|The British View
In the early 1600s British emigrants began to establish settlements along the eastern seaboard of North America.
By 1763, around 2 1/2 million of them lived in 13 separate colonies. These colonies had been established at
different times and by different groups of settlers and had little in common with each other.
In most matters the colonies were self-governing. However, there was a Governor in each colony who was in most
cases appointed by the British government (only Rhode Island and and Connecticut had complete freedom in choosing
officials). The Governor had the power to overrule decisions made by the colonists.
Because of the Governor's powers, there were times when decisions were made with which the majority of the
colonists in that area disagreed. This disagreement was often the result of the colonists not fully understanding
what the British government was trying to do. What appeared on the surface to the colonists to be a restriction
of their personal freedom was actually a law to help the economic development of America. (That is, to help
American colonists make buy and sell goods). For example, the Navigation Acts passed in the 17th century were
an attempt to provide a secure market for goods being produced by the colonists.
The British government also accepted the responsibility of protecting expansionist foreign powers like France.
During the Seven Years War (1756-63) Britain sacrificed both money and men in order to force the French out of
By 1763, Britain had managed to repel France's attempt at further expansion in America. However, before they had
time to finish celebrating their victory, the British army was attacked by Indian tribes under the leadership of
Chief Pontiac. For the next fourteen months these Indians waged war on the colonists and the British army who were
attempting to protect the colonists. All this cost money and the British government thought that it was time the
colonists made a contribution to their own defence.
In 1765, the British government passed the Stamp Act. This was an attempt to impose a tax on the colonists
in order to help pay for their protection. As Englishmen were paying, on average, 25 shillings a year in taxes
(£1.25) and the colonists only sixpence (2 1/2 p), it was considered only fair that the Americans should pay
something towards their own defence.
Before the Act was passed, the British government discussed the issue with important colonists
and some of them actually applied for jobs involved in collecting the tax. When the Act was
introduced other colonists began to argue that the British Parliament had no right to impose
taxes on them. In 1776, Britain repealed (withdrew) the Stamp Act.
In 1767, Charles Townshend, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer decided to impose duties
on goods entering American ports. To protect the people employed to collect these taxes, a
number of extra troops had to be sent to America. Groups of extremists decided to make
life as difficult as possible for these soldiers, and in 1770 this conflict led to
the deaths of five rioters in the American town of Boston in the colony of Massachusetts.
The American View
It is said that a nation is made up of a people who share the same language,
possess a common culture and similar traditions, are governed by the same
system and live within a territory that has recognised and agreed boundaries.
Based on this definition, America was a nation well before the American Revolution.
By 1776, most Americans spoke a variety of dialects that were different from those spoken in England.
The effects of frontier and broad expanses of land and sea had marked the American culture. America was a land of
freedom and opportunity. Unlike Britain, most of the rich people who had lived in America were
self-made men. As one American pointed out "this is one of the best poor men's countries in the world".
People also enjoyed the freedom to buy and sell goods as they so desired. American political institutions were
different from those in Britain. Finally, the boundaries of colonial America, while not yet well defined, were as
real as the forces of nature that surrounded the Arnerican people.
The events of history enabled America to develop independently of Britain. Due to their own
concerns, Britain did little to restrict an independent American economic system. As
a result, in the early eighteenth century, Americans traded freely with other countries.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, by the middle of the eighteenth century,
Americans had achieved what can be best described today as a federal concept of
government. Whereas in America individual colonies remained independent for internal
affairs, Britain believed in a state system where a central government took responsibility for both internal
affairs and foreignpolicy. To make matters worse for England, her colonial subjects had charters which
granted the American colonies various degrees of self-rule. Naturally, the colonists
were careful to defend the rights granted by these charters. To Virginians, the House of
Burgesses was as important a governing body as the British Parilament. The same feeling
existed in Connecticut. Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and other American colonies. Serious interference
with home rule by Crown or Parliament was bound to create a hostile response.
One of the major reasons for the conflict was the distance between England and the New World. Left to their
own devices, and with little direction from the sources of authority (Crown and Parliament), any people will
create their own influential institutions.
However, the British government still considered her colonies as possessions, not independent territories.
The government felt it had the right to control the trade of the colonies so that Britain could gain the
maximum benefit from them. During the seventeenth century, a series of Navigation Acts were passed by the
British Parliament. These Acts developed three basic principles:
1) British colonies had to buy all their manufactured goods via Britain - they could not buy direct from
whoever they chose.
2) British colonies were not allowed to send certain goods to any countries outside the
3) All trade to and from British colonies had to be carried in British or colonial ships.
One example of the Navigation Acts in action involved the London Worshipful Company of Hatters. They complained
that the colonists were beginning to make their own beaver hats instead of importing them from England. This
resulted in the Hat Act of 1732 which limited the number of hatter's apprentices in the colonies and
consequently the number of hats made there. Other Acts which upset the colonists were the Woollen Act
of 1699 (to prevent colonial woollen cloth from being sold outside its place of origin), and the Iron
Act of 1750 (an attempt to prevent the colonists importing their iron directly from Sweden).
During the 18th century the Americans tried to develop a currency systern. The British government passed the
Paper Money Act of 1751 and the Currency Act of 1764 in order to interfere with this development of an
independent currency system by the colonists.
Compared with the democratic system enjoyed by the inhabitants of other British colonies, the
British government appeared to be dictatorial in their attitude towards America. What is more, these legislators
knew little about America and their main concern appeared to be the passing of laws that
restricted the freedom of the colonists and increased British wealth.