What issues unified but also divided colonists during the Revolution? Why do you believe these issues were important?

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When the American Revolution began, the rebels were not so much interested in starting their own nation. Like the loyalists, they saw themselves as Englishmen and Englishwomen. What they were fighting against was what they felt were the Crown's abuses of their rights as English subjects. It was only after...

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When the American Revolution began, the rebels were not so much interested in starting their own nation. Like the loyalists, they saw themselves as Englishmen and Englishwomen. What they were fighting against was what they felt were the Crown's abuses of their rights as English subjects. It was only after a year or so of fighting that the conversation seriously turned to fully seceding from Great Britain.

For generations, most colonists in North America felt keen ties to their brethren in England. They saw the New World as a place to freely exercise their liberties as granted to them by such English documents as the Magna Carta and the English Bill of Rights. That is why, when the Crown and Parliament started taking a firmer hand in the colonies in the latter part of the 18th Century, many colonists felt that their rights were being abused. When the first shots were fired in Lexington in April of 1775, no one was trying to kick the English authorities out of the colonies. The militiamen that day were merely trying to defend their rights as they saw them as Englishmen.

However, as the conflict progressed, the divisions grew deeper. The Tories, more loyal to the Crown, felt that there was no way that they could honorably throw off the political bands that they had with England. The Patriots, on the other hand, felt that the divisions between them and Great Britain had grown too severe to ever be rectified and that they should start their own independent nation.

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The two main camps before and during the Revolution were the Patriots and Loyalists. Mainly, they were divided by their loyalty to either the king or their homeland (Loyalists) or their devotion to a new country and a desire for representation (Patriots). While the Patriots didn't necessarily want to secede from the United Kingdom initially, they were fed up with the high taxation, the quartering of soldiers in their houses, and the unfair governance of the distant Parliament.

From this frustration came the famous cry of "No taxation without representation," with which the Patriots encapsulated the underlying idea of needing representation within the government so that they could exert control over their own governance. The Loyalists believed they were being more fairly treated, but they were also somewhat disappointed with the high tax rates being imposed on them, which was a point of unity among the groups. In the end, the Patriots' views won out, and they deemed it necessary to start their own government—free from the grievances they had with their former rulers.

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During the Revolutionary War, the colonists on the Eastern Seaboard were engaged in discussions about many aspects of their political future. The most central issue was support for the cause of independence versus loyalty to the British crown. Many colonists still considered themselves British subjects and supported King George.

A central principal involved was representation. Although England was a monarchy, it also had a Parliament in which the colonists had no elected representation.

Another issue was slavery. Outlawing slavery and the commerce in human beings was discussed often in the colonies before and after the Revolution but was finally omitted from the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The form that future government should take was also debated. Some people thought a new monarchy should be established in the free country, while others advocated for an entirely elected government.

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One might say that the issue of whether or not to have a revolution in the first place divided the colonists, even though everyone was pretty unhappy about the lack of representation in Parliament and about the steep taxes that were being imposed. While most colonists were unhappy with the taxation laws that were forced upon them by the British, not all of them sought so drastic a solution as a clean break from the empire. This separated colonists into two camps: Patriots, who wanted independence, and Loyalists, who wanted to remain part of the British Empire and thus hold out for reconciliation.

While in hindsight it's easy to say the Loyalists were not "patriotic" enough, most believed that a revolution might descend into total anarchy. While they were upset about their treatment by the British, they thought that was still preferable to a violent conflict that might end in chaos.

So the whole business of whether or not to have a revolution was a major dividing factor among the American colonies, even though frustration with the British was more universal among everyone, Patriots and Loyalists alike.

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I think one of the issues that has to be said is the issue of taxation. I like discussing this issue because of how it still applies to today's populations. Taxes exist, and they provide all kinds of services to a population, but that doesn't mean everybody likes paying them. During the time of the American Revolution, taxation was still a hot-button issue. Many of the colonists understood the need for taxes; however, they disagreed with how Britain was regulating and implementing those taxes. A concern of the colonists was that they were being taxed by Britain but were not allowed to represent themselves at the government level. The 1689 English Bill of Rights had forbidden the imposition of taxes without the consent of Parliament. The colonists had no representation in Parliament, so some of the colonists saw the taxes as a violation of their rights. Not all of the colonists disagreed with the taxes, so it was a divisive issue, but it served to unify a large number of voices as well.

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