Student Question

What were three issues that led to the American Revolution?

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First and foremost it is essential to establish that the American Revolution did NOT develop overnight and that its cause cannot be pin pointed into one or even three reasons. Much of the main causes surround the deep rooted belief in human rights as promoted by John Locke and others during the 100 years or so leading up to the rebellion. The belief in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were firmly established in the English Bill of Rights dating back to 1689. In this document there were six main themes or rights for which the American Colonists held vital to their existence and to their treatment as equal English citizens. These rights were:

  • No Taxation Without Representation
  • Right to Bear Arms
  • Right to Petition
  • Right to Free Speech in Parliament
  • Right to a Trial by Jury
  • No Cruel or Unjust Punishment

The violation of the first right, No Taxation Without Representation, is typically the most publicized reason or cause leading to the American Revolution. However, this needs some clarification because it really does depend on which side of the Atlantic you were on. There existed a fundamental difference in defining representation between the Colonists and their brethren back in Britain. British Parliament practiced virtual representation while the colonists practiced direct representation; the key difference was that the colonists voted for their representatives. This was due to the fact that the colonists had local governments to manage their existence because they were so far apart from Britain. Therefore, when a Parliamentary tax was placed upon them they considered it a violation of their rights because they had no "direct" representative in Parliament.

The British need for tax revenue reached its brewing point in the years following the French-Indian War (1754-1763) because of the immense debt incurred from it. As a result, the Parliament then began to actually enforce their colonial taxation over the colonists which, prior to the War, had been very lax at best. When the collection of taxes in the colonies proved to be problematic British Parliament began passing laws to strengthen their power over their colonial "loyal" subjects.

British policy to protect the colonists on the frontier in the years after the French-Indian War were also very upsetting to the Colonists. The Proclamation of 1763 which created a fictions line through the Appalachian Mountains prohibiting settlement westward was viewed a inadequate and in violation of their right to pursue happiness by living in this region.

Over the next ten years or so British policies, taxation and treatment in and of the American colonists will continually deteriorate but the handling of the Boston Tea Party in 1774 put things over the top. The Coercive or Intolerable (as the colonists called them) Acts were passed to punish party participants but it really punished everyone. The Massachusetts Gov't Bill shut down the colonial legislature thus violating their (believed) right to self govern. The Boston Port Bill shut down the main business of the region destroying the colonial economy. Lastly the Quartering Act allowed for unprecedented power for the British troops to search homes, seize property and evidence; and arrest colonists suspected of being Tea Party Participants. Those arrested would then stand trial back in England. At that time the violations of their rights seemed to be complete peril and it led to the formation of Continental Congress that declares independence.

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