Communication Breakdown

This, like the other things noded here, is an American History assignment. The assignment was a Document-Based Question which went as follows: "'By 1775, it was obvious to both the British government and American colonial leaders that there was no workable compromise between their differing views of empire.' Assess this statement in an essay based on the documents provided and your own knowledge of the period." The "documents provided" are referenced by name and date so Everythingians can figure out what I'm talking about. The essay addresses some of what are, in my opinion, the primary reasons for American revolution against the British.

The conquest of America by former English colonists was preordained from the beginning. Regardless of the truth behind this concept of "manifest destiny," it was an idea and a mindset that acted as a catalyst not only for the western expansion of the United States but the very creation of that country. The mentality that would later declare most of the continent of North America as cultural birthright existed before the United States. In the desire for independence which resided inside the hearts of men like Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams and even the latecomer Thomas Paine, manifest destiny was already making its case. The concept that America belonged exclusively to those English colonists, their cohorts, and nobody else was incompatible with the views of the British Empire; this dissonance was obvious by 1775.

By the mid-eighteenth century, many of those living in the English colonies were third or fourth-generation Americans - not British. That distinction was crucial in terms of the difference in culture and political view it created. America as was populated by those of European stock at the time was primarily a producing culture, not a consuming one. As such, the colonies needed a market for its surplus goods more than it needed imports from the tiny island which claimed to control the fertile land on which the colonists stood. Many of the first Europeans to settle in America were seeking total escape from England, and with it they also required an almost complete self-sufficiency. The colonies were intended to become independent, at least in terms of survival, from their inception.

Needless to say, Britain did not view their colonies as anything close to a body independent from their empire. America was far too good a source of income for that. The British view of their American colonies was that they were placeholders on valuable territory, a veritable cash cow of tobacco, cotton, corn and rum. America was used as another theater of European wars and as a bargaining chip, as when the French fort of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, captured by colonial militia and bought with colonists' lives, was traded back to France in exchange for special consideration in India. The colonists from northern New England who had fought and died for this boon would never reap the benefits of their sacrifice; they were never considered in the deal. Furthermore, after prosecuting several wars in America using colonial troops and forcing their way into colonial housing, the British felt that the colonists owed England for the protection they had received. To recoup this perceived debt, and repay their own debts incurred over the course of their military campaigns, the English instituted a series of taxes, including the Sugar Act of 1764, the Stamp Act of 1765, and the Townshend Acts of 1767, all without regard to colonial government or their right of representation. This exemplified the British view that the colonists owed them, as well as that the Parliament in England had the right to enact any tax or law in the colonies that they wanted. This opinion was made official by the Declaratory Act which repealed the Stamp Act in 1766 and was voiced in this speech by Lord Mansfield to the House of Lords in 1766 (see Debate on the Repeal of the Stamp Act): "... the colonists, by the condition on which they migrated, settled, and now exist, are more emphatically subjects of Great Britain than those within the realm; and that the British legislature have in every instance exercised their right of legislation over them without any dispute or question til the 14th of January last (1765)." Mansfield's speech also refers to the British view that they had not only the right to tax, but had total control over the colonies as an extension of the empire. The crux of that argument is that the colonies are governed totally, without representation, by Parliament not only while but especially because the first colonists were allowed to leave England with the grace of the King. In short, because the colonists required the King's approval to leave, they require the King's, and therefore Parliament's, approval to exist. Thanks to that requirement, Parliament has complete control over the colonies, including government. This ran contrary to the colonial view in many ways.

This "colonial view" was that when a group separates itself from its home country, establishing its own cultural and political body, it becomes independent from that country. Richard Bland made this claim in 1766, in his essay "An Inquiry Into the Rights of the British Colonies." Nine years after Bland's essay, the Continental Congress met for the second time. The grievances against Parliament they had formally stated a year earlier had not been met, and so they gathered together to seek a solution. First, they tried compromise, in the form of the "Olive Branch Petition" of May 1775. The King rejected Congress' offer of compromise. Three months later, he stated openly that "The object is too important ... the resources with which God hath blessed (the British Nation) too numerous, to give up so many colonies ... which she has planted ..." (King George III, Speech to Parliament, October 1775) effectively declaring that the British could not allow colonial independence in any form. Shortly prior to this speech, fighting had already begun in Lexington and at Concord. Revolution was already under way. All that remained was to sway the indecisive masses to the colonial side or the British one. That decision, to the colonists, was not one of whether or not America was English or its own, but whether or not American culture owed its fealty and its money to the English across the sea. In that argument, Richard Bland maintained the colonists were independent from England politically as well as culturally, while Lord Mansfield, while acknowledging colonial separation from England in the line "... that the colonists, by the condition on which they migrated, settled, and now exist, are more emphatically subjects of Great Britain than those within the realm ..." (emphasis added), is resolved that they are a separate cultural entity but still lie within the political bounds of the Empire. Bland's essay for independence were echoed a year after the battles of 1775 in Thomas Paine's Common Sense. Paine's pamphlet was the final testimony in a trial for the complete separation of the American colonies from Britain which began as soon as the first religious and political dissenters from the tiny island set foot on New World soil.

History proves that the colonists were victorious. Whether or not manifest destiny truly existed to influence the flow of events is something that has yet to be proved, but the minds which lent themselves to that belief carried the day. By 1775, there were only American colonists, not English ones. Setting foot on the new continent with the intent to settle there required the understanding that the culture which existed in America, while taking from British roots, was now intermingled with other societies and had become distinctly its own. American leaders, seeking political autonomy to accompany their cultural uniqueness, found that the British would not freely grant them any. Resenting the British presence, and frustrated by the British refusal to accept their offered compromise, the Americans finally decided to prosecute a revolution to achieve their independence. After four generations of development, colonial culture had resolved that America was exclusively its own and pointed itself in the direction of manifest destiny. From the start, this concept was never truly able to coexist with British doctrine of total rule from overseas; by 1775, that unresolvable difference had become a gap between American and British leaders that was impossible to bridge.