Investigating the Causes of America’s Revolutionary War for the GED Social Studies Test

By Achim K. Krull, Murray Shukyn

You should have some background knowledge about America’s Revolutionary War for the GED Social Studies Test. America’s Revolutionary War (also referred to as the American War of Independence or the American Revolution) was the armed conflict between Britain and the original 13 British colonies. The causes of the revolution in the American colonies create a rather neat chronology.

The Declaration of Independence sums up the anger that built over time, which eventually led to the revolution. In the view of some American colonists, the abuses of power exceeded levels they could tolerate, and appeals to the monarch, King George III, brought no relief. It was the colonists’ belief that they had no other option than to replace his government with one of their own choosing and design, as this extract from the Declaration of Independence reveals:

… when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security… .

The rest of the declaration is a checklist of abuses. The events that led to the revolution are a chronology of British actions and increasing anger on the part of the colonists. The British had just finished a victorious but very expensive nine-year war against the French and the Native Americans. Their victory added all the territory that is now Ohio, Ontario, and Quebec to the empire.

The British needed to cut costs. They expected the colonies to pay at least one-third of the cost of their defense. The British colonial office also wanted to maintain peace with the Native Americans and French settlers to reduce colonial defense costs. One way was a government prohibition (the Proclamation of 1763) on settlement beyond the Appalachian Mountains to preserve peace with the Native Americans.

However, the British government also needed to raise additional funds to pay for the defense of the colonies. Taxes in Britain were already high, so the colonies had to step up. The British government passed several pieces of legislation to raise money.

The Revenue Acts (1764) and the Stamp Act (1765) implemented taxes, some of which British citizens had paid for years, on American colonists. When these failed to raise sufficient revenues, parliament passed the Townshend Act (1767), which added taxes on selected consumer goods, including tea. American colonists resented paying new taxes, a familiar theme to this day. They also resented the lack of consultation and lack of representation of colonial leaders in British Parliament.

Why would the colonists regard these measures as “a long train of abuse and usurpations”?

  • (A) They felt the defeated French were treated better than the American colonists.

  • (B) The British government did not consult the colonists before implementing taxes.

  • (C) The government prevented the westward expansion of the colonies into Native American lands.

  • (D) all of the above.

The correct answer is Choice (D), all of the above. The British allowed the conquered French to retain their language and continue the fur trade through their traditional territories. These were lands American colonists had been looking to as areas of expansion. The British government decided to raise taxes to pay for the defense of the colonies and certainly didn’t ask the colonial governments for their approval or opinion.

Although at this moment the British hadn’t imposed a rigid ban on the westward expansion of the American colonies, it was discouraged. That too created friction between the British government and the American colonists.

Tensions between the British government and the colonists grew increasingly tense. A quarrel between some Bostonian pub-crawlers and off-duty British soldiers escalated into a riot. It was quickly brought under control, but 11 people were either dead or wounded. The event was a gold mine for the anti-British colonial patriots, who promptly labeled the event “the Boston Massacre.”

Taxation continued to aggravate relations, especially a tax on tea. The colonists circumvented it by snuggling tea into the country. In 1773, the British East India Company brought large shipments of tea to Boston. Colonists had often prevented British tea from being sold, and in 1773, they again attacked and looted three British cargo ships, dumping their cargoes of tea into the Boston Harbor in the infamous Boston Tea Party.

British reaction was as expected: a crackdown on those unruly colonists. Ignoring colonial legislatures, British parliament passed a series of measures that the colonists called the Intolerable Acts in 1774. They temporarily closed the Boston port, prohibited colonial courts from trying British officials, gave British officials control over all town meetings, and revoked colonial charters.

The Quartering Act allowed the forcible quartering (housing) British soldiers in private colonial homes. The final straw was the Quebec Act of 1774, which defined the boundaries of the new province of Quebec and extended rights to the conquered French that were denied to the American colonists.

From that point, a revolution was almost inevitable, even though only about a third of the colonists actually supported independence. Another third considered themselves loyal to Britain. The remaining third just wanted to be left alone.

Based on the text, what was the most important reason for the American Revolution?

  • (A) subversion of the colonial justice system

  • (B) the Tea Tax

  • (C) the Proclamation Act

  • (D) all taxation without representation

The colonists who wanted independence were most upset about the imposition of taxes without consultation. The British parliament rejected requests by colonial leaders for representation in Parliament. Taxes were imposed without consultation of the colonial legislatures. Although Choice (B) the tea tax was a major irritant, as were the subversion of colonial courts (Choice (A)) and the Proclamation Act (Choice (C)), it was the total taxation issue, Choice (D), that underlay all the colonial anger.