The Thirst for Freedom and the American Revolution
It was bound to happen. The colonists’ hearts beat with a longing to be free of Britain’s stranglehold, and Britain recognized that some form of action even bloodshed might be the only way to quell the colonists. The thirst for freedom was too insatiable to be quenched by simple assuagement. The colonists understood that it might come to an all-out war, but the opportunity to be self-ruling was for was too seductive not to fight for it. They were willing to fight for autonomy, self-governing colonies, and a form of government that was revolutionary and radically different. War, although dreadful, is sometimes a necessary evil. For the colonists, winning a war would mean that the colonies would be independent of their motherland and gain true sovereignty. They would fight, not only for their lives, but for a chance to set up a new kind of government, with far-reaching ramifications, setting in motion a government that would be emulated by other countries and nations. This war, perhaps like no other war in history, would have a reverberating effect on Britain, on the colonies, and on other nations.
What led to the revolution was not as a result of a single event. Indeed, there had been an indisputable tension between Britain and the colonists for some time. It had been brewing since Britain began to flex its muscle over the colonies, which had begun to flourish. They had achieved financial prosperity and demographic growth, which they attributed to Britain’s hands-off approach to the colonies. But the wars Britain was fighting became too costly to absorb alone, so what better way to ease the burden of the expense, than by creating new taxes in the New World?
Besides, the colonies were becoming a thorn in Britain’s side with their newfound ideas and freedoms in the New World, and, as far as the British were concerned, they needed their comeuppance. That Samuel Adams would proclaim the colonies as a separate body politic, was more than the Brits could stomach. One might argue that the colonists should have been more grateful, that going to war with their motherland was the epitome of acting like spoiled children. Outsiders might wonder why the colonists would turn on their own government the very government who had supported them in their quest to develop a new land. But the colonists were weary of a motherland whose government was hell-bent on control. They rebelled against a government which ruled with a heavy hand, and iron-fisted tactics.
Furthermore, there were other contributing factors to the colonists’ new dreams and visions. The Enlightenment, including John Locke, a philosopher of the day, stressed that education would help people learn to think autonomously, rather than in groupthink. The Great Awakening underscored the need for personal responsibility to the demands of a holy God. In his piece, Why You Should Travel with Jonathan Edwards, David Owen Filson writes,
Edwards would help light the fuse for the First Great Awakening with a series of lectures on the doctrine of justification by faith alone. His preaching, known by many primarily through the startling imagery in his sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, is a deep well of practical, experiential Calvinismeventually moving to Stockbridge, Mass., to teach Native Americans how to speak English so that he could preach the most basic, childlike, but warm and wooing evangelistic sermons to them.
Inarguably, the colonies had become a force with which Britain had to contend, and they took measures to quash the colonists’ rebellion. Seemingly tone deaf, Parliament underestimated what their autocratic demands would elicit from the colonists, and passed the Sugar Act, which abolished trials-by-jury for molasses smugglers, and the Currency Act, which obstructed the colonists from forming their own economic system. The Stamp Act generated a new, direct (or internal) tax. In response, the colonies printed anti-Stamp Act resolutions, and issued a Declaration of Rights and Grievances document, effectively alerting Britain that the colonists expected to be afforded the same rights as Britons. The rights included trial by jury, and representation by their elected representatives. Instead, Britain wanted to assign virtual representation, which colonists vociferously fought.
Eventually, Parliament caved, and repealed the Stamp Act. In its stead, they passed the Declaratory Act, asserting that Parliament had the full power and authority to make lawsto bind the colonies and people of Americain all cases whatsoever.’ That, too, was met with resistance from the colonists, who were concerned with the onslaught of duties and tariffs, euphemisms for taxes. The Crown’s attempt at imperial rule from across the ocean was met with antagonism, until it reached its boiling point, bringing about lethal consequences.
It started small. The colonists threw invectives, along with snowballs, at the British troops, who responded by firing on the crowd. Known as the Boston Massacre, the deadly skirmish resulted in the death of five Bostonians and in the repeal of almost all the newly instituted taxes and with it came a sort of d?©tente between the two factions. Unfortunately, Parliament only partially repealed the Townshend Acts, which was really a series of acts.
Parliament also attempted to prop up the East India Company, which was steeped in debt, and awash in unsold tea. The purpose of the Tea Act wasn’t to raise revenue, but rather to give the East India Tea Company a trade advantage, cutting out the ability of the colonists to do business on their own terms. The colonists again opposed Parliament’s actions, bringing the rebellion to a head.
With the rallying cry of No taxation without representation, the dissent ultimately led to a bloody war. Massachusetts was the first colony to be taken over by British rule, but the Crown miscalculated, thinking it could do so under the radar. The Crown was wrong. Colonists rallied around Massachusetts, and took control of local and county governments by instituting the Provincial Congress. Behind the scenes, the First Continental Congress convened to strategize and to continue drawing up documents delineating the rights of the colonists. Anyone who had hoped that this would do the trick that the battles with Britain would end peacefully was delusional. For on April 19, 1775, the battle lines had been drawn, and British troops were already in Massachusetts by the time the Continental Congress would reconvene.
As the war raged on, up to 100,000 slaves deserted their masters and joined the British cause. Though women were needed at home to care for their homes and children while their men went away to fight, some were prominent on the battlefield. Women who were known as camp followers took care of the soldiers by cooking for them, mending their clothes and serving in other domestic capacities, but, at times, they were thrown into the vortex of battle. Mary Ludwig Hayes, commonly known as Molly Pitcher, was one of those women. Recognized for her brave act of taking water to soldiers on the battlefield, she was there when her husband was wounded one day. She bravely took his place, and fired at the British.8 Abigail Adams also influenced her husband, John Adams, to remember the ladies,9 in her correspondence with him.
Meanwhile, Congress continued to encourage the colonies to establish constitutions and governments. Finally, the preamble to the Declaration of Independence was drawn up, and approved on July 4, 1776. Even still, many more battles ensued until at long last the war officially ended September 3, 1783.
After the dust had settled, America was a new nation, liberated from British rule. A new form of representative government was established, and checks-and-balances were instituted between the three branches of government. Common folks, and not only the aristocrats, gained more political power. Men were given the right to vote, but voting rights for women would have to wait for several more years. Nevertheless, the American Revolution at least drew attention to the disparity between the rights of individuals and the rights of the elite.
Though slavery was not entirely eradicated after the war ended, and whereas slave masters in the Lower South reneged on their word to free their slaves, most of the new northern states soon passed gradual emancipation acts. Native Americans were displaced, and as is often the case, the freedom of one people group adversely affected the freedom of another people group. Inspired by the colonists, Haiti and France fought their own wars to be free from the dictatorship of their oppressors.
Undeniably, the American Revolution influenced different segments of societies throughout the world. Collectively, the wars exacted an untold number of casualties, but the sweet aroma of liberty offset the stench of tyranny. Nonetheless, there can be no disputing that war is ugly. On occasion, though, there may be no other way to be free of despots who want to limit independence. Or, put another way, wars are a sine qua non something (that is) absolutely indispensable or essential.