A Struggle for Power

(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

In this study, Theodore Draper defines the struggle for power as the contest between Great Britain and her colonies over who would make the ultimate decisions of government. The American Revolution erupted not because the colonials were fighting for power, independence, and freedom; it occurred when the British attempted to reduce the power colonial assemblies had always enjoyed. This power struggle was characterized by the role of assemblies and the rule of royal governors. No matter what type of charter colonies held, royal governors depended upon colonial assemblies for their salaries. Thus compromised, governors were often forced to sidestep or ignore British policy.

English colonies developed alongside those of Britain’s traditional enemies, the French, who were also committed to maintaining vast territorial holdings in America—Nova Gallia, or New France. A deputy governor of New France, introduced in this study, the Marquis Roland-Michel Barrin de la Galissoniere realized that underpopulated Canada posed a potential burden to France. Suspecting that the British would attempt to take Canada, he felt no expense should be spared to keep it. His insistence on a line of protection led to the building of French fortifications from Canada to Louisiana.

Theodore Draper defines the Seven Years’ War (also known as the French and Indian War) as the first true world war in history fought in Europe, North America, India, and the West Indies. He discusses an often neglected controversy of the war mainly the negotiations in the Treaty of Paris of 1763, regarding French holdings in the Caribbean, particularly France’s transfer of sugar-wealthy islands such as Guadalupe to British jurisdiction. Draper argues against the long-held view of the Seven Years’ War as a direct cause of the American Revolution, noting the fifteen-year delay between these two events. While the Seven Years’ War is seen as a precursory event, by itself, he argues, it did not create the conditions necessary for a war between the colonies and Great Britain. Other events, what he calls “combustible materials” both before and after the Seven Years’ War produced this atmosphere of conflict. Nevertheless, it is vital to an understanding of subsequent events to comprehend the significance of the American theater of the war. Young American soldiers gained invaluable military experience and leadership opportunities, which they drew upon some twelve years later as commanding officers in the American Revolution. After expelling the French from North America, colonists also shared a sense of pride with the British. In the midst of the conflict, by 1759 a pamphlet war of ideological issues which began in the 1730’s, accelerated in the colonies.

Draper revisits the ideological revolution acknowledging the much discussed republican ideals of seventeenth century Whigs such as John Milton, Sir Philip Sydney, and John Locke. He also examines another British tradition, embedded in the political treatises of John Child, James Harrington, and Charles Davenant. Draper maintains their ideas on supremacy, control, and power offer more relevant insights into eighteenth century British politics and the revolutionary scenario. This more realistic tradition asserted the importance of power by maintaining the colonies in a state of dependency. As long as America needed the government’s protection, the colonies would remain dependent on Britain. The danger of allowing the colonies to mature and prosper was evident; they would increase their power and independence from Great Britain. Eventually, an ideological discussion would emerge in the colonies as well. In 1765, the American pamphleteers merely questioned how America should operate under British rule. Inevitably, they would question whether the colonies even needed or wanted British rule.

Draper traces in a comprehensive, balanced, and acutely detailed analysis the steps to revolution. Customarily, historical studies which have looked at the coming revolution in the larger framework of British mercantile trade and parliamentary policy (often categorized as the Imperial school of interpretation) took a biased position that was clearly pro-British and anti-patriot. In The Struggle for Power: The American Revolution, Draper embraces both America and British perceptions of the events, policies and causes of the war.

The prerevolutionary climate in the colonies in the 1760’s can be traced to developments that occurred thirty years earlier. In 1733, Parliament under Sir Robert Walpole passed the Molasses Act in the hope of recouping the profits long expected by the British in the lucrative “triangular trade”, which dealt in slaves, sugar, molasses, and rum. After a century of salutary neglect of the colonies, however, the Lords of Trade and the Parliament would reap the results of this oversight. By the 1730’s, the rum trade was just as vital to New England: Boston alone had fifty distilleries. The losses to the government in trade and taxes was staggering; smuggling was not only rampant abroad in the colonies but at home as well. Reviewing the ledger in 1760, government officials were horrified that the profits from customs duties brought less than two thousand pounds and, if that were not dismal enough, it cost the government seven...

(The entire section is 2178 words.)