Tag Archives: Revolutionary War

Causes of the Revolutionary War – The Glorious Cause

2008505717-rev war soldiersWe’ve discussed the economic and political reasons for the Revolution, but there were also emotions that drove colonial Lenox citizens to endure eight years of war and sacrifice.  Idealistic reasons for the Revolution include the growing unity of the North American colonies, hopes for the future,  and the increasing rift between the attitudes of Great Britain and their North American subjects.  In short, Americans started to become Americans before the Revolution.


In The Marketplace of Revolution,  T.H. Breen, describes the 18th century growth of trade and the increasing importance of British  china, fabric and imported metal goods in homes around the world – particularly in the British colonies of North America.  By the 1770’s North American consumption accounted for as much as a third of British production.  The dawn of mass consumption had arrived in America and consumer mass movement was to follow.

Colonial dismay over the Stamp Act  of led to the first attempt at mass boycott, but the boycott lost momentum after the comparatively speedy repeal of the Stamp Act.

3bc9bHowever by  1774 when the Intolerable Acts had been passed, there had been almost a decade of  accelerating grievances.  The British had succeeded in creating a trade in which the colonists struggled to sell enough in raw materials to trade for British finished goods – at protected prices that were profitable for British industry.  This cycle of the British attempts to tax (as well as manage the trade and expansion of their colonies)  succeeded, Breen argues, in creating both mass consumption and then mass protest.

Even remote Lenox had, by 1774, become part of this mass protest.  (see discussions of the non-importation agreement and the closing of the courts in Great Barrington)

The cooperation across the highly independent colonies proved they could work together.  Revolution would have been unthinkable without this unity.


The impact of the enlightenment and its emphasis on reason, secularism and optimism on both the American and French Revolutions is often discussed.  Although Lenox  had its share of well-educated individuals at the time of the Revolution, it is unlikely that the hard-working settlers had formal intellectual discussions about free-will and the nature of government.  However, it is likely there were spreading and increasingly emotional debates going on in the surprisingly frequent social occasions available to early Lenox residents.

These debates may have been  about what modern politicians would call “pocketbook” issues — taxes, closing the land west of the Appalachians for settlement, potential bias in settlement of property and debt claims through the courts, etc.  Lenox residents would have taken risks (as there fathers had done) to move to a new area based on hoped for opportunities to provide for their families.  Any threat to realizing growth potential would have been highly personal.

It is also likely there would have been some self-righteous religious fervor born of origins and – in New England at least – some vestiges of a sense of having a higher moral standard than the corrupt England of their fore-fathers.

CountyElectionSmIn The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution 1763-1789,  Robert Middlekauf writes about the impact of these origins.  As noted elsewhere, many Lenox residents would have been descendants of the Great Migration of Puritans fleeing religious persecution of Charles I in the 1630’s.  By 1765, there may also have been some descendants of the Scotch Irish Presbyterians who had fled religious persecution in Northern Ireland (although they tended to concentrate in the mid Atlantic and southern colonies).  All would have been descendants of a group with continued kinship ties and deep memories of escape from poverty and/or religious persecution.  They would have been well aware that they had established a better lives for themselves than those left behind in “the old country.” Imposition of “old” culture or government structure would have been resented deeply.


These ideas, as well as the tactical details of specific actions such was the non-importation agreement would have been debated at weekly Church services, militia drills (held regularly well before there was any thought of Revolution), and in the omni-present taverns.  It has been argued that there were taverns in New England for every 40 adult males — must have been sort of a pre-TV man cave.  We know of at least three (Hinsdale, Dewey, Whitlock) in Lenox.  One only has to listen to modern talk radio for a few minutes to imagine the heat that could be created after a couple of glasses of ale.  Additionally, we don’t know that sedition was preached from the pulpit, but we do have Rev. Munson signing the non-importation agreement.  The British referred to the Congregational and Presbyterian clergy as “The Black Robe Brigade.”

The Viet Nam/ Iraq Problem

The English decided to impose statism on the colonies they had been semi-ignoring for 150 years at just the wrong time.  And their understanding of their colonists was poor.  They were separated by a two to four month journey and few in England had actually lived in the colonies.  It was therefore , hard to recognize that their colonies had become bigger, prouder, and more self sufficient.

The Americans had played a major role in all the French and Indian Wars and particularly in the last (Seven Years War) which resulted in an enormous English victory in North America (Canada and what would become the USA west to the Mississippi). Washington_1772 The American troops (including officers such as George Washington) felt belittled by the English officers  and in fact many under-estimated the American’s willingness to fight all the way up to Bunker Hill.  (Some British officers, however,  knew what they were getting into and even refused to serve in the American Revolution – see The Men Who Lost America).

George III at the Time of His Coronation (James Ramsey)
George III at the Time of His Coronation (James Ramsey)

Instead of recognizing the colonials growing pride in their own capabilities, George III and Parliament picked this time to start more rigorously imposing island based government.  George III was, according to Andrew Jackson O’Shaugnessy, neither a tyrant or crazy (that came later), but did have sort of a Dick Cheney complex of wanting his views of good government enacted and respected no matter what.  George III thought the colonists would welcome the redcoats as defenders of their Parliamentary rights.

American trade was growing and population had exploded.  By the Revolution there were 2.5 MM** people in the 13 colonies (about 20% of whom were slaves).  These Americans were not, like most Europeans, concentrated in limited areas.  Ninety-five percent lived in rural areas. Conquering a city (even the capitol – Philadelphia) would  not equate to capturing either hearts and minds– or even provisions.

The English, particularly those close to the actual fighting, knew they were dealing with challenging logistics and a vast country,  but they thought they could overwhelm what they thought was a small number of radicals with  “shock and awe” blows in Boston and New York.  They continually over-estimated the degree of loyalist support they would get once they landed and ended up having to ship most of their manpower and provisions from Canada and Britain.

In fact, the American colonists were three to five generations removed from their English heritage.   At the start of the Revolution only about a third (probably more in New England) were active participants, but that did not mean the many neutral to indifferent colonials were willing to fight their neighbors and countrymen.  The Americans had evolved to a more egalitarian and future oriented culture and had become highly capable of self government.


*George Tucker Manuscript Galley 28-1

**Shmoop.com – Revolutionary War Statistics June 2014

Also see: The Marketplace of Revolution, How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence, T.H. Breen, Oxford University Press, 2004

The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789, Robert Middlekauff, Oxford History of the United States, 2005

The Men Who Lost America, British Leadership, the American Revolution and the Fate of the Empire, Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy, Yale University Press, Published with assistance from the Annie Burr Lewis Fund, Copyright 2013

Causes of the Revolution – Political

Almost up to the time of the American Revolution, Lenox residents probably would have been satisfied that they could have the rights  of self government to which they were accustomed and be loyal subjects of King George III.

However, from the end of the French and Indian Wars to the Revolution decision making at the local and colony level was -step by step – taken away.   Eventually, the cumulative sense of loss of control over their own destinies moved even ordinary citizens to be willing to fight for a change in government.

Background – Colonial Government Structure

The governmental structure of Massachusetts had changed considerably since the early Puritan self-government compacts. By the 18th century Massachusetts, like many of the other colonies, had an appointed royal governor.  That governor  had the right to veto acts of the colony’s General Court, as did the king. The governor was the commander-in-chief of the militia and appointed all military officials; he had the right to summon and adjourn the General Court.

The  rest of the government consisted of a 28 member Council selected by the House of Representatives and a House of Representatives consisting of Freemen (e.g. property owners) elected from towns across the colony.

The General Court appointed officers, passed laws and orders, organized all courts, established fines and punishments, and levied taxes, all with the consent of the governor. The House alone controlled the salaries of the governor and judicial officers.

The elected arms of the government had more power than this description of the charter suggests since they controlled appointments, land distribution, the salaries of the governor and judicial officers and could veto orders of the governor (although they rarely did).

In addition, as Englishmen, the colonists believed they had the right to pay only the taxes they had agreed to.

The Old State House - Boston
The Old State House – Boston

John Paterson was a representative from Lenox to the House of Representatives at the time of the Revolution.

Background – Local Government

The Puritans brought a history of local government with them from England.  For 150 years Lenox and other towns carried on the tradition in at least three ways:

  • Towns were initially organized like corporations and run by the proprietors (original purchasers – owners of major tracts of land)
  • As the original proprietors sold off land,  towns – such as Lenox – moved on to the town meeting form of government which we still use today
  • Congregational management – the Congregational Church (the descendent of the original Puritan Church) was still supported by local taxes;  the members of the local Church worked together to organize construction of a meeting house and calling a minister.
Towns Used to Meeting to Manage Roads, Local Laws and Taxes
Towns Used to Meeting to Manage Roads, Local Laws and Taxes

What Changed

As we have discussed, the end of the French and Indian War and the ascendency of King George III, touched off a flurry of attempts to bring North America more firmly into the imperial fold.

The economic impact of actions is discussed in the entry on Economic Causes of the Revolutionary War.  However, the various actions taken by Parliament from the end of the French and Indian War to the Revolution, also had the effect of political clamp down.

First, there was the issue of enforcement.  Prior to the 1760’s there had been duties on molasses and restrictions on who the colonists could trade with.  However, with the help of a little bribery of customs officials, these duties and restrictions had not been strictly enforced.  Beginning with a new Sugar Act in 1764 that changed and enforcement became confrontational with colonial merchant ships being stopped and searched.  This became an even more visible interference with colonial prerogatives with the imposition of additional duties in the Townshend Acts of 1767.

Second, and more threatening, was the issue of taxation without representation.  As far as the colonists were concerned the Stamp act of 1765 (which required payment for stamps for all nature of legal documents and other items) was a tax they had not agreed to. As a matter of fact the Virginia colonists, in March 1765, declared it illegal for “anybody outside of Virginia to assess taxes on Virginia.”

Finally, the “Intolerable Acts,” of 1774 (called the Coercive Acts in Parliament) directly stripped Massachusetts of its charter rights.   Although the Stamp Act and most of the Townsend Act duties had been repealed, new King and the Parliament felt they had reached the end of their Royal patience when the colonists revolted against the Tea duties that remained.  These “Intolerable Acts”

  • Closed the Port of Boston until the East India Company was reimbursed for its tea
  • Disallowed election of the upper house and made it a body appointed by the governor
  • Eliminated the lower house’s veto power
  • Made the governor or the King responsible for judicial and other appointments
  • Gave the governor the authority to order trials involving royal officials to be held in England
  • Prohibited any Massachusetts town meetings other than one annual town meeting.

And just for good measure, Parliament threw in

  • the Quartering Act, requiring, as the name suggests, quartering of British soldiers in all colonies
  • the Quebec Act enlarging the boundaries of what had been French Quebec and providing for more favorable treatment of French Catholics (particularly annoying to the formerly Puritan New Englanders who felt these were the people they had been fighting for almost 100 years.)

The “Intolerable Acts” were intended as a punishment for the Boston Tea Party in 1773.  But instead of creating the desired obedience, these Acts touched off colonial unity in the form of the first Continental Congress, Committees of Correspondence, Non-importation agreements and general preparation for revolt.


The Glorious Cause, The American Revolution 1763-1789, Robert Middlekauf, Oxford University Press, 1982

A People’s History of the American Revolution, How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence, Ray Raphael, The New Press, 2001

The Marketplace of Revolution, How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence, T.H. Breen, Oxford University Press 2004

The American People, Creating a Nation and a Society, Volume One: to 1877, Third Edition, Nash, Jeffrey, Howe, Frederick, Davis, and Winkler, Harper Collins College Publishers 1994

“The Intolerable Acts”, Wikipedia as of April 2014

Note:  add info on 1766 Declaratory Act — no law that does not conform to laws passed by Parliament??