The residents of British colonies in America experienced a few luxuries for
diverging from their British counterparts. The king and Parliament chose to adhere
to a policy of salutary neglect, not involving themselves in the governing of colonies beyond trade and military defense.
(Goldfield 111) The colonial citizens had light taxation, and more land than those over in Britain experienced. So when the politicians in Britain began taking a more active stand with the colonies, residents became upset.
Specifically, debates over representation, the Proclamation Line of 1763, the creation of the Stamp Act, and the institution
of the Coercive Acts all contributed to the decision to enter the Revolutionary War, which was solidified when King George
III rejected the Olive Branch petition.
In England, legislative representation
was instituted in a “virtual” fashion. Delegates did not have to reside in the area for which they served, as
they were expected to represent the nation’s interests as a whole. But when the colonies were created, and their own
legislative bodies formed, they experienced actual representation. In this case, legislators directly stood for the location
from which they hailed. Suddenly colonists found virtual representation in Parliament unfair, as there was nobody actually
from the colonies. One issue which caused division was on the role of colonial governors, which were frequently appointed
by the king or the colonial proprietor. Therefore, they stood for British interests, instead of that of the colony. When they
tried to exercise their power, it caused great anger with the elected assemblies. (Goldfield 113) The debate over representation
for the colonies began the fallout between England
and her colonies that led to the Revolutionary War.
In 1763, colonial settlers became very angry with England,
due to the creation of the Proclamation Line. It ran through the Appalachian
Mountains, and its purpose was to forbid white settlement anywhere west of its location to maintain healthy relations
with the Native Americans. This was resented by colonists, as it deprived them of fertile land. Some settlers were forcibly
removed when they chose to ignore the Proclamation and relocate to the Ohio
River Valley anyway. (Goldfield 132) The Proclamation
Line is another example of how colonists felt Parliament was stepping on their rights as both British and colonial citizens.
Over in England, tax rates were
very high due to the high concentration of citizens. But in the colonies, residents enjoyed much lower rates. When Parliament
passed the Stamp Act in spring of 1765, residents became enraged. It was their first experience with a direct tax, and was
placed on all paper documents to make them valid. They felt the revenue was unnecessary, because they did not even need the
soldiers it was paying for in the colonies. They also called on the old debate of representation, citing that because they
had no input in Parliament, the Act was automatically unconstitutional. (Indiana.edu) Protest groups like the Sons of Liberty formed to harass British authorities into repealing the tax.
The colonies even organized their first cooperative political machine, the Stamp Act Congress. (Goldfield 139-40) The injustice
of the Stamp Act provoked the colonists into action, and was one of the leading causes of the Revolutionary War.
The British furthered the conflict between the colonies and the mainland by enforcing the Coercive, or as they were
dubbed, Intolerable Acts. The first of these was the Boston Port Act, which closed Boston
Harbor until the East India Company tea debts from the Boston Tea Party
had been paid. Next, there was the Administration of Justice Act. This further inflamed relations, as it said that any British
official who committed a crime against a colonist could be tried in England.
There they would, of course, get a lighter sentence. This angered colonists because they felt it undermined their judicial
authority. The Massachusetts Government Act, the next of the Intolerable Acts, set limitations on colonial authority as well.
It only allowed a certain amount of traditional town meetings, and dictated an appointed governor. This Act was quickly followed
by the Quartering Act of 1774, the last of the Coercive decisions. It required colonists to house soldiers in any uninhabited
building. This offended residents who felt there was no need for such excessive military presence in the American colonies.
(Goldfield 146-7) The Intolerable Acts were just another crushing blow to the already strained relations between England and the colonists, leading up to entrance into the
The Battles of Lexington and Concord erupted in April
of 1775. But on July 5, colonists extended one last grasp towards peace, the Olive Branch petition. Written by the members
of the Second Continental Congress, it invoked the right of all British citizens as subjects to ask King George III directly
for protection from Parliament’s military action. The plea was ignored by the king who was declared a “tyrant”
in the Declaration of Independence. The next day Congress officially approved the Declaration of the Cause and Necessity of
Taking Up Arms. (Goldfield 158-9) King George III’s choice to disregard the Olive Branch Petition was the final cause
of the Revolutionary War. The colonists had suffered enough, and were now ready to fight.
One by one, Parliament and King George III made decisions that caused a rift in relations between the two continents.
While only years before they had been united with Britain
against the French, the colonists began to develop an image of themselves as a separate entity. They saw virtual representation
as an unfair practice, and the Proclamation Line, Stamp Act, and Intolerable Acts as direct infringements on their rights.
They no longer wanted to be British citizens, but instead begin a new country, free of the troubles that had plagued England and Western Europe for centuries. And these hardships
and desires caused the descent into the Revolutionary War.
“An Act for Granting and Applying Certain Stamp Duties and Other Duties, in the British
Colonies and Plantations in America.”
American History Documents. 28 May 2006. Online. Internet. Available: http://www.indiana.edu/~liblilly/history/stamp-act.html.
Goldfield, David and Carl Abbott, Virginia DeJohn
Anderson, Jo Ann Argersinger, Peter Argersinger, William Barney, and Robert Weir. The American Journey: A History of the United States. New
Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1998.