Thomas Paine’s Common Sense from 1776 vocalized his feelings about the colonies being under British control during the revolutionary War. He felt that there was not ‘a single advantage that this continent can reap by being connected with Great Britain.” (Paine, 12). This was a common feeling for many of the colonists leading up to and during the Revolutionary War and their responses to a variety of events including the Boston Tea party show how their feelings align with those of Thomas Paine.
There are many conflicts leading up to the war that show how many of the colonists shared Paine’s feelings on the power of Britain over the colonies but one of the first conflicts where we begin to see this shift towards conflict is Bacon’s rebellion. This conflict which took place in the late 1670’s in the colony of Virginia was between Nathanial Bacon and Sir William Berkeley. Berkeley who was Governor at the time was in a disagreement with Bacon over matters of relations with the local Native Americans. While Bacon wanted to be able to handle the disputes with the Native Americans in his own way, Berkeley would not allow it, and this led to the dispute known today as Bacon’s Rebellion (nps.gov). Through this event we see how the colonists (Bacon) were beginning to disagree and rebel against the government (Berkley) and their way of handling matters. We see a shift in how the colonists want to handle matters and how those ways are beginning to differ from the government’s way. One of the biggest and most commonly thought of conflicts we saw between the colonists and England leading up to the war though was the many acts passed by the English government that affected the colonies.
One of these many acts was The Proclamation Act of 1763. This act barred the colonists from expanding west past the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River into the newly added land of the British colony. England wanted to keep the colonists from moving west as they were already struggling to maintain authority in the existing colonies and they feared that their control would be greatly diluted in the colonies if they were to be even more spread out. They also feared further conflicts with the French Colonists and the Native Americans who were already present in the newly acquired land to the west. (ushistory.org).
The colonists however did not agree with this decision and felt that England was just trying to keep their control over the Colonies. The Colonies had also started to look to expand west and did not take kindly to being told that they would have to abandon their plans of and the possibilities that came for them with expansion (ushistory.org). Despite England putting this act in place, it did not stop the expansion west as many colonists chose to ignore the acts and move west of the set borders anyway. With the colonists expanding west despite the proclamation from England shows one of many matters that the colonies and England could not agree on and how the colonists were willing to do what they felt was right despite there being laws in place saying otherwise.
Another act put in place in the Colonies by England was the Stamp act of 1765. This act required the colonists to pay taxes on all printed products including items such as stamps, newspapers, legal documents, playing cards, and other printed publications. The money collected from these taxes was supposed to be used to fund the troops protecting the border in the Appalachian Mountains, but the colonists took offense to this as before this, taxes had only ever been used to regulate commerce (history.org). They also took offense to this as this was a major tax being set in place in the colonies by England without the consent of the legislatures in the colonies, thereby, without their consent. This tax was also on many items that the people needed on a day to day basis as they needed the legal documents for business, newspapers for their news, and stamps to be able to send their messages and now they had to pay taxes on them. This meant that there was no way that the colonists could avoid the taxes, yet they had no say in the decision to put the tax in place on them that they would then have to pay.
Another every day commodity that involved an act was tea. The Tea Act of 1773 allowed the East India Company to directly ship millions of pounds of their unsold tea to the colonies to be sold at a low price. In doing this, the British also hoped to undermine the illegal sales of tea that did not come through England (ushistory.org). Many of the colonists took offense to this as they saw it as ‘a maneuver to buy popular support for the taxes already in force” (ushistory.org). Many of the major ports ended up turning away the ships that tried to deliver the tea, but a different story unfolded in Boston. In Boston the ships carrying the tea were actually held up in the harbor and they were also not allowed to unload the tea (ushistory.org). This resulted in the Boston Tea Party when a group of colonists went out to those held up ships and proceeded to dump all those chests of tea into the Boston Harbor to show England their disapproval of their decisions (ushistory.org). This act allowed the English to try to create a monopoly on the tea being brought in and sold in the colonies which also forced them to have to pay the taxes for the tea they bought. Again, the colonists were being taxed on an item they used everyday without them having a say in the choice to put a tax on that item. In his pamphlet Common Sense, Thomas Paine stated.
I challenge the warmest advocate for reconciliation, to show, a single advantage this continent can reap, by being connected with Great Britain. I repeat the challenge, not a single advantage is derived. Our corn will fetch its price in any market in Europe, and our imported goods must be paid for buy them where we will. (Paine, 12).
Thomas Paine’s words support the feelings of many colonists about matters such as the importation of tea. They felt that if they are going to pay for the tea (or any other imports), they should be able to import them from where they want and how they did not gain any advantages from being connected to England if they were just going to monopolize and tax every import coming into the colonies.
After the Boston Tea Party, England responded to it via the Intolerable Acts of 1774. These acts included the Boston Port Act, the Massachusetts Government Act, the Administration of Justice Act, and the Quebec Act. The Boston Port Act shut down all trade in and out of Boston Harbor until compensation was made for all the tea lost due to the Boston Tea Party (ushistory.org). The Massachusetts Government Act which essentially took away the colonist’s rights to choose their representatives in their government in Massachusetts was also passed (ouramericanrevolution.org). The Administration of Justice Act was meant to ensure a fair trial for British officials tasked with enforcing the laws in Massachusetts (Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica). The fourth act was the Quebec Act which gave the Quebec colony control of land west of the Appalachians (ohiohistorycentral.org).
Through these four acts, Britain enforced their power over the colonies by making them repay for the tea they destroyed and halting their commerce until it was done in Boston, taking away their control of choosing their officials in their local governments in Massachusetts, ensuring that the British officials maintaining British control had a fair trial, and then giving one of the new colonies that was originally under French control, control of land that the colonies had been denied beforehand. They did this to assert their power over the colonies and even though most of them only directly named the colony of Massachusetts, they had indirect effects on all the colonies and the message was sent out to all of them as well. England had had enough of their rebellious actions and were trying to assert their control over the colonies.
it will unavoidably happen, that in proportion as they surmount the first difficulties of emigration, which bound them together in a common cause, they will begin to relax in their duty and attachment to each other (Paine, 2).
Through these acts and the years, we see this start to happen. As the colonies become more independent and no longer depend on England’s support for survival, they inevitably began to drift and separate from each other to become two separate entities. He also stated that:
we should examine the contrary side of the argument, and inquire into some of the many material injuries which these colonies sustain and always will sustain, by being connected with and dependent on Great-Britain (Paine, 11).
As Paine said they should, many of the colonists were beginning to consider how staying under the control of England was inevitably only going to hurt the colonies farther as they had seen through all the conflicts and acts that they had gone through with England as both grappled for control. All these conflicts concluded with the Declaration of Independence being released in 1776 by the Continental Congress to end all political ties with England (history.state.gov). The colonists saw no benefit of staying under British rule and eventually declared their freedom and at the same time, started the Revolutionary War to fight for that freedom.
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