Background Essay

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The American Revolution Document Based Question

Who is at fault for the American Revolution?

Background Essay

The American Revolution began in 1775 as open conflict between the united thirteen colonies and Great Britain. By the Treaty of Paris that ended the war in 1783, the colonies had won their independence. While no one event can be pointed to as the actual cause of the revolution, the war began as a disagreement over the way in which Great Britain treated the colonies versus the way the colonies felt they should be treated. Americans felt they deserved all the rights of Englishmen. The British, on the other hand, felt that the colonies were created to be used in the way that best suited the crown and parliament. This conflict is embodied in one of the rallying cries of the American Revolution: No Taxation without Representation.

America's Independent Way of Thinking

Geographic Considerations - The distance of the colonies from Great Britain created an independence that was hard to overcome. Those willing to colonize the new world generally had a strong independent streak desiring new opportunities and more freedom.

Colonial Legislatures – The existence of colonial legislatures meant that the colonies were in many ways independent of the crown. The legislatures were allowed to levy (pass) taxes, muster troops, and pass laws. Over time, these powers became rights in the eyes of many colonists. When they were curtailed (cut short) by the British, conflict ensued.

Salutary Neglect - was the unwritten, unofficial stance of benign (not harmful) neglect by England toward the American colonies. On the whole, the colonists were relatively autonomous (independent) and were allowed to govern themselves with minimal royal and parliamentary interference.
The Enlightenment – Many of the revolutionary leaders had studied major writings of the Enlightenment including those of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the Baron de Montesquieu. From these writings, the founders gleaned the concepts of the social contract, limited government, the consent of the governed, and separation of powers.
Major Events That Led to the American Revolution

The road to revolution built slowly over time. Many events fed the growing desire of the thirteen colonies for independence. Following are the major events that led to the Revolution.

1754-1763 - French and Indian War

This war between Britain and France ended with the victorious British deeply in debt and demanding more revenue (income) from the colonies. With the defeat of the French, the colonies became less dependent on Britain for protection.

1763 - Proclamation of 1763

This prohibited settlement beyond the Appalachian Mountains. While Britain did not intend to harm the colonists, many colonists took offense at this order.

1764 - Sugar Act

This act raised revenue by increasing duties (taxes) on sugar imported from the West Indies.

1764 - Currency Act

Parliament argued that colonial currency had caused devaluation harmful to British trade. They banned American assemblies from issuing paper bills or bills of credit.

1764 - Committees of Correspondence

Organized by Samuel Adams, these helped spread propaganda and information through letters.

1765 - Quartering Act

Britain ordered that colonists were to house and feed British soldiers if necessary.

1765 - Stamp Act

This required tax stamps on many items and documents including playing cards, newspapers, and marriage licenses. Prime Minister George Grenville stated that this direct tax was intended for the colonies to pay for defense. Previous taxes imposed by Britain had been indirect, or hidden.

1765 - Stamp Act Congress

In 1765, 27 delegates from nine colonies met in New York City and drew up a statement of rights and grievances thereby bringing colonies together in opposition to Britain.
1765 - Sons and Daughters of Liberty
Colonists tried to fight back by imposing non-importation agreements. The Sons of Liberty often took the law into their own hands enforcing these 'agreements' by methods such as tar and feathering.
1767 - Townshend Acts
These taxes were imposed to help make the colonial officials independent of the colonists and included duties on glass, paper, and tea. Smugglers increased their activities to avoid the tax leading to more troops in Boston.

1770 - Boston Massacre

The colonists and British soldiers openly clashed in Boston. This event was used as an example of British cruelty despite questions about how it actually occurred.

1773 - Tea Act

To assist the failing British East India Company, the Company was given a monopoly (exclusive control) to trade tea in America.

1773 - Boston Tea Party

A group of colonists disguised as Indians dumped tea overboard from three ships in Boston Harbor.

1774 - Intolerable Acts

These were passed in response to the Boston Tea Party and placed restrictions on the colonists including outlawing town meetings and the closing of Boston Harbor.

Background Essay text taken from of the American Revolution: The Colonial Mindset and events that led to a revolt. Written by Martin Kelly.

Background Essay Vocabulary and Questions


Define the following terms in your own words. After you have defined the words, use the word in an original sentence or draw a picture representing the word:

  1. Salutary Neglect-

  1. Mercantilism-

  1. Revolt-

  1. French and Indian War-

  1. Civil Disobedience-


  1. How would being far away from Great Britain be a problem for the colonists? How did this fact led to the American Revolution?

  1. How did the idea of salutary neglect contribute to the causes of the American Revolution?

  1. Where did the Founding Fathers learn the ideas of natural rights and a social contract? How did these ideas influence them?

Document 1

That this kingdom has the sovereign, the supreme legislative power over America, is granted. It cannot be denied; and taxation is a part of that sovereign power. It is one branch of the legislation. . . . Protection and obedience are reciprocal. Great Britain protects America, America is bound to yield [give] obedience. If not, tell me when the Americans were emancipated? When they want the protection of this kingdom, they are always ready to ask it. That protection has always been afforded them in the most full and ample manner. The nation has run itself into an immense debt to give them this protection; and now they are called upon to contribute a small share to the public expense.

—George Grenville, Member of Parliament (January 14, 1766)

1) According to Greenville, why does Great Britain have a large debt? Who should help pay that debt?

2) Why does Parliament have the power to impose taxes on British colonies, according to Grenville?

Document 2-The Boston Massacre

On March 5, 1770, a crowd of Boston boys and men surrounded a number of British soldiers and began taunting and cursing them while they pelted them with snowballs. Order quickly broke down, and the frightened soldiers fired into the crowd. When the shooting ended, several people were dead and more were wounded. This engraving by Paul Revere, a leader of the Boston Sons of Liberty, was sent throughout the Colonies in the following weeks to arouse anti‐British feelings.

1) How does the engraving tell a different story from the above description of the Boston Massacre?

2) Where do you suppose the term "massacre" came from that describes this event?

3) How would this event be a cause of the American Revolution?

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