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Whether it was the Spanish that fought to conquer lands in the south, or the Dutch that engaged in stiff competition with the British, or the French that were ultimately defeated in 1763, the American soil was one clearly marked by violent clashes between foreign powers. This is why it was considered that the cry for independence from the British was also a cry for a peaceful and secure future for the next generations. Thomas Paine argued that the time had indeed come for the colonies to be excluded from the continuous clashes that had defined their past. Thus, because of the British's traditional inclination towards war, such an objective was hard to reach under the Empire's constant control. Consequently, the time had come for the colonies to break apart and search their peace as an independent state.
Looking at the historical development of the events, it is easy to see that aside from any political or economic altercations, a fundamental issue that marked the relationship between the British and the Americans was the intrinsic system of moral values. It may be that the Americans develop a different set of values as a reaction to the negative practices of the British. Even so, they create a set of values that contrasted with the ideas on which the English relied. This contradiction was presented by different thinkers of the time. On the one hand, the American colonies considered the authority of God as being above any other distant ruler and recognized only the divine will as being decisive for the destiny of a nation. Thus, Patrick Henry's idea comes in contradiction with the British perception of the omnipotent rule of the king. In addition, people such as John Adams, who advocated compromise, put a high price on the need for independence outside the range of the British in regulating internal politics
. Thus, as the Englishmen tried to exercise stronger control over American affairs, the colonists, both the radicals and the moderate, supported an independent position. From this point-of-view, the revolutionary outcome was inevitable.
The major taxes imposed by the British Empire in fact represented the peak of a constantly restrictive economic policy practiced by England in its relation with the American colonies. In this sense there were a series of acts which targeted certain practical issues such as stamps, navigation, or trade.
In 1765, the Stamp Act imposed taxes on legal documents, papers, pamphlets, playing cards and dice. The official motivation for the imposition of these taxes was the "granting and applying (of) certain stamp duties, and other duties, in the British colonies and plantations in America, towards further defraying the expenses of defending, protecting, and securing the same; and for amending such parts of the several acts of parliament relating to the trade and revenues of the said colonies and plantations, as direct the manner of determining and recovering the penalties and forfeitures therein mentioned"
. The response of the population invoked their legal right to be represented in the British Parliament in order to be willing to pay the tax. Indeed, the "no taxation without representation" idea was considered, thus refusing to abide by a rule related to an economic element not so much from the perspective of what it meant in financial terms, but rather out of political considerations.
The colonists responded that such decisions cannot be imposed to them because they were not represented in the House of Commons and invoking the liberal beliefs "it is inseparably essential to the freedom of a people and the undoubted right of the Englishmen that no taxes be imposed on them but with their own consent given personally or by their representatives (…)the only representatives of the people of these colonies are persons chosen therein by themselves and no taxes have ever been or can be constitutionally imposed on them but by their respective legislature"
. Such perceptions of the political importance of the parliamentary power and the need for a democratic legitimacy for the decisions made played an essential role in the establishment of a common idea about the way in which the American political system must function and placed in deed contrast with the British one
The Townshend Act was also essential for considering the relationship between the British and the Colonies. This Act was designed for "granting certain duties in the British colonies and plantations in
America; for allowing a drawback of the duties of customs upon the exportation, from this kingdom, of coffee and cocoa nuts of the produce of the said colonies or plantations; for discontinuing the drawbacks payable on china earthen ware exported to America; and for more effectually preventing the clandestine running of goods in the colonies and plantations"
. The Act in itself represented yet another British initiative meant to increase the control ever the trade in which the Americans were involved outside of Europe. At the same time however, it was also a political message which could hinted to the idea that the British Empire manifests its control over the entire range of affairs conducted by its subjects. This perspective though came in contrast with the independence views of most Americans.
As a corollary to the rest of the legal acts imposed by the British, the Act of Trade and Navigation of 1769 also limited American activities with the rest of the British colonies. It stated that "no goods and commodities can be imported into or exported from any of the British plantations, but in vessels built in and owned by people of Great Britain, Ireland, Guernsey, Jersey or the said plantations"
. Moreover, "no good or commodities whatsoever, of the growth, produce, manufacture of any part of Europe or the East Indies, can be imported into the British colonies but from Great Britain under forfeiture thereof." A collective answer clearly expressed the general view on the matter as it was considered that "the Act of Navigation is a good Act, so are all that exclude foreign manufacturers from the plantations, and any honest man will readily subscribe to them. Right as to Europe; but for God's sake, must we have no trade with the other colonies?"
The almost violent attitude expressed a general opinion related to the legislation imposed by the Parliament upon the Colonies. Again, despite the pressure such Acts imposed on the economic situation of the colonies, it betrayed the British interest in maintaining its control over the internal affairs and regulation of the soon to be independent state.
The French Revolution and its defining moments
The second part of the 18th century represented a time of crisis for the old regimes and for their economic systems. Given the wars in which France, Britain, and other European countries were engaged in, the economic systems of those countries suffered immensely. As seen in the case of the American colonies, the idea of the old empires was for the colonies to offer the economic means for the empires to recover. However, for the French part, this aspect was more difficult to achieve largely because France did not have the political and economic power of the British crown.
Still, the era was sometimes considered to be the grand era of the democratic revolutions
Even more, regardless of the political context, historians such as R. Palmer consider the revolution to have been an inevitable action. More precisely, "this struggle had in it something universal; as Burke said, there had been nothing like it since the Protestant Reformation had thrown all Europe into a commotion that overran all political boundaries (…)Revolution broke out in Ireland in 1798. Dutch historians speak of revolution in the Netherlands in 1795, when the Batavian Republic was founded, and of a more radical movement of 1798. The Swiss feel that they were revolutionized in the Helvetic Republic of 1798. Italian writers speak of revolution at Milan in 1796, at Rome in 1797, at Naples in 1798. The Cisalpine, Roman, and Parthenopean republics were the outcome. In the German Rhineland there were some who demanded annexation to France, or, that failing, the establishment of a revolutionary "Cisrhenane," or Rhineland Republic"
The French revolution had different causes for its commencement. On the one hand, there was the disastrous economic situation of the monarchy. More precisely, given the resolution of the war against the British in the American colonies, France was experiencing one of the most severe crises of its history
. As Britain tried to impose the American colonies severe pressures in terms of taxes and revenue collection, the French monarchy was unable to support the bourgeois without increasing the taxes imposed on the common people and on the small craftsmen. In this sense, one of the most important elements of the French revolution was the one related to the oppressions suffered by the common people, and the peasants.
As compared to the American colonies it can be said that the situation resembles only in theory and not in practice. Indeed, the American colonies, as…
Sources Used in Documents:
Aptheker, Herbert. 1960. The American Revolution, 1763-1783: a history of the American people. New York: International Publishers.
Berstein, Serge, and Milza. 1994. Pierre. Histoire de l'Europe. Paris: Hatier.
Braunstein, Florence, and Pepin, Jean Francois. 1998. Les Grandes Doctrines. Paris: Ellipses.
Carlyle, Thomas. 2004. The French revolution, New York: Kessinger Publishing, LLC. Vol. 2
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