The Road to Independence
The Mercantile System • Colonial Governments • Writs of
Assistance • The Parsons Cause and the Two Penny Act •
Colonial Constitutional Thought • Republican Ideology •
The British View • The Stamp Act and the Colonial Response •
The Townshend Duties • Tea and the Coercive Acts • The
First Continental Congress • Parting of the Ways • The
Declaration of Independence • Conclusion • For Further
WHATEVER INTERPRETATION ONE wishes to put on the American Revolution—economic, social, or political—the growing rift between Great Britain and her American colonies following the wars against the French and the Indians in the mid-eighteenth century involved fundamental constitutional issues. Both sides appealed to the same traditions, cited the same sources, and claimed the same doctrines, but the century and a half of experience in the New World led the colonists to different conclusions. Beyond this, the decade prior to the rebellion also witnessed a breakdown in imperial government. As radical as the final step of revolt may have been, declaring their independence appeared to the colonists as the logical and inevitable culmination of events.
In the latter seventeenth and first half of the eighteenth centuries, Great Britain slowly developed a system of imperial government designed primarily to enhance its economy. The theory of mercantilism viewed the colonies, many of which had originally begun as commercial ventures, as economically subservient to the needs of England, providing raw materials for home industry and a market for finished goods. Mercantilism also benefited the colonies, and much of the colonial prosperity derived from this imperial policy.
Imperial policy, however, lacked a grand design, so that on the eve of the American Revolution the English politician Edmund Burke, who sympathized with the rev