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In America there was originally 13 colonies founded by the
British between 1607 and 1732. The colonists regarded themselves as British and
they fought for the British in the French and Indian war (The seven years war).
13 years later they declared independence from Britain. There are various
interpretations of what caused the American revolution. Two of these are the
progressive interpretation and the neo-Whig interpretation. The progressive
interpretation focuses on class conflict and social/economic divisions among
the colonies. The neo-Whig interpretation focuses on constitutional rights and

The progressive interpretation of what caused the American
revolution puts the blame on class conflict and social/economic division. They
see the American revolution as an attempt by colonial elites to secure their
own position in the colonies. They say that the American Revolution was fought
for economic reasons, not on the basis of principles such as “No taxation
without representation.” Progressive historians like Howard Zinn highlight the
social tensions and the discontent of the masses, drawing attention to the
protests and mob violence carried out by disgruntled workers in the cities and
ports. The Neo-Whig interpretation of what caused the American revolution
places the blame on constitutional rights and ideology. They see the revolution
as the colonists fighting for their constitutional rights and political ideas.
Neo-Whig historians like Bernard Bailyn view the revolution as a political
event which was fuelled by discussion and debate. (Thompson and Llewellyn 2017). There are a few key
events that led to the American revolution including the French and Indian war,
the Stamp act, The Townshend acts, The Boston Massacre, The Boston tea party
and the Coercive acts.

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The colonists fought for the British in the French and
Indian war (the seven years war) and the victory created a lot of new territory,
but it also created massive debt for Britain and Britain realised they would
have to defend and govern this new territory they had amassed. The British
parliament passed the stamp act in 1765 and it was a way for the British to
raise revenue to pay off their massive debt after the French and Indian war.
The stamp act meant that the colonists would have to pay a tax on every piece
of printed paper. The stamp act differed from previous legislature as it was an
internal tax and it affected all the colonists on a daily basis. Protests in
the form of pamphlets, speeches, mass meetings and demonstrations erupted in
the colonies and they coined the phrase ‘no taxation without representation’.
The colonists argued that the British had no right to tax them as they weren’t
represented in the house of commons and that only the people they had elected
had that right. This eventually led to mob violence against tax collectors and
protests were encouraged by ‘sons of liberty’ (Samuel Adams). (G. Thomson, Course
slides (2017).

The Townshend acts were taxes on imports of glass, lead,
paper, paint and tea. These acts had a massive impact on the colonists as it
intensified resentment among the colonists. The colonists decided to boycott
all British goods. It was after these acts were passed that John Dickinson
published his ‘letters from a Pennsylvanian farmer’ in which he argued that the
British had no right to tax the colonists to build up revenue. Tensions amongst
the colonists and the British came to a head in Boston 1770. The mob abused the
redcoats by throwing things at them and hurling insults at them. A shot was
heard and the British started shooting at the crowd which left 5 people dead. The
impact of the Boston massacre was huge, the first martyrs were created and it
instilled confidence in those who weren’t confident. It also forced the troops
to leave Boston.  The Boston tea party
followed closely after the Boston massacre; This involved patriots who were
disguised as Mohawks boarding ships and dumping 342 chest of tea into the
harbour.  (G. Thomson, Course
slides (2017).

The British responded to the Boston Tea Party by passing a
series of laws known as the coercive acts. These included: Boston port act,
quartering act, Massachusetts government act and the administration of justice
act. These acts unified the colonists against the British and the colonial
elites began meeting and organising a response to these acts.  (G. Thomson, Course slides (2017).

There are many sources which support both the Neo-Whig and
the progressive interpretations of the American Revolution. Progressive historian
Howard Zinn blames the revolution on social class conflict and the working
class becoming more and more discontent with their lives. Neo-Whig historian
Bernard Bailyn blames the revolution on a political and ideological struggle. The
key historian associated with the Neo-Whig interpretation is Bernard Bailyn. He used evidence from
pamphlets, articles and other writings produced by the Americans before they
got independence. Bailyn emphasised the extent to which the colonists presented
their opposition to British actions in ideological terms. He argued that
Americans viewed the actions of the British as a ‘deliberate assault’
on their constitutional liberties and freedom.

Progressive historians emphasise the social and economic
motives and issues underpinning the Revolution. They highlight the social
tensions and the discontent of the masses, drawing attention to the protests
and mob violence carried out by disgruntled workers in the cities and ports. They
look at whether or not colonial elites like Sam Adams encouraged lower class
colonists to focus their anger against the British. Progressive historians also
say that the elites were hoping to gain from this an end to British rule, so
they could improve their own position in this new America. This is essentially
the view of historian and activist Howard

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