Studying the American Revolution inevitably leads one to ask, “Could the Revolution have been avoided?”
BTW, if you’re a fan of LinkedIn, I asked this very same question in the American History group. It’s led to an interesting discussion.
There seem to have been so many chances for Britain to have turned back, so to speak. The pre-Declaration writings of the founding fathers made it clear that they didn’t favor independence.
From the Olive Branch Petition submitted by the Second Continental Congress:
We beg leave further to assure your Majesty, that notwithstanding the sufferings of your loyal Colonists during the course of this present controversy, our breasts retain too tender a regard for the kingdom from which we derive our origin, to request such a reconciliation as might, in any manner, be inconsistent with her dignity or her welfare. These, related as we are to her, honour and duty, as well as inclination, induce us to support and advance; and the apprehensions that now oppress our hearts with unspeakable grief, being once removed, your Majesty will find your faithful subjects on this Continent ready and willing at all times, as they have ever been, with their lives and fortunes, to assert and maintain the rights and interests of your Majesty, and of our Mother Country
This doesn’t sound to me like a group of men plotting a revolution.
And for all the talk of taxes being the cause of the American Revolution, we shouldn't forget that the outcry was over “taxation without representation.” The Colonists didn’t object to taxes so much as they objected to taxes levied upon them when they had no direct representation in Parliament.
There are two reasons I believe the American Revolution was predestined to happen. (Predestined to happen, not necessarily that the Americans would win. That, in my opinion, was nothing sort of a miracle.)
Reason #1 – Direct representation was never going to happen.
Forget the distance. Depending on the weather, the season, the ship and a variety of other factors, it took roughly a month to cross the Atlantic. In the 18th century, ambassadors spent considerable time away from home. In my mind, there is no reason to believe that representatives from the colonies wouldn’t have been prepared to do the same. They wouldn’t have had much direct feedback from their constituents, but when’s the last time a politician listened anyway?
The overriding problem with representation is the same any parent faces when they want to give one child a treat – the other children will want it too. If Britain gave direct representation to the Americans, how soon before the other colonies started to demand it? That just wouldn’t do!
Reason #2 – The aristocratic mindset
Truthfully, I wasn’t sure what to call this, but the British never could seem to shake that feeling of innate superiority. It started with the French and Indian War when American soldiers were treated as second-class soldiers and was felt right up through the rebuff of the aforementioned Olive Branch Petition.
It wasn’t just the ruling class in England. After the repeal of the Stamp Act, which was as unpopular in England as it was in America because of it’s impact on commerce, a group of London merchants sent a letter to the Boston counterparts suggesting that they should be grateful for the reprieve, and if they had taken the time to explain their hardships, (while following the law) everything would have ended much more quickly. (As if!)
I think the point of no return had to be the Townshend Duties. These came a little over a year after the Stamp Act was repealed and seemed to be in retribution. I’m still looking for an online copy of the full text of the Act, but you can read the first part here. The list of taxes in this abridged post is just the tip of a large iceberg that denotes different taxes levels for more kinds of paper than I could have ever imagined was available in 1767.
Of course, The Townshend Duties didn’t last forever either. (They did, however, outlast Charles Townshend who died in office practically before the ink was dry.) In a gesture that seems like a thumb in the eye to me, the tax on tea remained even after all else was repealed in 1770.
Of course before the Townshend Duties could be repealed all manner of offenses were committed by the Crown – such as disbanding the New York legislature. But by then, the writing was on the wall.