Were the Colonists Being Rational By Waging a War Against The British?
In any situation, war is wrong. Killing another human being is wrong. Taking money from the pockets of others to kill is wrong. War solves nothing. The only thing war does is put problems on hold. It is unfortunate that words can not be the answer to all the problems in life. A simple conversation might hold all the answers.
In the case between the British and colonists living in the American colonies in the 18th century, war seemed to be the only option. After years of heavy taxes; unjust treatment; and iniquitous laws, the colonists finally snapped and waged war against their rulers, the British. Whether or not the colonists were being moral in waging a bloody war against the rulers of their mother country, they [the colonists] wanted their voices heard, and war for them was inevitable.
As a result of the French and Indian War, the British experienced a £133,000,000 debt. Frantic, the British needed to make up the money they had lost. So, they chose to lightly (the British view) or heavily (the colonists view) tax the American colonists. There were two major taxes that the British imposed on the colonists: the Stamp Act and the Townshend Act. Both were very different, and the reactions of the colonists towards each tax were very different as well.
The first tax imposed on the colonists was the Stamp Act. Passed by Parliament in March of 1765, its purpose was to pay for the costs of British troops in the American colonies, and pay off the national debt from the war. This was a direct tax on public documents, including newspapers, customs documents, legal papers, and licenses. The British taxed the colonists because they believed the colonists benefited from the war with the expulsion of the French; and since they benefited, they had to contribute for imperial expenses. Advisor to the British Prime Minister, Thomas Whatley discussed why the colonists needed to be taxed,
“We are not yet recovered from a War undertaken solely for their [the Americans’] Protection…a War undertaken for their defense only…they should contribute to the Preservation of the Advantages they have received….”
This tax caused the largest stir among the colonists. They were infuriated by it because they were being taxed without their representation or vote. They wanted a member of the colonies who lived through the same turmoil and destitution as they did to have a voice in Parliament. The colonists felt the British did not understand their views. To get their message across, the colonists created a resistance group called The Sons of Liberty. This organization was mostly compiled of middle and upper class colonists. The Sons of Liberty truly did not want the Stamp Act, and did everything they could to get this Act repealed. They would harass and threaten customs workers, stamp agents, and royal governors, and vandalize their property. In response to these threats, and acts of terrorism, Stamp Agents throughout North America resigned. The message of the colonists was finally heard by the British, and the British eventually revoked this tax. Immediately after getting rid of the Stamp Act, the British created the Declaratory Act to enforce British rule on all the colonies by making any laws pass by colonial representatives illegal if they disregarded British laws.
Two years after the Stamp Act was created, a new type of tax was put into effect by Parliament called the Townshend Acts. The Townshend Acts, like the Stamp Act, taxed the colonists to pay off British war debt. Unlike the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts called for an indirect tax. They [the colonists] did not like being taxed in this sneaky way. The British assumed the colonists would not have a problem being taxed indirectly. The taxes would not take place when the colonists purchased items, but when the items were purchased at the ports by colonial merchants. The type of items that would be indirectly taxed would include glass, lead, paints, paper, and tea. Sam Adams believed Parliament had no right to tax the colonists. He spoke to the Massachusetts legislature about this:
"In all free states, the constitution is fixed; it is from thence, that the legislature derives its authority; therefore it cannot change the constitution without destroying its own foundation."
Sam Adams suggested a boycott of all imported goods in America. The colonists listened to him, and refused to buy any imported good. Instead, they made their own products, and by April of 1770, Parliament revoked all the Townshend duties except the tax on tea, which it kept in order to emphasize its right to tax the colonists.
Besides taxing the colonists to pay the costs of the war, the British created the Proclamation of 1763. This law was put into effect by King George III as a way to avoid the costs of dealing with conflict between the colonists and the Native Americans. The law banned all colonists from settling west of the Appalachians. With the French and Indian war out of the way, the French were no longer a threat, and the colonists looked at this as an invitation to settle there. The colonists favored this land because of the superior farm land available. The law only allowed licensed traders to go west, and conduct deals with Native Americans. Many colonists resented this portion of the law too because they felt the royal restrictions on trade and migration were unfair.
A lot of blood spilled in North America prior to the colonist’s Declaration of Independence. During the British rule in North America, the colonists were treated horribly, and in some cases were killed. Two major events occurred: The Boston Massacre and fighting at Lexington and Concord.
The Boston Massacre was on March 5, 1770. The events of that day began with an argument between several colonists, and poorly paid British soldiers over the competition for jobs. Later that evening, the argument escalated into a mob criticizing a British sentry outside of a customs house. A group of British soldiers came to support the guard. For some reason, a shot from one the guards was fired at a colonist, and then another set of shots were fired. By the end of the day, five people were shot dead. The colonists were furious at the British for slaughtering their loved ones.
The next major attack on the colonists was the fighting at Lexington and Concord. In the spring of 1775, British General Thomas Gage sent a couple of men to Concord to bring back information on weapons that the colonists might be hiding. The two men came back with detailed maps of different stockpiles of firearms. The men also brought back news as to the whereabouts of John Hancock and Sam Adams. Both of these men who opposed British rule were hiding in Lexington. General Gage planned to march his army into both Lexington and Concord, and capture Hancock and Adams, and take the ammunition. John Hancock and Sam Adams commented on the rights for the colonists to store weapons in the “Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms”:
“[The British declare] that parliament can “of right make laws to bind us in all cases whatsoever.” What is to defend us against so enormous, so unlimited a power? ... We are reduced to the alternative of choosing an unconditional submission to the tyranny of irritated [British officials], or resistance by force.-The latter is our choice.”
Word leaked out about Gage’s plans, and Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Samuel Prescott who were members of the Son’s of Liberty alerted Hancock and Adams, and the rest of the country side. By the time the British confronted the colonists in Lexington, the colonists were prepared to fight. After a brief exchange of shots in which several Americans were killed, the colonials pulled out, and the British continued to Concord where they destroyed colonial military supplies, and fought another battle. The colonists had the will to fight, but were not yet powerful enough to win.
A year later, another law was made called the Sugar Act. Proposed by the British Prime Minister George Grenville (who also proposed Stamp Act), and passed in 1764 by Parliament, the Sugar Act was created to halt trade from the West Indies. The British did not like the fact that the colonists were trading with and helping the French, and felt it should be stopped. The colonists were angry by this law because many of the items that they traded with the French included sugar, molasses, textiles, coffee, indigo, and wine. The British government cracked down hard on colonists who disobeyed the Sugar Act. If there was evidence of goods being smuggling in the colonies, then the accused person or persons would be put on trial in a vice-admiralty court instead of a colonial court. In most cases, the accused were found guilty despite any evidence, and then fined.
The final major set of laws was called by the colonists “the Intolerable Acts.” King George personally created these acts in 1774 to punish the colonists for the Boston Tea Party. After several colonists dumped 18,000 pounds of tea into the Boston Harbor, the King was rather angry. The Intolerable Acts consisted of three major laws: The Boston Harbor was shut down until the colonists paid for the damaged tea, British commanders were allowed to house British soldiers in private homes, and Boston was placed under a martial law in which the King had full power and control over the land. The eventual outcome of the Intolerable Acts was The First Continental Congress which was compiled of fifty-six delegates from the colonies that expressed colonial criticisms against British policy to the British government. For the first time, the colonists had a voice in the government.
During the years that the British had control over the colonists, a series of laws and regulations were passed. The main purposes of these laws were to keep the colonists in line, and show that the British still had the upper hand. After experiencing years of mistreatment and injustice, the colonies had two choices: deal with the British, or take the chance of losing hundreds of their own, and break away from British rule. Independence is something so valuable that when being compared to death, death does not seem so bad.