This section is from the book "Popular Law Library Vol1 Introduction To The Study Of Law Legal History", by Albert H. Putney. Also see: Popular Law-Dictionary.
The course of events leading to the Revolutionary War began almost at the outset of the reign of George III, the character and aims of which ruler were briefly referred to at the close of Chapter VI (Constitutional And Political History Of England From The Norman Conquest To The Reign Of George Iii. Section 43. The Norman Conquest). To the attempt of this king to rule in England, instead of merely to reign, as his two immediate predecessors had been content to do, can be traced the breaking out of the great Revolution. The attitude of George III towards the colonies was only one aspect of his larger policy towards the English Empire as a whole. The spirit of independence which he encountered in the colonies was the same spirit of independence which he sought to curb at home. The contest with the colonies was apparently deliberately sought by the reactionary king as a preliminary test of strength before the opening of the home contest. The American minute men were fighting not only their own battle, but also that of their brethren across the water; their defeat would have transferred the battle to England. The Revolutionary War, in its broadest significance, was not one so much between America and England, as one in which the radical forces in both countries were arrayed against the conservative elements in each. William Pitt openly rejoiced that America had resisted, while Fox, in his speeches in the House of Commons habitually referred to Washington's forces as "our army," and even adopted the famous blue and buff of the continental army as the colors of the Whig party. With the mass of the English people the war was so unpopular that the troops for the war mainly had to be hired in Germany. On the other hand, probably at least one-third of the whole population of the colonies were Tories in their sympathies, and this third included the majority (the great majority outside of Massachusetts) of the wealthy and educated classes.
If the English House of Commons had fairly represented the English people, the war would probably never have occurred; but it did not fairly represent them. In the words of the younger William Pitt: "The House is not the representative of the people of Great Britain. It is the representative of nominal boroughs, of ruined and exterminated towns, of noble families, of wealthy individuals, of foreign potentates." In a population of 8,000,000 of English people, only 160,000 had the right of suffrage.
The details of the struggle are immaterial. The contest was originally one over taxation, but the resistance was not on account of money but of principle.
The American colonists were demanding the application in the New World of that old Anglo-Saxon principle, proclaimed by the Magna Charta and the Bill of Rights, that taxation without representation was illegal.
The pressure from England began to bring the colonies into closer relations with each other and to lay the foundations for an united country. The earlier attempts at the consolidation of the colonies had proved unsuccessful. Those instituted by the King, such as the union of the northern colonies under Andros, had met with resistance from the people; while such meetings as the Albany Congress had been viewed with suspicion by the English government.
The passage of the Stamp Act led to the meeting of the "Stamp Act Congress," in October, 1765. Nine colonies were represented, and advanced ground was taken in support of the rights of the colonies. Laying aside arguments based on chartered privileges, the Congress took their stand on the broad doctrines of inalienable rights and privileges, asserting their right to trials by jury in all cases, and to freedom from all taxation not voted by a body wherein they were represented.
Nine years later the first Continental Congress met at Philadelphia. All the colonies, aroused at the calamity overhanging one of their number, were represented. The English government, enraged at the Boston Tea Party, had passed through Parliament a series of acts designed to crush the most daring of the colonies and to intimidate the others. The charter of Massachusetts was annulled, her town meetings destroyed, and the appointment of all officials was vested in the crown. Boston, as the center of the disturbance, was particularly punished; she was no longer to be either the Capitol of the colony or a port of entry, and provision was made for quartering British troops upon her citizens. The trial of any British soldier or official accused of murder was to be transferred to England.
This first Continental Congress was a mere provisional government. There was no thought, except in the minds of advanced thinkers like Samuel Adams, of political separation from England. A redress of grievances was demanded, not a severance of existing political ties. The second Continental Congress met the following year under more stormy auspices; by this time the war had begun, the Battle of Lexington having already been fought. The day for compromises had passed, and the contest could only end by the unconditional surrender of the one side or the other. It was, however, not until after the evacuation of Boston in the ensuing year, that the question of independence was taken up. Within a few days after the passage of the Declaration of Independence,2 a committee was appointed to draft a framework of government for the United States.
The Articles of Confederation3 were finally passed by Congress on October 15, 1777, and submitted to the states. Eleven of the states ratified the Articles of Confederation before the close of the year 1778. Delaware delayed until 1779, and Maryland until 1781. The delay on the part of Maryland was for the purpose of compelling the States of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and Virginia to surrender their claims to the northwest territory. Although not fully ratified until 1781, the Articles of Confederation served as a basis for the form of government after the year 1777.