The Revolutionary War

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Could the relationship between England and its American colonies have been saved?

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The relationship between England and its American colonies could've been saved if the mother country had been more sensitive to the colonists's needs. As it was, the British imposed a series of increasingly unpopular measures, such as the Stamp Act, that alienated the American colonists and sowed the seeds of future conflict.

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In a historical argument like this one, both sides tend to have value.  I suppose I fall on the side that the relationship between England and her American colonies could not have been saved.  There had been so much in way of stress in the relationship that it was almost a foregone conclusion that the relationship could be salvaged.  Revolution, or a forceful break, was the only possible option for the Colonists given everything else that had been endured.

In order to trace the fraying of this relationship, one has to go back to the French and Indian War.  A war between the French and English in which the Colonists gave support in all forms to the latter was seen as something that would engender good will from the mother nation.  However, the Colonists perceived insult when the English leaned on the Colonies to pay for the debt incurred as a result of the war.  At the same time, the Colonists felt that some level of representation in government and voice could have been present after the sacrifices made.  In return, they received greater restrictions on their economic and political rights.  Acts such as the Stamp Act, the Sugar Act, the Tea Act,  and the Nonimportation Agreements struck at the heart of the relationship between England and her colonies.  The Colonists perceived the British actions as direct attacks on their sovereignty.  Events such as the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, and the Intolerable Acts were direct acts of hostility in which both sides felt that the other could not be reached. The establishment of the First Continental Congress established that the Colonists could establish their own governing body. These acts reflected increasing distance between both, a gulf less likely to be bridged without complete submission to the other.  Mutual dialogue that had previously defined the relationship were now being replaced with unilateral declarations of hostility.  When the first shot is fired at the battle of Lexington and Concord, it reflects John Adams' idea that the seeds of revolution had been sown in the hearts of the Colonists prior to that first volley towards conflict.

A flip side to this would be to suggest that if the British had shown a bit of flexibility towards the Colonists, conflict could have been avoided.  If the Revolution was fought to make and keep money, then the British could have simply increased the share that the Colonists had and perhaps, revolution could have been averted.  However, I think that it is more compelling to argue that the reason why the relationship could not have been saved was because the nature of the relationship had changed between both.  A vibrant entity that had once been rather inclusive became more dictatorial in nature:  "Prior to the Stamp Act crisis British authority, rarely asserted, rested on ties of loyalty, affection and tradition, not force."  The establishment of compulsory force went very far to ensure that could be little to alter the course of events, one that reflected how the relationship between England and her colonies could not be salvaged.

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Even right up until the outbreak of the American War of Independence the fraught relationship between Great Britain and her American colonies could still have been salvaged. The vast majority of American colonists regarded themselves as British and had no desire to break with the mother country. Joined together by a common language and a tradition of liberty, Great Britain and America had no reason, on the face of it, to go their separate ways.

That they eventually did was largely due to the insensitivity of the British. In the wake of the successful conclusion of the French and Indian War the British steadily began to impose a series of onerous trade and fiscal measures on the colonies that generated considerable resentment. Measures such as the Stamp Act, which imposed a direct tax on colonists, was especially hated, and led some Americans to start questioning whether the relationship with Great Britain was worth it.

American political leaders made strenuous efforts to make representations to the British government, but all of them were rebuffed, and so tensions continued to simmer away until they finally reached boiling point. As the Declaration of Independence makes clear, the Americans tried to reach an amicable settlement with the British over their numerous grievances. But the British weren't prepared to listen, and so there was no longer any option but to seek independence.

If the British had listened to their American colonists, if they had taken their criticisms on board and adjusted their policies accordingly, then it's likely that the relationship between Great Britain and America could've been salvaged.

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