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Self-Determination. Economic Conflict in the Colonies. Self-determination is a theory regarding human motivation concerned with the development and functioning personality within social contexts.

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self determination


Economic Conflict in the Colonies


Self-determination is a theory regarding human motivation concerned with the development and functioning personality within social contexts.

  • The theory focuses on the degree to which human behaviors are self-determined – that is, the degree to which people are motivated to act following the highest level of reflection and follow through in actions with a full sense of choice.

The revolt of the British colonies in North America has been defined as the first assertion of the self-determination in the history of the world.

Protesting against England, and especially the imposition of taxes without representation, the American colonists invoked the natural rights of man, calling on the writings of John Locke to support their view

Locke taught that societies are based upon the agreement of the people who make the law. All men have a natural right to life, liberty, and property. The authority belongs to the people and is responsible to protect the people.


Drawing the analogy

  • Thomas Jefferson emphasized Locke's theories as American ideals that were being fought for.
  • In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson expressed his fundamental philosophy of government, upon which self-determination rests.
  • He wrote that "all Men are created equal, that they are entitled to the Unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness";
  • Also, “The government is established by the people to protect these rights;
  • And when the government does not, "it is the Right of the People to abolish it, and to create a new Government."

In considering the American Revolution as an example of self-determination, it is important to focus attention on Jefferson's view.

He was concerned with ensuring that the government was that the will of the people was supreme.


In chapter five we came to understand the mindset of the American people

  • The wealthy colonial leaders were highly influenced by John Locke’s enlightened thinking.
  • There was community support within the local churches that expected their leaders to be forthright, honest and to provide a strong community of faith.
  • The French and Indian War ended and provided England with a vast amount of land to control. They were low on money and wanted the American colonist to share in the expenses. The English leaders also wanted to maintain an economic control over the colonies through their mercantile practices.
  • The mindset of the American people was as such that they felt empowered to challenge the British leadership, question the benefits of their English citizenship and break all ties with England in their desire for a self-determinatedfuture.

Prior to 1750, the American colonies saw tremendous growth in terms of population as well as the economy. There was no issues or thought given towards a split between England and their colonial offspring.

  • However, by the 1760’s the American nationalistic perception was well underway in establishing the split with England
  • With the population growth and economic stability came questions with regards to England’s right to maintain control over the colonies.
  • The population grew from 250k in the early 1770’s to over 3 million by 1775. Many European countries began to worry about depopulation. The English Proclamation of 1763 was an attempt to control the depopulation.
  • It was also during this time span that the motivation towards self-determination began to become apparent
  • There was a desire for self-government and to control their own economic fate.
  • There was also a strong desire to issue local currency, eliminate customs abuse, and open up free trade and manufacturing
  • In the religious community, the congregation of believers wanted more local control and sought out more “home grown” leadership.

Kevin Phillips in his book, “1775 A Good Year for Revolution”, identifies 12 issues of economic contention that motivated the colonial people to a self-determined future through the path of revolution.

    • Money Supply
    • Debt
    • Mercantilism, mandate to sell only to England
    • Taxation without representation
    • Overpriced goods which led to more debt
    • Customs racketeering Illegal search and seizures
    • Increase in British assertiveness
    • The limitation put on colonial manufacturing
    • A call for boycott on British goods
    • Establishment of provincial committees
    • Proclamation of 1763
    • The Quebec Act of 1777

1. The Availability of cash

  • This was really one of the main areas of contention, the money supply! It kept usually inadequate by British mercantilist thinking. Much of this was intentional.
  • This was a seventeenth-century principle of mercantilism that the mother country controlled all available currency.
  • It was well understood, that the colonies were to serve, not to be guided toward maturity and self-fulfillment.
  • One of the was to maintain control and power was to control the wealth.

2. Debt

  • Among the mainland thirteen, with currency often scarce, levels of indebtedness soared.
  • If money was the first problem, debt was the second. Debt-related lawsuits clogged the colonial courts
  • An insufficient money supply was tied to another imperial fundamental: that valuable colonial export commodities had to be routed through Britain to profit middlemen there.
  • Return payment often came in overpriced goods.

3. Mercantilism, mandate to sell only to England

  • This reflected the third point of friction: the statutory mandate that colonists sell specified commodities only to British merchants.
  • This was spelled out in the mid-seventeenth-century Navigation Acts which had further expanded in the 1750s.
  • Each additional item added to the list made more American producers captivesof the British businessmen.
  • Even though payment for goods had started out earlier by guaranteeing prices. That situation changed in the 1750’s
  • Therefore if the money supply, and debt appear related, they clearly were.

4. Taxation without Representation

  • During the 1760s, Americans began to complain that proceeds lost (by being restricted to selling tobacco to just the British) was in reality another form of taxation.
  • This practice, more than compensated the mother country for its protective umbrella.
  • This contention led to a fourth point of frustration. Parliament, in which the colonies had no representation, therefore had no right to impose transatlantic taxes.
  • England had not taxed before the 1760s, (Salutary Neglect) but it acted during that decade with a sequence of controversial levies, notably the 1765 Stamp tax and the 1767 Townshend taxes. Townshend’s were repealed in 1770, except for tea. That set Boston’s famous tea party in motion. However, after the Coercive Acts took center stage in 1774, the tax was recinded.

5. Overpriced goods which led to more debt

  • Here a point should be made.
  • The dozen economic issues, although interrelated, were not constant. They varied in importance.
  • The colonists’ contention that unfair practice.
    • Mercantilism – only selling to the British.
    • Having to pay debt by means of products which were then “under” priced.
    • Was actually another for of taxation.
  • This was the setting that intensified the relations with Britain between 1774–1775.

Customs racketeering

Illegal search and seizures

  • A sixth altercation of the pre-Revolutionary period involved “customs racketeering.” (Illegal extortion)
  • Much stricter enforcement commenced in the early 1760s with a major strengthening of a British Customs Service that had been locally ineffective.
  • This stricter enforcement between 1762 and 1767 imposed specified elaborateloading and boarding requirements.
  • Violations allowed for customs-related trials to juryless admiralty courts, and instructed Royal Navy ships and officers to collaborate in aggressive customs enforcement.

7. An Increase in British aggressiveness

  • In 1764 British aggressiveness in pursuing smugglers began to increase
  • British soldiers were station in various forts along the seaports with order to shoot any ships they suspect of smuggling.
  • The British aggressiveness had taken another step which increased hostilities.

8. A limitation on colonial manufacturing

  • The limitations that Britain had imposed on colonial manufactures first drew little complaint.
  • However, the tax and trade-boycott controversies of the 1760s and 1770s made the limitations on what the colonies could produce a more heated topic.
  • With each boycott, Americans devoted more efforts to manufacture locally what was being imported.
  • Rising tensions over manufacturing became a controversial issue in the 1770’s

9. A Call for Boycotts on British goods

  • In 1774, when the First Continental Congress called for a strong response to Britain’s Coercive Acts, delegates “embraced a much bolder trade stoppage, on behalf of a new Patriot strategy.
  • Instead of relying on uncooperative merchants to stop importing specified British goods, Congress put forward a new brand of association: all twelve participating provincial delegations pledged to prohibit popular consumption of British goods, commencing that very autumn.
  • American exported goods to Britain were also restricted.
  • Whoever controlled the cash flow controlled the power!

10. The Establishment of Provincial Committees

  • Strict enforcement now led to a stronger sense of patriotism.
  • Congress recommended establishing provincial, county, and local committees to monitor compliance, publicize violators, and seize goods and cargoes where necessary.
  • The newly assumed authority and potentially treasonable nature of these organizations quickly became controversial. Merchants still played a part, but hardline activists were coming to the front.
  • Also, by establishing these committees, the colonies were moved to the brink of economic war.
  • Many of these imperial constraints prevented American economic self-determination.
  • By the 1770s, British rules and favoritism struck more and more colonials as unacceptable.

11. The Proclamation of 1763

  • The Royal Proclamation of 1763, prevented colonists from settling beyond the Appalachian Mountains on western lands.
  • During the 1770s, British forts in places like Ohio and Illinois had been shut down to send the message - no settlers were wanted, and there would be no protection from the Indians
  • A related goal voiced in 1763 and 1764 was to encourage expansion northward to Nova Scotia and southward into now-British Florida, with its supposed opportunities for tropical agriculture. Westward flow would be blocked.
  • In addition, the depopulation of certain areas in England was a major concern. This Proclamation was also intended to slow down the population movement to the Americas.
  • As late as 1767, George Washington dismissed the Proclamation Line as nothing more than “a temporary expedient to quiet the Minds of the Indians.”

12. The Quebec Act of 1777

  • After the Proclamation Line of 1763 had been received angrily, a few adjustments were made.
  • The Quebec Act of 1774, however, stunned British America by placing the lands that would become Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin within the political boundaries of the French legal system of Quebec.
  • The western-lands aspect of the Quebec Act became another grudge.
  • Last but hardly least, the unfolding events of 1775 made it essential to purchase arms, ammunition and sulfur in the West Indies or from complicit European merchants.
  • It marked a transition to open war.

Colonial insistence on economic self-determination, “in short, became confrontational well before Lexington and Concord.

  • Within a few months, economic war led to a shooting war.