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The American Revolution (1754–1781)

History SparkNotes

Study Questions & Essay Topics

The Revolutionary War: 1775–1783

Quiz

Always use specific historical examples to support your arguments.

Study Questions

1.

“Americans were still professing their loyalty to George III and their desire for peaceful reconciliation as late as 1775. Had Britain accepted the Second Continental Congress’s Olive Branch Petition, the Revolutionary War could have been avoided.” Support or refute this claim using historical evidence.

Even though delegates at the Second Continental Congress sent the Olive Branch Petition to George III requesting reconciliation, the recent skirmishes and hostile American public opinion made peaceful resolution unlikely, if not impossible. The delegates of the Continental Congress appeared aware of this inevitability themselves, for at the same time that they wrote their final petition to George III, they also made defensive provisions for a navy and an army, the latter to be commanded by George Washington. Moreover, even if the delegates truly believed that peaceful reconciliation was possible, it is doubtful the American public shared this belief. The Committees of Correspondence had by 1775 become powerful distributors of anti-British propaganda to both city dwellers and rural settlers alike.

In addition, the organization and rallying that enabled the boycott on all British goods turned many colonists into patriotic Americans. This desire for independence was confirmed at the Battle of Lexington and Concord and the Battle of Bunker Hill, in which simple farmers refused to retreat from the powerful British army and instead stood their ground. Thus, even though Continental Congress delegates were still petitioning for peace as late as 1775, it is highly unlikely that peace was truly possible.

2.

What did American colonists mean by “No taxation without representation”?

American colonists rallied behind the popular cry “No taxation without representation” to protest the taxes and other legislation forced upon them by a Parliament that contained no American representatives. Colonial Americans valued their own representative legislatures and believed it unfair that they had to subject themselves to a legislative body thousands of miles away. British Prime Minister George Grenville, however, justified the lack of American representatives in Parliament by citing the theory of “virtual representation,” which stipulated that Parliamentarians, no matter where originally elected, acted in the interests of all British subjects in the world.

Despite the American colonists’ desire for representation, though, “No taxation without representation” was more a symbolic protest than anything else. In reality, colonial American representatives in Parliament would have been too few in number and would have had too little political power to make much difference. Instead, the colonists’ rallying cry was based on principle, a simple articulation that they wanted more freedom and power to govern their own colonial legislatures, and less interference from Parliament.

3.

Which had a more profound impact on American anti-British sentiment, the 1765 Stamp Act or the 1766 Declaratory Act? Use specific examples from history to support your argument.

Although colonists protested the 1765 passage of the Stamp Act vehemently and even violently, the barely noticed Declaratory Act of 1766 had a much more profound effect on American-British relations in the long run. When Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in 1766 after protests in the colonies, it quietly passed the Declaratory Act, which reaffirmed Britain’s right to pass legislation regarding the American colonies anytime it chose. This legislative carte blanche plagued Americans from that point on until war erupted in 1775.

In 1767, Parliament used the Declaratory Act to justify the Townshend Acts, which levied taxes on tea and other items. The tax prompted angry objections, some as extreme as the Boston Tea Party, in which a group of colonists destroyed thousands of dollars’ worth of British tea by dumping it in Boston Harbor. Parliament also cited the Declaratory Act in 1774 to justify the Coercive Acts, or Intolerable Acts, which shut down Boston Harbor and required Bostonians to pay damages for the tea they had destroyed. Both the Townshend Acts and the Intolerable Acts—backed by the Declaratory Act—brought Americans closer to outright rebellion than the Stamp Act ever had.

Suggested Essay Topics

1. Analyze the reasons for escalating anti-British sentiment in the American colonies during the prewar decade from 1765 to 1775.

2. Was the First or the Second Continental Congress more significant in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War?

3. What were nonimportation agreements and the boycott? Which had a greater effect on American-British relations?

4. Explain how three of the following altered Americans’ perceptions of Britain during the years 1763 to 1775. Which affected colonists the most and why? a) the French and Indian War b) virtual representation c) Samuel Adams d) the Declaratory Act e) the boycott of British goods f) Thomas Paine

5. Compare and contrast Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence with Thomas Paine’s pamphlet “Common Sense.” Which had the greater effect on revolutionary America? Use specific examples to support your argument.

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