In the 15th and 16th centuries, European nations were fighting amongst each other for political power and wealth. These countries were looking for trade routes to Asia, as well as new land to explore for colonization and trade. Spain, Portugal, and France had begun exploring new lands and places to colonize for labor and raw material like crops, gold, and plants that they could levy as trade and grow their wealth. They had also established colonies in the West Indies, South, Central, and North America, as well as trade centers on the coast of Africa.
England was behind on its exploration and was facing political pressure to compete with these other European nations. As the wealth of these other nations grew, England had to take action to keep up or face consequences from these nations that had begun to grow their wealth and power. The best way for England to assert its political power at this time was to explore and colonize.
This strategy would give England access to new crops as well as cheap, and free, labor from the natives of the areas they colonized. If England could successfully colonize, this would give them more wealth to grow their armies and rise in political power. (Norton, 2015)
Outside of political reasons for colonization, there were social reasons as well. One of the main social reasons was religious freedom. There was one religion for English people at the time and this religion was forced upon the people, with no ability to deviate.
In a new land, far from England’s controls, people were freer to explore their religious beliefs and new religions began in the colonies. Another social reason was the economic situation in England. England was still suffering from the plague and the Hundred Years’ war. This meant people were struggling financially, losing their homes, without jobs, and being forced to pay high taxes. The possibilities of a new world gave hope to the hopeless and put pressure on England to explore new lands. (Norton, 2015)
Some many ideas and events ledown many ideas and events ledon to the American Revolution. A big part of this was The Age of Enlightenment. This was when philosophers started to question the church and views that they saw as outdated and not in line with their views. A big influencer in this regard was John LLedsomeocke. In his essay Treatises of Government, Locke explained his beliefs of natural rights and social contract. This belief was based on the idea that government involvement should be limited and people were entitled to natural rights of life, liberty, and property. The social contract side of his beliefs was that it was the government’s responsibility to protect these rights of its people. These ideas influenced the people and helped them realize they didn’t have to live under English rule with laws and taxes they did not believe in. Locke helped empower the people and made them see they could stand up for their rights and fight back against their oppressors. John Locke was very influential at this time and his writings even influenced the Declaration of Independence. John Locke helped lead the American Revolution by giving power back to the people and helping them see their value. (Norton 2015)
Another influence on the American Revolution was the idea of taxation without representation. After the Seven Year’suprise War, the British government started heavily taxing the colonies to pay off the debt the war had caused. This caused up rise and unrest in America as the colonies did not believe this was a fair tax for them to burden. Some of these taxes included the Sugar Act and Currency Act which wereledwas passed in 1764. These Acts essentially taxed the colonies for things they used to receive for free and this angered the colonies. The colonies also believed they should have a voice and wanted to be able to send their Indians’representatives to Britain’s Parliament so a voice of the people could be heard. With the addition of these taxes, the colonies started vocalizing their unrest and also began stockpiling guns against British law. In an act of defiance, the Boston Tea Party and many other protests happened. These protests included dumping 342 crates of tea into the harbor. In response to these protests, the British government yet again enacted more taxes and harsh laws to punish the colonies. Some of these laws included the Intolerable Act, the Massachusetts Government Act, and the Quartering Act. The Quartering Act caused much unrest among the colonies. This act stated that the colonies had to house British soldiers, which left the colonists in fear in their own homes. (Norton 2015)
Native Americans were still left without a voice during, and after, the American Revolution. Native Americans fought on both sides of the war but many fought with Britain in the hopes that a British victory would protect their rights and land. Colonial Americans still saw the natives as “savages” that had to be civilized. The Indian Trade and Intercourse Act of 1793 was another attempt to civilize the natives according to colonial American standards. This act ignored centuries-old hunting and agricultural practices and incorrectly assumed that Indians beliefs of communal land ownership would be easy to change. Another part of this act was to train native men in farming but to the native men, this was woman’s work. This left the men feeling detached and idle as the farming did not interest them. As colonization continued westward across the Americas, Native Americans continued to be pushed out of the land they had lived on for centuries. Tribal groups were driven off their land through violence and threats and didn’t have a way to defend themselves against such a large group. This displacement led to disorder and death among the native tribes. (Norton 2015)
Although many African American men served in the Continental Army with honors, the laws from the 1770s still associated citizenship rights with “whiteness.” (Norton 2015) This meant that for most African Americans life remained relatively unchanged after the revolution. However, many slaves in northern states did begin petitioning their legislatures for their freedom and this began what became known as “the first emancipation” i where some northern states began prohibiting slavery. As more time passed the number of free African Americans continued to grow. Unfortunately, even in free states racism was still prevalent and African Americans were often denied rights to land ownership, voting, and other rights granted to white men. African Americans began to establish some too communities and churches where they could meet and support one another. (Norton 2015)
Women had hopes that the revolution would bring change for them, unfortunately, that change was very slow in coming. Although women had a big part in supporting the war efforts in regards to nursing soldiers, cooking, and taking over work duties while men were at war, their responsibilities were regulated back to motherhood and household work after the revolution. Just as before the war, women were still unable to vote, except in a single state, New Jersey. A big advocate for women’s rights after the revolution was Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams. Abigail penned a letter to her husband in March of 1776 asking him to “Remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.” (Norton 2015) Unfortunately, Abigail’s pleas to her husband went unanswered and women remained second-class citizens.
Women were still unable to receive a college education, although the colonies did believe that to, instruct their children properly mothers would need basic education. Massachusetts even went so far as to insist that the town elementary schools taught girls as well as boys. However, further education was only available for wealthy teenage girls who could go to private academies. After all women had provided during the war, they were left largely abandoned by the white male constitutes in charge and would have to continue the fight for equal rights. (Norton 2015)