Often, one is faced with the possibility within the discipline of history to assign a singular cause to a rather complex problem.  Whether this is in regards to World War I, World War II, the Civil War, or even in our case, the American Revolution, such an assignment of cause fails to address the many underlying complex issues that comprise the study of history.  To be clear, the “reason” the American Revolution began was not only because of perceived unfair taxes, but a conglomeration of separate yet related issues that boiled to the point of war between the Colonies and Great Britain.

Gordon S. Wood, a prominent historian of the American Revolution, writes that the colonists “repeatedly felt pressured to apologize for the crudity of their society, the insignificance of their art and literature, and the triviality of their affairs.”[1]  John Adams, cited by Wood in his monumental work The American Revolution: A History states that “the Revolution was effected before the war commenced.”[2]  With the changes in intellectualism brought by the Enlightenment and figures such as John Locke and David Hume, the idea of a “republicanism” separate from England with emphasis on individual freedom began to take form.  This form was distinct from the refined society found in England based on nobility and class distinction; in America, egalitarianism took shape that rocked the very foundations of British sensibility.

But, it wasn’t just the changes in political philosophy that contributed to the separation of ideology across 3,000 miles of ocean.  In 1763, following the French and Indian War, the colonists were denied the opportunity for westward expansion in North America after having fought for the very right to do so in the first place.  The French held forts on the Ohio River, and despite colonial attempts at peaceably removing the French from land they claimed was their own, war broke out in order to claim (or reclaim depending on who you talk to) the land to the west.  After the French were defeated, the English authorities denied the colonists any right to move westward through the Royal Proclamation of 1763, and even posted soldiers at posts to ensure expansion was denied and American Indian lands were protected.[3]  For many colonists, this was a slap in the face for what they had fought seven years for the Crown, and having lost many friends and kin in the process, greatly angered them.

Following these two examples, many laws were enacted by the Crown to pay for the war and its aftermath, hence the taxes that were levied against the colonists who felt such acts unjust.  In a later article, those acts and laws will be discussed in the context of how they contributed to the clash between the colonists and the British in the American Revolution.  However, for now, let it be clear that these two examples cited are to demonstrate that the American Revolution was not caused by a singular event, but rather by complex interdependent causes that are still being studied by historians of the American Revolution today.

 

[1]           Wood, Gordon S. The American Revolution: A History. New York: Modern Library, 2003.

[2]           Ibid, 3.

[3]           Taylor, Alan. American Colonies: The Settling of North America. New York: Penguin Books, 2001.