The process that took place before and during the 1776-1783 period when 13 British colonies aspiration for independence broke out into the so-called War for Independence is very remarkable for its many unique features, on the one hand, and for many historical parallels that took place a century later when the world-wide spreaded colonial system began to collapse. John Adams, second President of the United States, declared that the history of the American Revolution began as far back as 1620. The Revolution, he said, was effected before the war commenced.
The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people. The principles and passions that led the Americans to rebel ought, he added, to be traced back for two hundred years and sought in the history of the country from the first plantation in America. As a practical matter, however, the overt parting of the ways between England and America began in 1763, more than a century and a half after the first permanent settlement had been founded at Jamestown, Virginia. The colonies had grown vastly in economic strength and cultural attainment, and virtually all had long years of self-government behind them.
Their combined population now exceeded 1,500,000-a six-fold increase since 1700. The implications of the physical growth of the colonies were far greater than mere numerical increase would indicate. The 18th century brought a steady expansion from the influx of immigrants from Europe, and since the best land near the seacoast had already been occupied, new settlers had to push inland beyond the fall line of the rivers. Traders explored the back country, brought back tales of rich valleys, and induced farmers to take their families into the wilderness.
Although their hardships were enormous, restless settlers kept coming, and by the 1730s frontiersmen had already begun to pour into the Shenandoah Valley. Down to 1763, Great Britain had formulated no consistent policy for her colonial possessions. The guiding principle was the confirmed mercantilist view that colonies should supply the mother country with raw materials and not compete in manufacturing. But policy was poorly enforced, and the colonies had never thought of themselves as subservient.
Rather, they considered themselves chiefly as commonwealths or states, much like England herself, having only a loose association with authorities in London. At infrequent intervals, sentiment in England was aroused and efforts were made by Parliament or the Crown to subordinate the economic activities and governments of the colonies to Englands will and interest efforts to which the majority of the colonists were opposed. The remoteness afforded by a vast ocean allayed fears of reprisal the colonies might otherwise have had. Added to this remoteness was the character of life itself in early America.
From countries limited in space and dotted with populous towns, the settlers had come to a land of seemingly unending reach. On such a continent natural conditions stressed the importance of the individual. 1. Frontier situation The colonists-inheritors of the traditions of the Englishmans long struggle for political liberty-incorporated concepts of freedom into Virginias first charter. This provided that English colonists were to exercise all liberties, franchises, and immunities as if they had been abiding and born within this our Realm of England.
They were, then, to enjoy the benefits of the Magna Charta and the common law. In the early days, the colonies were able to hold fast to their heritage of rights because of the Kings arbitrary assumption that they were not subject to parliamentary control. In addition, for years afterward, the kings of England were too preoccupied with a great struggle in England itself a struggle which culminated in the Puritan Revolution to enforce their will. Before Parliament could bring its attention to the task of molding the American colonies to an imperial policy, they had grown strong and prosperous in their own right.
From the first year after they had set foot upon the new continent, the colonists had functioned according to the English law and constitution with legislative assemblies, a representative system of government, and a recognition of the common-law guarantees of personal liberty. But increasingly legislation became American in point of view, and less and less attention was paid to English practices and precedents. Nevertheless, colonial freedom from effective English control was not achieved without conflict, and colonial history abounds in struggles between the assemblies elected by the people and the governors appointed by the King.
Still, the colonists were often able to render the royal governors powerless, for, as a rule, governors had no subsistence but from the Assembly. Governors were sometimes instructed to give profitable offices and land grants to influential colonists to secure their support for royal projects but, as often as not, the colonial officials, once they had secured these emoluments, espoused the popular cause as strongly as ever. The recurring clashes between governor and assembly worked increasingly to awaken the colonists to the divergence between American and English interests.
Gradually, the assemblies took over the functions of the governors and their councils, which were made up of colonists selected for their docile support of royal power, and the center of colonial administration shifted from London to the provincial capitals. Early in the 1770s, following the final expulsion of the French from the North American continent, an attempt was made to bring about a drastic change in the relationship between the colonies and the mother country.