What ideological differences and legislative actions led to the American Revolution?

Expert Answers

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

The main ideological difference between the colonies and Parliament was their views on governance. The colonies had enjoyed a period of limited self-government for many years before the American Revolution. Smuggling and tax evasion were time-honored traditions with many American merchants. Parliament enacted laws pertaining to taxation and trading with...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Britain's enemies, but these laws were seldom enforced. After the French and Indian War, many British officials saw that many colonists did not obey Parliament's laws and had a relatively small tax burden than British citizens living in England. Starting in 1763, Parliament moved to correct this problem through the Proclamation Line of 1763 which was designed to prevent conflict between colonist and Indian as well as keep the colonists close to the coast and thus easier to monitor. The colonists chafed at this as land speculation was a major business in the colonies and many young colonists dreamed of having their own farms in the West where land was cheap.

Parliament also moved to tax sugar with the Sugar Act and various documents with the Stamp Act. The colonists rebelled as they were not consulted in this matter by Parliament. The colonists claimed that they should have the right to tax themselves. Parliament claimed that no one in Parliament represents a particular district; rather, anyone in Parliament can speak for the good of the whole realm. A member of Parliament is supposed to rule for the benefit of a Londoner as well as a Bostonian. For colonists who were used to self-governance, this was not fair and they started to rebel more strongly. Parliament, in order to repair the relationship between the colonists and London, repealed the Stamp Act but passed the Declaratory Act which stated that Parliament could make laws for the colonies. The colonists brushed this off as empty words because they did not believe that Parliament would arbitrarily make laws.

Colonial resistance intensified with the passing of the Townshend Act and the Tea Act. The colonists started to attack tax collectors and customs houses. Britain decided to punish colonists caught breaking these laws by sending them to admiralty courts. This is another ideological difference--the colonists thought they were being treated as second-class citizens without the normal rights of all British people. Parliament believed that they were only doing what was necessary to maintain order over a rebellious colony who needed to be reminded who was in charge. The colonists rebelled over the Intolerable Acts. Britain called these the Coercive Acts meaning they were meant to chastise Boston. After the Intolerable Acts, it was apparent that the relationship between Parliament and the colonists was destroyed for many. The fight for independence derived from the need of the colonies for self-rule and Parliament's need for greater control.

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

There were many factors that led to the Revolutionary War. Some of these factors were ideological while some were issues that were in response to laws passed by the British Parliament.

The British and the colonists clashed on ideology. The British believed they could do whatever they wanted to do with the colonies because Britain ran the colonies. The British took on the risk of gaining, developing, and running the colonies. Because they took these risks, the British believed they were free to run the colonies how they saw fit to do so.

The colonists believed that they were British citizens and had the rights of British citizens. They believed the British government needed to respect and honor those rights. Therefore, the British couldn’t do anything they wanted to do if those actions violated the rights of the colonists.

The British Parliament passed laws that upset the colonists. The colonists were against the Proclamation of 1763. They wanted to move to the land that the British had gained from France in the French and Indian War. This law prevented that from happening. The colonists objected to the Quartering Act that required the colonists to provide housing for the British troops that were enforcing the Proclamation of 1763, a law the colonists didn’t want.

The colonists were unhappy with the tax laws that were passed. Both the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts required the colonists to pay taxes in some form. The colonists said these tax laws violated their rights as British citizens because they didn’t have representatives in Parliament that could vote for or vote against these laws.

The colonists were unhappy with the Intolerable Acts. The Intolerable Acts were passed to punish the colonists, especially the colonists in Massachusetts, for the Boston Tea Party. The colonists said they wouldn’t obey these laws, and they formed their own militias.

When fighting broke out at Lexington and at Concord in April 1775, many colonists knew it was only a matter of time before the colonists would be fighting against Great Britain for their independence. That fighting began after the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776. This war was called the Revolutionary War.

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

Identify, describe, and assess the development and combination of ideological differences between the British and the American colonies, specifically in relation to the series of legislative actions and reactions leading up to the American Revolution.

I am not sure I would say that "ideological" differences existed between the British and the Colonies. In Anglo-Saxon history—from the Magna Carta in the early 1200s up to and including our own time—philosophies of government have not been systematically developed, but have instead evolved as ad hoc responses to changing conditions and needs. For instance, no one started out thinking, much less stating, that "democracy" is an ideal system, but democracy has nevertheless developed gradually in Britain and America.

That said, in the aftermath of the Seven Years' War (in North America known as the French and Indian War), a crisis of a kind occurred in the way the Colonies were viewed by the Crown. The British believed that the colonists should be responsible for the payment of a war that had allegedly been fought for the protection of the colonists against the French and the Native Americans. Consequently, a series of taxation schemes were passed which the colonists considered violations of their rights as Englishmen.

This was indicative of a broader issue: the colonists had no representation in Parliament. If the Stamp Act (along with the other legislative measures that followed) had not been initiated, it's anyone's guess if the lack of legislative representation for the Colonies would have become such a problem. As it happened, the key to the dispute that led to the war may have been that the British ruling class held the colonists in a lower regard than even the commonest people of Britain.

The Colonies had been populated largely by religious dissenters (e.g, Puritans, Quakers, Roman Catholics, etc.), exiled lawbreakers, and others whom the government in Britain had no use for and wanted to be rid of. These people remained (at least on paper) British subjects and were constitutionally equal to anyone else, but they were largely considered riff-raff: the equivalent to the class of people in Europe referred to as "the mob." Even Benjamin Franklin—a man considered a genius throughout the world for his lightning experiment in the 1750s and for his other achievements—was treated disrespectfully and derisively when he was called to testify in 1774 before the Privy Council (concerning the leaking of the Massachusetts governor's letters to the Boston Radicals). From this experience, Franklin realized that Americans, even if they legally possessed the same rights as people born in Britain, would never be considered equal to them.

The closing of the port of Boston along with the other harsh measures enacted in 1774 in response to the Boston Tea Party led to an escalation of retributive acts in the Colonies that made war inevitable.

In spite of the main thrust of my analysis here, it would be negligent to claim that political differences did not contribute to the fact that Britain and the Colonies were in a state of irreconcilable conflict; however, these differences were more of an extension of the internal political dispute within Britain than a conflict between British and American politics.

The Whig Party in England represented progressivism, the greater power of the people, and the peoples' representation in Parliament that counteracted the arbitrary power of the Crown. The Whigs, with their most eloquent spokesman being Edmund Burke, were on the side of the colonists in the great conflict. They did not wish the Colonies to become independent, but they believed—as did the colonists who started the Revolution, who were Whig adherents—that the colonists' rights according to English law had been violated.

Thus, the war came, with the result being the independence of the United States.

Last Updated on