Was the American Revolution Avoidable?


    About the author

    Edward St. Germain.
    Edward St. Germain

    Edward A. St. Germain created AmericanRevolution.org in 1996. He was an avid historian with a keen interest in the Revolutionary War and American culture and society in the 18th century. On this website, he created and collated a huge collection of articles, images, and other media pertaining to the American Revolution. Edward was also a Vietnam veteran, and his investigative skills led to a career as a private detective in later life.


      Given the attitude of the British towards their colonies in America, the Revolutionary War was not avoidable.

      The British raised taxes on the Thirteen Colonies at a time when they were struggling economically, without offering parliamentary representation, after having mostly allowed the New World to unofficially self-govern itself for the past century and a half.

      In response to American unrest, while the British did repeal taxes, they failed to address colonists’ concerns. As a result, the Revolutionary War was an inevitable consequence.

      Igniting the Revolution

      After the French and Indian War, the British implemented the Sugar Act in 1764, and the Stamp Act in 1765. The former implemented a tax on sugar and molasses, among other goods, while the latter stated that printed media must be produced using paper produced in London, with a special tax stamp – which cost a lot more than regular paper. Everything from playing cards to newspapers was to be produced using taxed British paper.

      These taxes placed on the American colonies were designed to repay debts from the French and Indian War, and fund the British military presence in America.

      Great Britain considered these taxes to be a fair price to pay for British protection from a French invasion. However, the colonists argued that they had already contributed significantly to the war effort, and there was no imminent threat of invasion that required the British Army remain on the continent in great numbers. In addition, the taxes were implemented at a time when most of the colonies were facing a post-war economic depression.

      Despite the economic conditions at the time, the financial impact of the taxes was not the most significant issue that the colonists raised. The colonists were most frustrated that they had no say in British parliament regarding how the taxes were implemented, or what the money would be used for. This led to the slogan “No taxation without representation” becoming popular, after the Stamp Act was introduced.

      In response to the Stamp Act, there was widespread unrest in the colonies in 1765. Colonial assemblies condemned the Stamp Act, and protestors attacked British government buildings, including the house of a tax collector called Andrew Oliver. American companies began to boycott British goods en masse to put pressure on the government.

      The British eventually relented, repealing both taxes in 1766. However, their attempts to tightly control and raise revenue from the colonies immediately continued. The fight for economic control continued over the next few years, culminating in the Boston Tea Party, when the Sons of Liberty, a Patriot rebel group, destroyed a British shipment of tea on December 16, 1773.

      The British then implemented the Intolerable Acts, a series of punitive measures on the entire colony of Massachusetts, which significantly escalated the conflict, eventually leading to war.

      American attitudes towards the British

      Throughout the protests and political unrest leading up to the American Revolution, it is important to note that the majority of colonists still considered themselves British, and most wanted to avoid open warfare if possible.

      People were still loyal to the Crown, and had significant respect for King George III. Political activists often made reference to the British constitution and Magna Carta when arguing for their rights. Initially, they were simply arguing for representation, or fair treatment – the idea of being independent from Great Britain was not in question.

      Accordingly, the colonists made several attempts to petition the King and explain their grievances to him. For example, the Stamp Act Congress of 1765 drafted a declaration that was sent to the British monarch, asking for the tax to be repealed. As late as July 1775, the Second Continental Congress wrote a letter to King George known as the “Olive Branch Petition”, stating their loyalty to Great Britain, and expressing a desire to return to “the former harmony” that existed between England and the Thirteen Colonies.

      The King refused to consider the request, and declared the colonists to be rebellious traitors.

      British attitudes towards the American colonies

      For the 150 years leading up to the American Revolution, the colonies had mostly been left to their own devices by the British.

      England (and later, Great Britain) had other priorities at the time, including more lucrative Caribbean colonies, war in Europe, and civil conflict. As a result, many parliamentary laws were not strongly enforced prior to 1763 – this became known as a policy of “salutary neglect”.

      This led to a sense of independence in the colonies. When the British began to implement taxes and stricter trading laws after the end of the Seven Years’ War, it was a shock to the system for the colonists.

      For the British however, the colonies were still theirs to do with as they pleased, and this should have made sense, given the colonists were predominantly still loyal to the monarchy. But the British did not grasp the colonists’ grievances at the time, or were not willing to lend credence to them, leading to an escalation in the conflict.

      It’s important to remember, the primary purpose for the British of having its colonies was to enrich itself. Accordingly, the British Parliament believed in its right to govern and tax all parts of the British Empire, including the colonies, to achieve this goal – this was known as parliamentary sovereignty. Not to mention, the country was in £133m of debt after the war – more than $28b in today’s money, which was a huge amount for the time.

      The Stamp Act was repealed due to the level of resistance shown, with a short-term view to avoid escalation. However, British leaders still held the opinion that the colonists were not fairly contributing to their own protection, and to the Empire’s maintenance.

      The only way the American Revolution could have been avoided was if Prime Minister Lord North, King George III, and other senior figures in parliament paid more respect to colonists’ grievances in the 1760s. However, given British attitudes towards their colonies at the time, giving such thought to American concerns was highly unlikely.

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