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Throughout the 18th century, Great Britain was victorious in numerous wars across the globe leading to its emergence as a world superpower. As Great Britain conquered land such as the majority of the North American Colonies through wars such as the French and Indian War, it gained a vast amount of debt leading to the tightening of screws in the colonies. Although there were distinct social and political views between Great Britain and her North American colonies, the origin of their conflict is predominantly economic.
The conflict between Britain and her colonies was mainly economic in origin due to the acts that Great Britain imposed and their view of the role of the colonies. Britain adhered to the idea of mercantilism – a country’s wealth was measured in the amount of gold and silver it possessed. Thus, the colonies were only existent to support its mother country economically by providing goods and a market for British exports.
After the French and Indian War, Britain enforced the policy of mercantilism. In general, the colonies were restricted in foreign trade because of mercantilism as all goods were reserved for the British. This is significant because American colonists soon experienced many shortages and their economy was stifled. The paper money they printed depreciated quickly in value.
Furthermore, Britain also imposed economic acts that resulted in conflict. One of these acts was the Stamp Act, which required that all “official documents” be stamped and subjected to a tax. Such an act, according to Document 2, was “Extremely burdensome and grievous” and “restrictions imposed… render them unable to purchase the manufactures of Great Britain.” This act is significant to the origin of their conflict because the British were tightening the screws on the colonists inflicting scarcity of money meanwhile the British saw no reason as to why they shouldn’t be burdened with debt as well.
The fact that the statements in document 2 were issued by the Stamp Act Congress is significant because it was the first gathering of elected representatives from several of the American colonies to devise a unified protest against new British taxation. The creation of this meeting shows how serious the colonists viewed taxation without representation.
Lastly, other atrocious acts imposed by Great Britain were the Sugar Act and Townshend Acts which added to the conflict. The Sugar Act was hated because again the colonists did not see why they should pay the tax. The Townshend Acts were even more despised because it added a tax on tea, something everyone drank. As a result of such acts, colonists rebelled viewing themselves as slaves, “if Britain can order us to pay taxes… we are as abject slaves as France and Poland…” (Doc 4). This is significant because these acts, particularly the Townshend Acts, led Britain to place two regiments in the colonies, further stirring the conflict.
The fact that the statements in document 4 are from John Dickinson’s Letters from an American Farmer is significant because it shows how farmers being in the midst of the social scale viewed themselves as even inferior with the acts imposed by the British, so much as to compare themselves to slaves. In all, economic controversies played a vast role in the conflict between Great Britain and her colonies.
In addition to economic controversies, social differences played a role in the conflict. Overtime the colonists had developed different philosophies and ideologies from their mother country. The colonists believed in republicanism and Whig ideals which emphasized the virtue of its citizenry, civic virtue, and vigilance against corruption. Britain had none of these ideals since corruption within its government was widespread. For instance, in 18th century Britain, Parliament sold its seats openly. That is until Edmund Burke led a vigorous and successful anticorruption campaign under the slogan “”””Economic Reform,”””” and for more than a century Britain was the least corrupt country in the world. However, this difference led to conflict because the American colonists who believed in virtue could not stand the autocratic government imposed by the British.
In America people could change classes with hard work and virtue unlike in Britain where people were born into their social class. The British looked down upon their American subjects as shown by the fact that during previous wars no colonists were promoted above the title of captain, embarrassing people like George Washington who was never promoted above the title of a mere “colonel.” This disagreement over ideals also led to conflict. Lastly, Britain’s view on the colonists led to conflict because they did not give colonists, the same rights as British citizens. Therefore, Samuel Adams declared within the Declaration of Rights that everyone born in the British American colonies should have all of the same rights and privileges of those who live in Britain (Doc 5). This is significant because it the supports the idea that there was societal inequalities concerning rights between the British and the colonists.
The fact that Samuel Adams officially declared this in the Declaration of Rights shows that the colonists viewed this as serious problem and were willing to fight for it. As shown, social differences also led to conflict. Lastly, political controversies also played a role between Great Britain and the colonies. First, there were problems regarding governments. After so many years of salutary neglect, colonists became accustomed to self-government. They were use to making their own rules as shown by Document 6, where the colonists declared their rights, “entitled to life liberty and property.” This is significant because the colonists believed it was unfair that the British gave them so much freedom because they were busy with internal wars but once they were in debt and were in need of help they tried to enforce laws and restrictions upon the them to ensure their help.
Furthermore, colonists refused to be taxed without any representation as it is “essential to the freedom of people… that no taxes be imposed on them but with their own consent” (Doc 2). These different viewpoints led to great controversy since Britain saw no reason why the colonists shouldn’t bear part of the debt and listen to them, since they were part of the British empire. Moreover, other political controversies led to conflict. For example, Britain’s political move of giving land back to the French also led to discontent as Americans saw their efforts in the King George’s War wasted.
Lastly, the Proclamation of 1763, by the British, added to the conflict as the Americans westward movement was hindered. Colonists saw the move as stifling of their “property rights” (Doc 6) and the discontent added to the conflict. Thus, political discontent helped fuel the fire of discontent. In all, economic controversies were the main factor in the conflict between the American colonies and Great Britain, but social and political controversies also played a role. Due to mercantilism, and the stifling acts that the British imposed, colonists rebelled. Differing social ideologies also contributed to the conflict as the British looked condescendingly down at the colonists. Political differences also fueled the fire as Britain made several bad moves by passing bills and legislation that further angered the colonists. Ergo, the economic controversies played a bigger role in the origin of the British and North American Colonies’ conflict.
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