an occupied city through the Coercive Acts.

All during the period where Parliament tried to regulate the colonies, Parliament claimed that they were trying to get the colonists to pay their fair share. The colonists claimed that their interests were not being represented in Parliament. Parliament countered that Members of Parliament did not represent any one group and that any Member could speak for the good of the entire realm. The American Revolution was the result of a disagreement on how representative government should work. Parliament thought the Americans were tax dodgers; the Americans thought that Parliament was not observing basic rights that should be afforded to all Englishmen.

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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.

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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:

  1. No one, not even a king, has the right to take property from an owner.
  2. 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.
  3. People have the right to revolt when their ruler(s) do not recognize the rights of citizens.

According to, 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

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.

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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.

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