Conflict and Revolution

Conflict and Revolution

By the 1750s the American colonies had grown in both population and economic strength. Increasingly, the colonists expressed dissatisfaction with Great Britain's control of their political and economic affairs. The colonies chafed under the rules of British mercantilism, the idea that colonies were to be exploited as a source of raw materials and a market for the mother country. The king and Parliament, however, viewed the colonies as part of the empire and sought to maintain the status quo.

The road to the American Revolution began with the French and Indian War (1756–1763), also known as the Seven Years' War. The war was fought to determine whether France or Great Britain would rule North America. Though Britain won the war, relations between Parliament and the colonies were strained. During the war the colonies had asserted their economic independence by trading with the enemy, flagrantly defying customs laws, and evading trade regulations. After the war the British government resolved to bring the colonies into proper subordination and to use them as a source of revenue for repaying the war debt.

Accordingly, Parliament passed a series of acts that required the colonies to pay taxes and import duties on a variety of goods and raw materials. The colonists, however, detested the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts and refused to comply with them. Ultimately, these acts pushed the colonists to demand more autonomy in governing their affairs.

In 1774 armed conflict began in Massachusetts, and the colonies moved closer to declaring their independence. Nevertheless, many colonists still hoped to reach an accommodation with Britain. Public opinion shifted toward independence, however, when King George III issued orders to put down the colonial rebellion. The Continental Congress reacted by enacting the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms. In January 1776 Thomas Paine, the firebrand pamphleteer, published Common Sense, which was a direct attack on the king and a call for independence.

In July 1776 the Declaration of Independence cut the cord with the mother country by asserting the independence of the thirteen colonies. In writing the declaration, Thomas Jefferson borrowed phrases and ideas from the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776, which had been adopted a few weeks earlier. The War of Independence lasted from 1775 until 1783, when Britain renounced control of the colonies in the Treaty of Paris.