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The North American War of Independence






North America’s place in the international division of labor in the 18th century was to supply England with timber and tobacco. However, this was not what angered the Americans, but that their local affairs increasingly became centrally controlled by the royal bureaucracy. A widespread local opposition to this, in the form of violence and threats against seconded officials, began to find expression in the 1760s. The opposition got a central leadership when the government decided that all official documents should be stamped for which one must pay to the state. It was the well-to-do merchants who gathered in the Sons of Liberty (i.e liberty from royal injunctions), and they opposed as much to violence as to stamp duty. Instead, they wanted to work with petitions to parliament and the king, as well as with boycotts. Above is a pamphlet calling for a boycott.

The boycotts affected the English merchants who controlled the English Parliament, so stamp duties were soon abolished. Instead, new tariffs were introduced so that the state budget would not be affected, so the boycott movement re-emerged. But as the movement grew, it became the activists who became leaders, and they were mainly young craftsmen. They were no strangers to drastic action.

That the movement quickly changed goals – from local self-government to independence – was due to two things.

Partly because the English authorities behaved both brutally and weakly. When Boston,s young artisans hijacked a wrecked ship, see photo below, the government abolished Massachusetts County Council but could not prevent it from still meeting and legislating. And when a customs boat was hijacked, they threatened with high treason charges and hanging without getting anyone to hang.

Partly because the democratic opposition in England, from which the Americans expected a lot of help, was so weak.

So escalations from both sides led to regular war and to the various colonies reuniting for a common war leadership in 1776.

English warfare failed mainly due to internal divisions – too many Englishmen thought the war was unfair.

The common war leadership was transformed into a state in 1789. The reason for this was that the leading merchants and plantation owners thought that the various provinces were too much controlled by ordinary people. Among other things, it was difficult to maintain a fixed monetary value in a society of indebted farmers if the farmers were allowed to decide. Therefore, these privileged people created a union that, through a complicated system of government, was kept at a distance from local opinions – much like the EU today.

The power in new state was however divided – in northern industrialists who wanted an industrial development policy to advance into the industrial center of the world, and in southern plantation owners who were content in being economically colonial junior partners of England. Only after the civil war the developmentalists got the upper hand.

Nevertheless, it can be said that the United States, until the 1880s, thanks to its popular influence, could serve as a democratic utopia for the whole world.

Pauline Maier: From resistance to revolution, Alfred Knopf 1972.
Michael Lind: Land of promise, Harper 2013



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