The Causes of the American Revolution

By John C. Wahlke | Go to book overview

Clinton Rossiter: THE AMERICAN CONSENSUS, 1765-1776

Clinton L. Rossiter, a political scientist who has taught at Cornell University since 1946, is the author of many works on American government and American political institutions. He is widely recognized as a leading spokesman of contemporary conservative political thought. The selection which follows is from Seedtime of the Republic, a thorough and exhaustive examination of the political writings and political thought of America's formative years and of the events which produced them.

ON March 22, 1765, George III gave his royal assent to the Stamp Act, a stick of imperial dynamite so harmless in appearance that it had passed both houses of Parliament as effortlessly as "a common Turnpike Bill." Eleven years later, July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress resolved after "the greatest and most solemn debate":

That these United Colonies are, and, of right, ought to be, Free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown, and that all political connexion between them, and the state of Great Britain, is, and ought to be totally dissolved.

In the tumultuous years between these two fateful acts the American colonists, at least a sufficient number of them, stumbled and haggled their way to a heroic decision: to found a new nation upon political and social principles that were a standing reproach to almost every other nation in the world. Not for another seven years could they be certain that their decision had been sound as well as bold; only then would the mother country admit reluctantly that the new nation was a fact of life rather than an act of treason. The colonists were to learn at Brooklyn and Valley Forge that it was one thing to resolve for independence and another to achieve it.

Yet the resolution for independence, the decision to fight as a "separate and equal" people rather than as a loose association of remonstrating colonials, was as much the climax of a revolution as the formal beginning of one. The American Revolution, like most uprisings that are something more than a quick change of the palace guard, was a major event in intellectual as in political and social history. The Revolution in fact and law recognized by treaty in 1783 would never have taken place at all except for the revolution in mind and spirit between 1765 and 1776, and that revolu-

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Abridged from Seedtime of the Republic, copyright, 1953, by Clinton Rossiter. Used by permission of Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. Footnotes omitted.

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