Why did colonial and British leaders fail to reach political compromise to save the Empire?
It is overly simplistic to place the blame for this series of events on either side; in fact blame is hardly an issue. It is more nearly correct to say that America and Great Britain had over time evolved into separate societies with precious little (except perhaps language) in common. For that reason, political resolution of their differences was impossible.
Americans first developed a sense of a distinctly American culture following the French and Indian War. They had fought as British citizens in the war, but had done so to defend their own homes and property. As defenders of their homeland, they soon developed a sense of being Americans rather than Britons living in America. This distinction became more apparent when Britain attempted to assess the colonies for the cost of the war. Christopher Gadsden, at the Stamp Act Congress commented:
There ought to be no New England men, no New Yorker, &c., known on the Continent, but all of us Americans.
Political leaders in Great Britain also recognized that Britain and the colonies had little in common with each other. In a speech to Parliament, Edmund Burke commented:
The last cause of this disobedient spirit in the colonies is hardly less powerful than the rest, as it is not merely moral, but laid deep in the national constitution of things. Three thousand miles of ocean lie between you and them. No contrivance can prevent the effect of this distance in weakening government. Seas roll and months pass between the order and the execution; and the want of a speedy explanation of a single p0int is enough to defeat a whole system.
Thomas Paine argued in Common Sense that the differences between the two nations compelled separation:
Everything that is right or reasonable pleads for separation. The blood of the slain, the weeping voice of nature cries, 'tis time to part.
A political solution was not possible. The passage of time and series of events prior to the revolution had inexorably moved Britain and America so far away from each other that a political settlement was impossible, despite attempts on both sides of the Atlantic to effect that settlement. It was perhaps best stated by John Adams:
The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments, of their duties and obligations. This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.
I would put the blame for this on the British, though their actions were understandable. To them, losing the colonies would have seemed like a huge blow in terms of prestige and (they thought) economic power. These were mercantilists who did not believe in Adam Smith's ideas about free trade. They could not see that the colonies could be just as beneficial to Britain if they had autonomy. Therefore, they remained stubborn and refused to give the colonies autonomy.
It is clear that the British learned their lesson because, a few decades later, they gave Canada autonomy instead of trying to keep it as colonies.
The early colonists faced events and tribulations that no other band of people faced. They had to deal with a new kind of native, and a new kind of environment. You could equate this with a fantasy setting = being set down on Mars and having to deal with a Martian. Our forefathers faced death, hunger and desperation daily, but remarkably, they developed into local bands of neighbors and local government. That was quite an accomplishment. I believe the traits of invention, common horse sense and determination that our forefathers faced still influence us today; witness the great number of charities, church related activities for others and the participation in the larger world of many U.S. citizens in relief and concern of the poor of other nations. Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter; all interested in helping those who can't help themselves.
Hopefully,we will see more of them.
Despite attempts to negotiate, colonials (Americans) and imperials (British) could not compromise because of the different philosophies on government, specifically how the colonies should be administered within the (First) British Empire. It came down to ideas of soveriegnty, consitutionalism, and political representation. Americans saw power as something that could be diffused. Sovereignty, then, the ability to govern oneself, was divisible. The British saw sovereignty as a power of governance that resided in a central location, or the metropole. It could not be shared. Americans also had their own idea about a constitution. They looked to Britains own constitution as a model, but on a more theoretical way, specifically the idea of a mixed constitution, where different parts (legislature) protected citizens from other parts (the King.) They looked to this model for, not only how the British should govern them, but how the colonial constitutions should be written. Yet their idea of a constitution only existed in theory, for the British really had no written consitution, and had no desire to write one for the governance of the empire. This alienated colonials from imperials, and influenced them to write their own state-constitutions that putthem at odds with the British. This undercut the entire attempt at negotiations between the two sides, as the issue of representation within the empire was never settled. Even before the crisis between colonials and imperials, Americans had experimented with the ways the upper and lower houses of the state legislatures were chosen, and how much power colonials could exercise through voting for members. This debate, and gradual evolution of representation, soon manifested itself in the larger relatiosnhip with how the coloines would be governed, and how much of a voice the Americans would have in the British Parliament. Britain also had major issues with representation in the home islands, and ones that needed major reform. Yet the experience of the British with the representational dilemna was very different with the Americans. Neither side saw the issue in the same way, so when the colonials demanded equal representation, the imperials refused to compromise on the issue.