Riots and Revolutionaries - How did civil America make progress on its Road to Independence?

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2002
16 Pages, Grade: 1.7


Table of contents:

1 Introduction

2 Burdened by the British up to the brink of war
2.1 The first acts aggravating civilians
2.2 The Crown under pressure
2.3 Escalating irritations – The road to war
2.3.1 The Townshend Program
2.3.2 Symbols of resistance
2.3.3 A view on the Boston Massacre from both sides
2.3.4 The Tea Act
2.3.5 The Boston Tea Party

3 Looking in the face of war
3.1 How civilians got involved in military actions
3.1.1 The Battles of Lexington and Concord
3.1.2 The Second Continental Congress and the Continental Army
3.1.3 The arming farmers
3.1.4 Warmongering civilians – the militia
3.2 Civil life in times of war
3.2.1 Important publications and how the people assessed it
3.2.2 The people’s suffering
3.2.3 Economic mobs

4 The beginning of the post-war-era
4.1 The Rebellion of Daniel Shays
4.2 Final results of the revolution

5. While writing this paper

6. Bibliography

7 Webliography

1 Introduction

Nowadays, fighting for freedom is a feeling that most people in the Western World know at best from television. Living in our heated up houses, we have the opportunity to choose for ourselves what we want to believe in, without being persecuted. When you compare the life of previous generations with today’s life, it is considerably easier now.

In the lecture “Ideen- und Sozialgeschichte der USA” I heard about people fighting for their own lives, for their families and values. I have been fascinated by the civilians’ problems and their ways to solve them. The lecture did not offer so much time to study this special issue in particular, so for my great interest in people’s rebellions, I decided to study the role of civilians in the long struggle for independence - from the frustrating acts up to war and beyond.

The result is what you are just holding in your hands today. I hope it will help you to understand the enormous pain, anger, and fear the people in the “New World” suffered from in the second half of the 18th century. At this time, America had been colonised by the British for almost two hundred years (the first Anglican settlement was Jamestown, Virginia, founded in 1607 by Captain John Smith[1] ).

At the beginning of the paper’s main part, I give a short summary of the important progresses up to the 1760s. In this period of time, I want to go in detail with the people’s sorrows upraised by the Crown and its provoking acts. I want to describe two of the deep-cutting acts passed by the English Crown in detail. I chose the so-called Townshend Program, the Tea Act, and the colonist’s reactions to them, to arrive in the following part at the beginning of the war, always paying attention to the role of civilians in special.

The last part of my paper is meant to show the changes in daily life caused by the revolution, and its results. It should also show us what today’s society can learn from previous struggles for freedom and peace.

Throughout the paper I proceed in a chronological way. The deepening sections - which are meant to specialise on the most illustrating events and processes involving the common people, or rather on the deeper backgrounds of historical events - must not be necessarily sequential

2 Burdened by the British up to the brink of war

2.1 The first acts aggravating civilians

Beginning with the Trade Act introduced in 1697, life in the colonies became more and more restricted by the English Crown. The governor’s measures were controlled by English officials, and most of the following laws were passed because the wars Britain fought were beyond her means. There was an enormous lack of money, which the weighed down colonists had to fill.

The acts of common interest up to the 1760s were essentially the Woolens Act[2] in 1699, the Molasses Act[3] in 1733 and the Iron Act in 1750, which prohibited “…the processing of iron in America in order to secure supplies of American raw iron for the English Midlands (…).”[4]. All those measures were restricting the freedom of many Americans, for a lot of them worked in branches of agriculture or industry concerned by the acts.

Irritated for decades, the American people lived quite peacefully under the restrictions, but at last they got infuriated with their increasing involvement in the wars which were fought by the British. There were for example Queen Anne’s War from 1701 to 1713 and King George’s War from 1744 to 1748.

2.2 The Crown under pressure

The end of the French-Indian War – which was finally won by the English - was determined in the Treaty of Paris signed in 1763[5]. At that point in time, for England there was a large need for action. Firstly, for it was peace now and the voices in the neglected colonies became louder again, secondly because her debts had grown from under 75 million pounds to 137 million, so there were new sources of funds to be found. George III. decided to get the most of the required money out of the colonies, with the help of his prime minister[6].

Most of the colonists, believing that political power is “always to be feared”, as John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon wrote in their essay series “Cato’s Letters” in the 1720s, were convinced that they would be oppressed by rulers and insisted on their precious freedom[7].

In the years up to 1770, the Crown introduced important acts, beginning with the Sugar and Currency Acts in 1764, which were simply meant to raise the taxes paid by the people. From that point in time, imports from other countries and especially the trade with molasses had been loaded with new duties which had to be paid, and the new American currency which was to be established became now outlawed by official English representatives. The colonists protested immediately. They did not want a “Taxation without Representation”[8] under any circumstances.

In the year 1765, Grenville proposed the Stamp Act[9], which said that from this moment on, the Americans would have to pay taxes for nearly every printed product. In the same year the Quartering Act[10] was passed, followed by the Townshend Program in 1767, named after the English Chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Townshend. The task of lowering the taxes in England was given him by the king, and he decided to fulfil it by imposing the colonists with more burdening acts.

Combined with the famous Tea Act passed in 1773, and the reactions to it, the Townshend Program with its consequences were the main reasons which finally made the British and the Americans standing at the brink of war.

2.3 Escalating irritations – The road to war

2.3.1 The Townshend Program

Charles Townshend devised the program, which heightened the existing custom duties and which introduced some more, for example on lead, tea, glass, and paper imported from Britain[11]. The money earned this way was to be used for paying the salaries of governors, some judges, and parts of the British Army who were stationed in the colonies. These new restrictive measures evoked protests, expressed in many different ways. The famous essays from John Dickinson[12] were printed by almost every colonial newspaper, and it seemed that everybody read them.

Students wrote on papers coming from their own countries, there were houses remaining unpainted, for paints were also taxed by the Townshend Program. The people drank substitutes for tea and wore clothes produced in their closer environment.

In February 1768, the Massachusetts Assembly sent a circular letter to all other legislatures in the colonies, in which it called for freedom, unity, and a “joint petition of protest”[13]. Relating to this letter, the assembly was ordered by Lord Hillsborough - the First Secretary of State in America - to recall the petition. In the Massachusetts Assembly, recall was rejected by a vote of 92 to 17. The colonies got more united than ever before.

2.3.2 Symbols of resistance

The resistance caused by the Townshend Acts was full of hope and enthusiasm. Symbols were created and celebrated. The number “92” became a symbol of resistance, related to the famous rejection in the Massachusetts Assembly. Same happened to the number “45”, when John Wilkes - an Englishman radically sympathetic to the Americans - got detained for publishing his famous essay “The North Briton No. 45”.

In Boston, a smith named Paul Revere forged “a punchbowl weighing 45 ounces, which held 45 gills (half-cups) and was engraved with the names of the 92 legislators;(…)”[14]. Some people, like James Otis and John Adams were publicly toasting 45 times from that punchbowl.

Organisations of protest movements, like The Sons of Liberty[15], awoke and started new programs to increase the public resistance against the British oppressors by holding their meetings in public. From 1767 to 1769, almost all goods coming from Britain were put under a boycott, and at that time there were always some fights between excited Americans and British soldiers.


[1] Max Zeuske, Heinz Förster and Leonard A. Jones, A short History of the United States of America. Leipzig : Verlag Enzyklopädie, 1987. 14.

[2] The Woolens Act prohibited the export of wool and products made of. Zeuske: A Short History of the USA, 20.

[3] It said that for molasses from other countries than England are import duties to be paid. “Grundriss der Geschichte der Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika :Der Weg zur Unabhängigkeit“ (1954): 18 pp. Online. Internet. 8. Jul. 2002. Available FTP:, 5.

[4] Zeuske: A Short History of the USA, 20.

[5] Mary Beth Norton, David M. Katzman, et al. A People and a Nation : A History of the United States. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company 1986, 103-105.

[6] George Grenville, selected in 1763, believed that the Americans should “pay a greater share of the cost of running the empire”. Norton, Katzman, et al. , 108.

[7] Norton, Katzman, et al. , 109.

[8] William Paul Adams and Angela Meurer Adams. Die Amerikanische Revolution in Augenzeugenberichten. München : Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag GmbH & Co. KG, 1976. 32.

[9] The Stamp Act was withdrawn in 1766, for the English traders had been boycotted by the colonists as a reaction on it. “Grundriss der Geschichte der Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika :Der Weg zur Unabhängigkeit“ (1954): 18 pp. Online. Internet. 8. Jul. 2002. Available FTP:, 7.

[10] Also called “Billeting Act“, it said that the Colonists have to provide accomodation and board and lodging for English soldiers. Available FTP:, 6.

[11] « The Townshend Act » :4p. Online. Internet. 09.07.2002 Available FTP :

[12] John Dickinson was an important lawyer from Philadelphia and protested in twelve essays (1767) against using money raised from customs duties for raising revenues and warned the British that they should not be corrupt and trying ton enslave the colonists. Available FTP :,

Norton, Katzman, et al. , 115.

[13] Norton, Katzman, et al. , 116.

[14] Norton, Katzman, et al. , 116.

[15] A intercolonial association linking leaders of resistance, created in early 1766 for protesting against the Stamp Act. Norton, Katzman, et al. , 114.

Excerpt out of 16 pages


Riots and Revolutionaries - How did civil America make progress on its Road to Independence?
Humboldt-University of Berlin  (Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik)
Einführung in die Ideen- und Sozialgeschichte der USA
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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475 KB
Der Unabhängigkeitskrieg Amerikas und die Rolle der Zivilbevölkerung sind die Themen dieser Hausarbeit. Der Dozent bescheinigte eine ungewöhnliche, interessante und originelle Herangehensweise an das Thema.
Riots, Revolutionaries, America, Road, Independence, Einführung, Ideen-, Sozialgeschichte, unabhängigkeitskrieg, Zivilbevölkerung, Anglistik, Amerikanistik, HU Berlin, Kulturwissenschaft, Geschichte
Quote paper
Marc Kemper (Author), 2002, Riots and Revolutionaries - How did civil America make progress on its Road to Independence?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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