Sources and Documents Illustrating the American Revolution, 1764-1788, and the Formation of the Federal Constitution

By S. E. Morison | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

I. The Taxation Question, 1764-70.

THE roots of the American Revolution go far down into the past. Geography and climate, institutional developments, religion and race, and other factors beyond our ken, may have made the separation inevitable. Only the immediate causes, however, can be studied in these documents. Since 1688 the colonies had been pushing toward a larger measure of self- government, as indeed the dominions have done in the last century. Then came an attempt to check this evolution; to create new institutional bonds between the colonies and Great Britain, and to strengthen such as existed. It was a part of the struggle between centralization and localism which runs through all modern history; and not the least interesting phase were the attempted solutions through federalism-- unsuccessful in 1774-5, successful on a smaller scale in 1787-8. The American Revolution belongs not only to America; it is an important part of the great liberal movement of the eighteenth century, a portent of dominion home rule, and a laboratory of imperial and federal problems.

In 1760, when the Seven Years' War closed in North America, the English colonists were fairly satisfied with the existing rough compromise between home rule and imperial control. Although irritated with certain aspects of the old colonial system, they were content that Parliament should control imperial commerce, so long as it permitted them to prosper; and they had no criticism of a foreign policy which had brought glorious results. No separatist movement existed. In England, however, there was serious dissatisfaction with this rough compromise. It was commonly believed that the

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