American Independence Movement

"No taxation without representation!" was the rallying cry of the American Independence Movement. The American colonies sought independence from England due to a number of grievances, largely around what they felt were unfair taxes and abusive policies. 

American Independence Movement American Independence Movement

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Contents
Table of contents

    American Independence Movement Timeline

    The roots of the American Independence Movement go all the way back to the 17th century.

    Settling the American Colonies

    The American Colonies were settled by England in the 17th and 18th centuries on the East Coast of the modern-day United States. The French settled modern-day Canada and Louisiana while Spain settled Central and South America.

    By 1723, all 13 colonies had been founded: Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Virginia.

    Seven Years' War

    The territories settled by England and France started expanding a little too close for comfort. The two countries had both claimed extensive swaths of land in the modern-day United States, and the brewing conflict eventually boiled over into all-out war. Meanwhile, the indigenous people living there before European settlement were also fighting for their land. In 1756, England declared war on France, initiating the Seven Years' War (also called the French and Indian War).

    The war ended with the Treaty of Paris, signed in 1763. England effectively won the war, gaining new territories and a new level of control over the new continent. A young George Washington, the future first president of the United States, gained a reputation for his military acumen during the war.

    Events Leading to the American Revolution

    Even though England won against France, they paid very dearly for the victory. The war was extremely costly and many people died. England reasoned that the war had been fought to protect its colonies, so it turned to its colonies to help pay its debts.

    Stamp Act

    In 1765, England passed the Stamp Act. The Act taxed any piece of paper used in the colonies. Paper was a critical commodity at the time: no newspaper, legal document, playing card, calendar, or letter could exist without paying the tax.

    This was the first time England had levied a tax directly on citizens rather than on trade goods or merchants.

    The colonists were immediately outraged. Some states banded together to form the Stamp Act Congress. They sent a petition to England arguing that only the colony legislatures had the authority to levy direct taxes, not Parliament. They took issue with the fact that the colonies had no representation in Parliament, yet they were still being taxed for Parliament's wars.

    Because of mounting pressure from merchants who were also losing money, Parliament decided to repeal the tax in 1766 (even though they rejected the colonies' petition). However, they also issued the Declaratory Act in 1766, which said that Parliament had the right to do whatever they wanted with the colonies, including taxing them:

    the imperial crown and parliament of Great Britain; and the King's majesty... have full power and authority to make laws... in all cases whatsoever.1

    Parliament made good on its promise: in 1767, they passed the Townshend Acts, which enacted taxes on imported British china, glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea. As unrest grew, they sent two thousand British soldiers to Boston, adding more fuel to the fire.

    The Boston Massacre

    Skirmishes, vandalism, and boycotts of British goods were increasing at an alarming rate. In March 1770, a fight broke out in Boston between soldiers and angry colonists. British soldiers fired into the crowd, ultimately killing five colonists.

    Unbeknownst to the colonists, Parliament was already moving to repeal the Townshend Acts. Just one month later, in April 1770, all of the taxes under the Townshend Acts were repealed - except for the tax on tea.

    American Independence Movement boston massacre headstone with writing StudySmarterFig. 1 - Boston Massacre Headstone

    Boston Tea Party

    On the night of 16th December 1773, a group of protestors led by the Sons of Liberty dumped over 300 hundred chests of tea into the Boston harbour. The colonies had been protesting the tea tax for several years and trying to find ways around it by smuggling in tea from Dutch merchants. The Boston Tea Party and other tea boycotts represented the loss of millions of pounds of revenue to the British East India Company. At this time, the protesters began chants of "no taxation without representation."

    Coercive Acts

    Parliament did not appreciate the antics of the Boston Tea Party and wanted to force the colonies back in line. In 1773, they passed what the colonists referred to as the Coercive Acts, which focused on punishing Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party.

    The Coercive Acts required colonists to provide housing for British soldiers at their own expense, gave the British Navy the authority to block off the Boston Harbor, and gave the Crown the authority to select the Governor of Massachusetts (instead of being elected by Massachusetts citizens).

    First Continental Congress

    Outrage at the Coercive Acts spurred the colonies to meet up for the First Continental Congress in 1774. This represented the first time that the colonies worked together across the continent to coordinate a response to their grievances with England.

    Even though tensions had been growing for years, the colonists were not united in their response. Some wanted to remain loyal to England and expressed disgust at the violence. Others agreed that the taxes were intolerable and wanted to fight against them, but wanted to remain loyal to the crown. Others said war was inevitable and wanted to declare independence as soon as possible.

    The Continental Congress ultimately decided to initiate a widespread boycott to try to push England into listening to their demands. The colonies (except Georgia, which was still loyal to the crown) agreed to boycott all British goods, starting in December 1774.

    The boycott slashed British imports by 97% and led to England doubling down harder on the Coercive Acts.

    American Revolution Begins

    Eventually, the policy battles boiled over into military battles.

    The Battles of Lexington and Concord

    Some historians consider the informal start of the American Revolution as the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The colonists had been boycotting British goods and stockpiling weapons for months. In the early morning hours of 19th April 1775, British soldiers set out to seize a cache of weapons. However, the colonial militiamen had been warned thanks to the famous midnight ride of Paul Revere.

    Both sides were ordered to hold their fire when they met at Lexington. Eventually, someone fired a bullet (to this day historians don't know who fired the first or why). It was heralded as the "shot heard 'round the world" since it marked the start of open conflict.

    Second Contintental Congress

    Even though the American militia made a strong showing at the Battles of Lexington and Concord, it was clear that they needed a legitimate military in order to fight the well-established and professional British army.

    The Second Continental Congress was called together in June 1775. They appointed George Washington as Commander General. However, some colonists were still hoping to avoid war. Moderates convinced Congress to try a last-ditch effort through the Olive Branch Petition, which asked for a reprieve from the Coercive Acts in exchange for their continued loyalty.

    Unfortunately, by the time the letter reached England, King George III had already issued the Proclamation of Rebellion, which declared the colonies to be in a state of open rebellion, rendering the petition a moot point.

    Declaration of Independence

    By now, Congress knew that war was unavoidable. On 4th July 1776, the Continental Congress voted in favour of issuing the Declaration of Independence, which said that England had violated the consent of the governed and established tyranny over the states. The Declaration of Independence marked the official declaration of war. The Second Continental Congress also named the new country the United States of America.

    End of American Revolution

    The American Revolutionary War was long and difficult for both sides. The United States recruited France (who still wanted to get back at England for the Seven Years' War) as an ally, leading to a turning point in the war. In 1781, England surrendered. However, the Treaty of Paris that officially ended the war wasn't signed until 1783 as the new Congress struggled to gather its members and make decisions. At that point, the United States of America was recognized as a free and independent country.

    American Independence Movement american flag StudySmarterFig. 2 - The flag of the United States of America

    Causes of the American Independence Movement

    In addition to the series of events that led to the American colonies declaring war, there were some revolutionary thoughts and ideas at the time that inspired the movement in the first place.

    Enlightenment Ideals

    The Enlightenment period, lasting roughly from the 17th to 18th century, saw people start to question the status quo of government. They challenged the idea that kings and queens had the divine right to rule and instead focused on ideas like the Social Contract, which said that government only has the authority to rule because of the consent of the governed. We see this idea come through in the Declaration of Independence, which says:

    to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...

    Another major idea that came forth during the Enlightenment is Natural Rights. Philosopher John Locke wrote about rights that are intrinsic to each person, simply because they're human. This challenged the idea that nobles, aristocrats, and rulers were not better than - or more entitled to rights than - common people. This idea is also expressed in the Declaration of Independence, which says:

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

    American Independence Movement the united states declaration of independence StudySmarterFig. 3 - The United States Declaration of Independence shows the influence of Enlightenment ideas. Source: Wikimedia Commons

    Liberalism

    Liberalism also started growing out of the Enlightenment as a political doctrine that viewed protecting and enhancing freedom as the main goal of political and civil life. This theory argued that government should be prevented from violating rights through methods like limited government and separation of powers, which both inspired American governmental structure. Additionally, liberals believe that government should have an active role in protecting these rights. As a result, the United States Constitution includes a Bill of Rights, which limits government power and protects individual rights.

    American Independence Movement - Key takeaways

    • The American Independence Movement took place from the 1760s until the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783.

    • The American Independence Movement was a reaction to England's taxation, including the Stamp Act, the Townshend Act, and the Coercive Acts.

    • The American Declaration of Independence was signed on 4th July 1776, but it was not until 1783 that Great Britain recognised the United States of America as being an independent country.

    • Enlightenment ideas like the social contract, natural rights, liberalism, and limited government inspired the American Independence Movement.

    References

    1. The Declaratory Act, 1766
    2. Fig. 1: Boston Massacre headstone (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Boston_Massacre_victims_headstone_(36128).jpg), by Rhododendrites (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Rhododendrites), Licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/).
    Frequently Asked Questions about American Independence Movement

    How did the American independence movement affect society?

    The American Independence movement impacted society in the following ways:

    1) Slavery was removed as a concept in the Northern States. This meant that the slaves gained freedom!

    2) Native American lost lands that they owned.

    3) There was severe strain on the economy, as the war was quite costly.

    4) There was a separation of the Church and the State.

    5) There were several independence movements, especially in Latin America that were inspired by the American Independence Movement.

    What were three causes of the American independence movement?

    Actually, there were six causes of the American Independence Movement.

    They were the following:

    1) The Seven Years War (1756-1763)

    2) Taxing the general population through the following acts: The Stamp Act 1765, the Townshend Acts 1767 and the Tea Act 1773.

    3) The Boston Massacre (1770)

    4) The Boston Tea Party (1773)

    5) Intolerable Acts (1774)

    6)  King George III's address to Parliament in 1775

    What was the American independence movement?

    The American independence movement was a war that Americans fought against the British. This led to the United States of America becoming an independent country.
    The war happened between 1775 and 1783!

    America won independence in 1776 as the Continental Congress voted to issue the Declaration of Independence. War then began, which America eventually won, after England surrendered.

    How did the American Revolution begin?

    The American Revolution began when policy battles turned into military battles, such as the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What time period inspired the American Independence Movement?

    When did the American Independence take place?

    Which of the following was NOT an event that took place during the Revolutionary War?

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