Why the Fathers Founded America

Reasons for the American Revolution

The Declaration of Independence, signed on July 4th, 1776, did not represent the culmination of a practical policy decision to separate from Britain. It was a response – an angry, desperate response – to British oppression of North American colonists. The signers of the Declaration of Independence objected to 10 specific British policies, resulting in the American Revolution. 

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Taxation Without Representation

Britain began to enforce painfully high taxes and tariffs on goods like molasses, paper, sugar and tea in an effort to fund its military projects and to assert control over an increasingly independent group of colonies. With no representation in Parliament, American colonists who felt the taxes to be excessive had no recourse other than civil disobedience.

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No Free Trade

Britain was an empire in competition with other empires in the 18th century, sometimes militarily and sometimes economically. Britain brought its navy to bear against U.S. attempts to purchase non-British good in order to prevent other nations from benefiting from the North American colonial market. Given the prohibitively high trade tariffs enforced by Britain, this policy was unenforceable for all practical purposes. 

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Unlimited Search and Seizure

The British government awarded "Writs of Assistance" to British officers in the colonies to help discourage smuggling. These writs gave officers the power to search any residence or building without warning or supervision. Officers could confiscate whatever they deemed to be smuggled or otherwise improperly obtained goods. This widely abused policy would ultimately inspire the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

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Destruction of Colonial Government

Unrepresented in the British system and remote from the imperial legislative process, the governments in the colonies began to create their own elected bodies. The British government didn't care for this idea and took extra measures to make sure that locally elected colonial governments did not achieve autonomy, even with respect to matters that did not directly affect the larger British Empire.

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Oppression of Political Protesters

As colonial protest against the British government became more common, British colonial law enforcement authorities took measures to crack down on dissent. Among the more infamous examples were the 1769 imprisonment of Alexander McDougall on "libel" charges for his work To the Betrayed Inhabitants of the City and Colony of New York, and the 1770 Boston Massacre in which British troops fired on a crowd of colonial protesters, killing five.

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Immunity for Corrupt and Abusive British Officers

The Boston Massacre trial was an interesting spectacle. Eight British soldiers stood accused, but they were defended by the future president John Adams who won an acquittal for six of them and the equivalent of a dishonorable discharge for the other two. Still, British leaders were concerned enough to pass a law mandating that any British officers accused of an offense be tried in England, where witnesses would be hard to find, rather than in the colonies.

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Direct Control of the Criminal Justice System

As distrust of colonial authorities grew over a period of decades, the British government began to deny colonists jury trials and placed both verdicts and punishments in the hands of judges. As time wore on, the British government also took measures to ensure that those judges would be selected, paid and supervised by British, not colonial authorities.

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Guilty by Parliament

The concept of centralized British control of the criminal justice system with no possibility of trial by jury might seem to suggest that colonists were at the mercy of British officers. But this was nothing new – they always had been. Parliament could declare any person to be "tainted," imprisoning or even executing him and confiscating all of his property without trial, by sheer fiat through resolutions called Bills of Attainder

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Forced Quartering of Soldiers

Colonies were held responsible for hosting facilities to house British soldiers from the beginning, but the British government mandated a new and far more distressing requirement as colonial dissent began to grow. Individual colonists would be required to let British soldiers live in their private homes. This was as traumatic as it was inconvenient in the wake of the Boston Massacre, and given the particular sense of conflict in the pre-Revolutionary years. The Third Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was written to prohibit the forced quartering of soldiers.

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Closure of the Boston Port

Colonial and British tensions came to a head when 60 colonists, dressed as American Indians, protested high tariffs and the British monopoly on imported goods in an event that would come to be known as the Boston Tea Party. They dumped 342 crates of tea delivered by the British East India Company into the Atlantic Ocean, provoking Parliament into passing a law closing the Boston port until the colonies managed to gather up enough money to pay for the tea. To this day, the tea debt has not been paid.