Why were some colonists hesitant to break away from England?

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North America in 1775 was a continent which only a dozen years earlier had gone through a war in which two European powers, Britain and France, had battled for control. Most of the Native American nations had sided with the French. The legacy of this conflict, the French and Indian...

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North America in 1775 was a continent which only a dozen years earlier had gone through a war in which two European powers, Britain and France, had battled for control. Most of the Native American nations had sided with the French. The legacy of this conflict, the French and Indian War (as the Seven Years War, in its American theater, was known), and the instability of the frontier, still populated by Native Americans, were such that the English colonists felt understandably vulnerable. Their position in control of the colonies was felt by many of them to be tenuous in the extreme. Many believed they needed the protection of the mother country, Great Britain, and this was a principal reason independence was opposed by a large number of colonists.

An additional reason was that most—even those, ironically, who did seek to break away from the Crown—still saw themselves as English in nationality. The specific issues that initially precipitated the drive for independence involved the rather unwise taxation schemes imposed upon the colonies in the years following the French and Indian War. For the wealthier colonists, the taxation issue did not make enough of a dent in their finances to overcome the factors in favor of remaining part of Britain. There was also the question of who would be in charge if the colonists actually did succeed in cutting themselves loose from Britain. Many Americans wondered if the leaders of the Continental Congress were to be trusted and whether these men would ultimately turn just as "tyrannical" as they asserted the King and Parliament were. A huge unknown loomed before the public in the years leading up to and during the period during which war finally broke out. Even for those who might have believed independence was desirable, fear existed that it was simply too improbable that the British could be defeated. Their eventual capitulation occurred, of course, only after Congress had formed an alliance with France, and the French army and navy assisted Washington in his victory at Yorktown. For many colonists who still viewed themselves as English, Roman Catholic France, the traditional enemy of England, was not exactly the most desirable ally.

A final issue is the fact that many Americans were pacifists, especially the Quakers, who at that time were still the dominant group in Philadelphia and were a major factor throughout Pennsylvania and the other Middle Colonies. Though the offshoot "Free Quakers" disagreed and joined the rebellion, the mainstream Society of Friends were against warfare and took no part in the Revolution, though they also had no love for the British ruling class and probably desired independence as much as anyone. Despite Philadelphia's being the city where Congress met and independence was declared, its population included both Quakers and many of the wealthiest families in the Colonies who were loyal to the Crown and did not wish their comfortable status disrupted. When the British took the city and held it during the winter of 1777-78, the locals proved accommodating hosts to them. That such widespread Loyalist sentiment existed in the largest city of North America was emblematic of the fact that only a portion (though a very large one) of the overall populace in the Colonies was actually in favor of the Revolution.

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