Merchants and Traders of the American Revolution and the Non-Importation Agreements Term Paper

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Merchants and Traders of the American Revolution

The American Revolution occurred during the 1700's as the early settlers underwent a period of change. During this time, settlers in the Americas gained religious freedom, became prosperous merchants, and established a more democratic government. However, during this time, the settlers were also controlled and taken advantage of by England.

The American War was fought from 1776 to 1778 yet the American Revolution started much before the war. John Adams summed up the sentiment of the American Revolution when he stated, "But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was affected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people...This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution."

The American Revolution was fought by the colonists, many of whom were merchants and traders, to obtain an economic, political and social order. In order to understand the context of the American Revolution, it is important to examine the preexisting conditions of the colonies.

The economy of America was basically divided into three parts: New England, where the economy was predominately commerce; the South, where cash crops were the major economic order; and the middle colonies, which consisted of both commerce and crops.

Merchants and traders of this era experienced a prosperous agricultural and commercial economy in the colonies, which helped pave the way for the independence movement. This economic system was based on wheat, cattle, corn, tobacco, and rice in America, which was shipped to the West Indies, Britain, and Europe.

Southern agriculture was based on tobacco, wheat, and corn in Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina, and on rice and indigo in South Carolina and Georgia. There was a huge demand for these crops in Europe, so it was a prosperous business.

Wheat was the major cash crop of the mid-Atlantic colonies of Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. These colonies, along with those in New England, exported wheat, corn, cattle, horses, fish, and wood. The British and French planters of the Caribbean, exploiting a mainly African labor force, mostly produced sugar for export to Europe and imported many European goods.

The Northern mainland prospered from this vast transatlantic division of labor. In payment for supplies shipped to the West Indies, their merchants received bills of exchange from merchant houses in Great Britain. These bills were used to purchase British manufactured goods.

The two most important trade routes were dominated and controlled by British merchants. These trades were the tobacco and sugar trades. American merchants controlled two small trades routes. These were the export of rice to Europe and the export of supplies from the Northern mainland to the West Indies.

However, American control of these subsidiary trade routes undermined the British policy of mercantilism, which depended on raw materials from the colonies that were shipped to Great Britain and subsequently exported as finished products. This policy discouraged any colonial trade except with Great Britain.

Role of Merchants and Traders in Resisting British Control

The American merchants and traders' participation in transatlantic trade fuelled the rise of the American port cities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Newport, and Charleston, which eventually came to provide the commercial services, such as insurance and wholesale trade, and the small-scale industries, such as rope and sail manufacture and shipbuilding, that were necessary to sustain a merchant fleet. The independence movement began in these cities.

The settlers' dissatisfaction with England's control, as well as the changes in the social, economic and political structure of the Americas, caused the American Revolution. The British had colonized America since the 1600's, when many its inhabitants settled in the country to obtain religious freedom and a more prosperous life.

Merchants came to America to profit off the land since land was either free or very cheap. Merchants and traders dreamed of making more money and enjoying more success than they could in England.

The Atlantic Ocean caused a great communications barrier between England and the colonies in America. Due to this lack of communication, the settlers felt isolated from England and independent.

Many merchants and traders read protests against British injustice that were printed in newspapers and books. Local colleges offered education and writings of Greek philosophers, including John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau, which made the settlers believe that all men were created equal.

However, England squelched the settlers' sense of freedom with its expectation that America would serve its economic interests. To ensure this support, England regulated every move that the merchants and traders made.

Basically, the colonists accepted and adhered to British regulations. For example, during the 1600's, American merchants did not manufacture goods that would compete with British goods. However, in the 1700's, things changed. England failed to support the American Colonies during several wars with France. The colonies enjoyed victory with no help from England.

After the French and Indian War, the British government feared that the colonies were becoming too powerful. The treaty of 1763 gave England control of Canada the land between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. The goal of this treaty was nation advantage and the 13 colonies wanted to live peacefully as a result.

However, George Grenville, Britain's prime minister in 1763, did not give any political rights to the colonists. Instead of granting the colonies more freedom and peace, England looked for ways to make the colonies most profitable to England at the least expense to the country.

At the time, new merchants and traders were moving to land that was won through the war. The Indians were outraged and launched a series of attacks. England anticipated a long and bloody Indian war, which would be costly. As a result, England issued the Proclamation of 1763 to appease the Indians.

This agreement prevented settlers from purchasing property beyond a line that ran through the sources of the rivers flowing into the Atlantic Ocean. England was showing favoritism to the Indians and fur traders at the expense of the settlers, whose charter gave it a claim to a section of the interior extending westward to the Mississippi River.

However, the settlements to the east of what became known as the "Proclamation Line" was not ignored by England, which stationed a large army on the frontier. England decided that the colonies should contribute to funding this protection by paying taxes to Parliament.

Radical Opposition

The American merchants and traders, who were now accustomed to self-government, opposed England's new laws, particularly the tax laws. The Sugar Act imposed a three-penny tax on each gallon of molasses coming into the colonies from ports outside the British Empire.

Many American merchants and traders had successful industries that depended on imported molasses. These people strongly opposed these taxes, which would undoubtedly diminish their profits.

The Quartering Act ordered the colonists to provide English soldiers with a place to live, fuel, candles, food and drink. The Stamp Act imposed a direct tax on all newspapers printed in the colonies and on all business documents. This act outraged merchants and traders, resulting in riots.

The colonists believed that right of taxation belonged only to the people and their elected representatives. They asserted that Parliament had no authority to tax the colonies because the colonies had no representative in Parliament. They coined the famous statement, "no taxation without representation."

Parliament eliminated the Stamp Act in 1766, but approved the Declaratory Act, which granted the king and Parliament absolute legislative authority over the colonies in all social, political and economic matters.

Parliament plotted schemes to indirectly get money from the colonies. For example, the Townshend Acts imposed duties on glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea that were imported into the colonies. The colonists accepted England's regulation of their trading activity but resented the duties, which were really taxes in disguise.

The colonists, in turn, concocted schemes to avoid giving money to the British. In an effort to avoid paying Townshend duty on tea, colonial merchants and traders smuggled in tea from the Netherlands. Because the colonists were no longer buying tea from British companies, the industry was hurt. As a result, Parliament passed the tea Act, which allowed British tea companies to sell its tea below the price of smuggled tea. This move led to the Boston Tea Party, which in turn led to the Intolerable Acts.

The colonists, led by merchants and traders, organized a resistance movement to the Intolerable Acts. The newly established Continental Congress voted to cut off colonial trade with England unless Parliament cancelled the Intolerable Acts. It also began training the citizens for war. Still, the first Continental Congress did not call for independence from England. They simply demanded their rights back.

Non-Importation Agreements

In addition to boycotts, merchants and traders resisted British control in many other ways. One of the most successful ways was through non-importation agreements, which were initiated in 1766. They had a profound effect on the British…

Sources Used in Document:


American Revolution. World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago:World Book Inc. 1997, pp. 270-274.

Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1967.

Goldfield, David etal. The American Journey: A History of the Untied States. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1998, pp. 130-153.

Gorn, Elliot J., Roberts, Randy and Blizhar, Terryt. Constructing the American Past: A Source Book of a People's History - Volume I. 3rd ed. New York: Longman, 1999.

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